Saturday, September 27, 2008

Crusader Erin Brockovich Lives On!

Erin Brockovich has just recently signed on as a consultant for a New York City law firm fighting for those exposed to asbestos, a known cancer-causing agent. Brockovich is with the firm Weitz & Luxenberg and her role is to seek and investigate claimants. In an interview with a New York Post reporter, she stated of the relationship with the firm: “I’m hands-on, and they’re hands-on so it will be a team effort.” She has made two commercials for the firm seeking claimants exposed to asbestos who have developed lung cancer. In the meantime, Brockovich lives a dual coast life, continuing her consulting work with West Coast firm Girardi & Keese.

Of further interest, Brockovich has been fighting Merck, the makers of Gardasil. Brockovich writes on her website:

“Gardasil, as you should know by now, is an HPV vaccine sold by MERCK, a vaccine with a flawed marketing campaign targeting young girls. The premise is that the vaccine will protect young girls from cervical cancer, as well as a couple of varieties of HPV. But the vaccine is NOT a cancer preventative, and it has not been thoroughly tested. Not only does Gardasil not protect everyone, it does not prevent all types of cervical cancer. According to current science, there are fifteen types of HPV associated with cervical cancer but Gardasil only counters HPV types 16 and 18. The vaccine requires three doses to start and scientists don't even know how frequently boosters will be needed. They don't know because they did not adequately research this before putting the vaccine out on the market using our young girls as guinea pigs.”

Brockovich further warns:

“The Centers for Disease Control report over 9,000 adverse reactions for Gardasil. There is a rising total of deaths connected with the administration of this vaccine; as well as have been reports of seizure activity, tingling, numbness and loss of sensation in the fingers and limbs. There is serious question about girls initially having short-term health problems associated with getting this vaccine that could turn into long-term neurological or immune system disorders; and there is serious question about administering this vaccine at the same time as others.”

So, the crusader Brockovich lives on, and acknowledges that the film Erin Brockovich launched her reputation as a champion against corporate greed and a figther for those exposed to toxic chemicals by corporation. In her blog, Brockovich calls herself a "humanist," fighting for the good of human society.

Post your comments. What are your responses to knowing that Brockovich continues her campaigning, and that the film launched her career as a public figure?

For further information visit these two sites: (source for photo)
Brockovich is now 47 year olds and has been fighting legal cases since joining on with Masry in the late 1980s. She has devoted two decades of her life to fighting for justice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Does Mississippi Burning Mean?

Mississippi Burning was a term the FBI used to refer to the series of church burnings in Mississippi. During the summer of 1964, at least 20 churches were fire bombed. When the FBI was called to investigate the burnings, as well as physical attacks, they used the term Mississippi Burning (MIBURN for short) to refer to the collective series of incidents. The fires were set by the members of the KKK. Churches had been set up as Freedom Schools, where African-Americans could go to get schooling to improve their job opportunities and obtain the literacy skills needed to pass state voter registration exams. Without passing these tests, they could not vote, a Constitutional right. Thus, the KKK had motive and reason to burn the churches, to strike down the African-Americans' fight for equality. What is your response to knowing the meaning behind the term Mississippi Burning?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Civil Rights Rebel With a Twist

In the fall of 1962, James Meredith enrolled as a student at the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss. This was not an ordinary college enrollment. He was the first African-American student to attempt admission. Prior to his enrollment, he was rejected twice. Believing his denial was based on race, he fought the case in court, was turned down, and appealed to a higher court, which charged the university with discrimination.

Finally admitted, when he tried to attend classes, in September, riots erupted, and more than 30,000 federal troops and Mississippi National Guards were brought in. More mayhem resulted, with 68 marshals shot and 2 bystanders killed. Amid the turmoil, Meredith started classes in October. Four years later, in 1996, he graduated. Impassioned by his experiences as a student, he went on to lead “The March Against Fear,” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson,
Mississippi, protesting racism, violence, and voter registration discrimination against African-Americans. Early in the march, he was shot and hospitalized, and Martin Luther King, Jr. continued on in his behalf. Meredith after his hospital discharge joined the march on its final day as it neared Jackson.

Later on, his life took a turn in another direction, and he criticized liberals, registered as a Republican, and ran for Congress. He held a job as a stockbroker, and nearing retirement, returned to a quiet life in Mississippi running an auto shopt. In contrast to his early participation in the civil rights movement, today Meredith rebuffs the movement.

Helpful resources for information:

Images from: John F. Kennedy Library 1-866-JFK-1960 last updated August 2002

Post your comments. What is your response to learning of Meredith's student days? How do you feel about him integrating one of the South's most venerable institutions? Do you think he was a rebel? Was he a justice seeker?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Are the SATs Fair?

Perhaps you have heard by now that a new national report has been released urging colleges to reduce or even eliminate SATs scores as part of the application process. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is taking a leadership position in asking colleges to reconsider the weight given to the SATs. One concern that NACAC has raised is the enormous media attention the tests receive despite the fact that it has been documented that the tests are not necessarily the best predictor of a student’s success in college. Yet, all the media hype puts undue pressure on high school students, their parents, and guidance counselors, while also helping to increase the profits of companies that market themselves as coaching experts for the tests.

The NACAC, based on an analysis of students’ success in college, advocates for the use of high school achievement as well as enrollment in college preparatory and honors courses as a far better predictor of student outcomes in college. Concern has also been raised about testing bias as well as the advantage that wealthier students who can afford coaching have. If the test does not equalize across all economic strata, some question its validity and whether using it for admission is a discriminatory practice. In studies looking at student performance on the SAT and college success, institutions have found a weak correlation. Hamilton College which makes submission of scores optional has found that students who elect not to submit scores outperform those who do. Some schools report an increase in applicants from top scholars after electing to make SATs scores optional. Worcester Polytechnic Institute is one such school.

