Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Door to More Learning is Always Open

Want more? Let me know if you'd like to see another class!

This has been a great five weeks. I've enjoyed sharing these films with you and exploring the issues in class and on this blog.

If you'd like me to offer a class in the future, please contact me. And be sure to let Mature Learning know. They decide whether to accept my course proposals. They can be reached at (360) 992-2422 or e-mail

Take care, and keep learning!
Holly Forrest, Teacher

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Class 5 - Prop 8 The Musical Starring Jack Black

Various actors have portrayed Jesus. I unearthed a partial list at Listology:
  • Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ
  • James Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ
  • Jeremy Sisto in Jesus (made for tv)
  • Brian Deacon in Jesus (from '79)
  • Claude Heater in Ben-Hur
  • Kenneth Colley in Life of Brian
  • Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar
  • William Powell in Jesus Of Nazareth
  