Weigh in on the issue. What is your opinion? Should the SAT be dropped from the admissions process?

Information from “Dramatic Challenge to SAT and ACT,” Inside Higher Education, 9/22/08.<> Additional Information available from “College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SAT, The New York Times, 9/22/08. <

Friday, September 19, 2008

Movie Makes History

Interestingly, the film Norma Rae not only recorded history but changed it. At the time the film was released, in 1979, the workers at the textile mill, represented in the film, were in the midst of a union protest against low wages and working conditions. Thus, although the union was voted in, their demands were yet to be met.

The film informed the public of the horrendous working conditions at the J.P. Stevens textile operation, disguised as the O.P. Henley mill in movie, and other textile mills, and helped propel management in due time to acknowledge union demands. It's possible that if the film were not made, the workers at Stevens would have slaved under hazardous, unhealthy working conditions for phenomenally low wages if they wanted to remain employed. The film catapulted a nationwide boycott of J.P. Stevens. Once the film was out, union organizers found Sally Field and Crystal Lee Jordan, the real woman behind the vote to start the union, and brought the two together in a gala event in Los Angeles. This moment along with a tour that both did on behalf of the workers galvanized national support, eventually leading management to consent to union demands. The efforts of these two women also helped to buoy other labor union movements.

Today, we wonder if the public can be arose by movies about social injustice, and if people would flock to a movie about working-class oppression. In an era when moviegoers idolize glitz, do films like Norma Rae have staying power?

To learn more about the efforts of Crystal Lee Jordan (today, Crystal Lee Sutton), check this article "
The Real 'Norma Rae' Donates Papers." What is your response to knowing that the film changed history for factory workers? Do films about social injustice and the working class appeal to moviegoers today? What motivates people today to stand behind the oppressed and help them fight for their rights? When you think of movies today, which ones come to mind as stories of heroes fighting for social justice in the name of underclassed?

Photo of Crystal Lee Sutton accepting recognition for donating her labor papers to a college library. Photo credit: Sam Roberts / Times-News

Information for this post obtained from the article “Remembering Norma Rae” that appeared online in The Nation January 27, 2007.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hospital Dumping A Health Concern

An Associated Press story reports that hospitals and health care facilities of all places are endangering the lives of people by dumping discarded, spoiled, and expired meds down the drain. Although there is a call to stop this practice through legislature, the situation worsens with no regulations in place. It is believed that as many as 250 million pounds of unused meds as well as their packaging are dumped down heath-care facility drains annually.

Concern about this massive problem has led public officials to call for testing of drinking water for contaminants that may be linked to the dumping, given many drugs used in hospitalas are highly toxic.
A survey of 45 long-term care facilities intimated that two-thirds dumped unused drugs into sewerage systems. The Environmental Protection Agency listed pharmaceutical dumping as a major public-health concern and called for government regulation to challenge the waste disposal methods used by health facilities.

How ironic, that the facilities that we consider health promoting are responsible for just the opposite. Weigh in on this issue. To learn more about this breaking story and a possible link between the contamination and gene mutations and cancer, check this Associated Press story. Be sure to post your comments.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Love Canal

Love Canal is not at all about love. The canal in upstate New York near Niagara Falls was named after the man, William T, Love, who originally owned the property that included the canal. In the 1920s, after he sold his land, the canal turned into an industrial waste site. Later, in the 1950s, the owners of the property, the Hooker Chemical Company, covered the contaminated canal with dirt and sold the land to the city. Homes and a school were built on the site. In 1978, a sad story broke, announcing almost 100 compounds had been dumped at the site and at least 10 were likely carcinogens. The chemicals leached into the fields of neighborhood homes and the school, and record rainfall worsened the contamination.

Children started returning home with burns all over their bodies, miscarriages were reported, and children were born with defects. Residents were found to have high white-blood-cell counts, a precursor of leukemia. Evacuations began. Finally, to stem the flood of complaints from residents, the governor of New York, Hugh Carey, agreed to have the state purchase the land, and the US Senate approved financial aid for victims.

Check online to find out more about the Love Canal disaster, and relate what you find to the story told in Erin Brockovich. (The Univeristy of Buffalo archives offers Love Canal Related Links.) Post your comments.

Photo: "Sister Margeen Hoffman, former Executive Director of the ETF leads a protest against the chemical corportation, CECOS, circa 1982" from University of Buffalo archives

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Steven Soderbergh, The Movie Director

Soderbergh has directed a variety of films, from action-packed thrillers like the Ocean Eleven series to socially conscious ones like Good Night, Good Luck. He won the Academy Award for directing Traffic, another socially conscious film, but also an action-packed adventure. Both Erin Brockovich and Traffic were released in 2000, and for the 2001 Academy Awards, both were nominated as Best Picture and Best Directing, a most unusual feat for any director. Both are considered among his most successful films.

In 1989, Soderbergh garnered incredible fame with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which he directed and scripted. The film earned him a coveted Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, the youngest director to win this recognition. In effect, his success was launched not just in Hollywood but internationally.

Soderbergh often works with the same cast of actors, such as George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, and Matt Damon, all featured in the Ocean Eleven series. Of late, Soderbergh produced Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney. Clooney was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor in three films Soderbergh directed, and although Clooney did not win for Michael Clayton or Good Night, Good Luck, he won for Soderberg's Syrania.

Possibly, you have seen Soderbergh films in addition to Erin Brockovich. If so, let us know how these films compare. If not, what do you think of Soderbergh as a director based on viewing just one of his films? Post your comments.

Pictures of Soderbergh are from the photo gallery in International Movie Database.

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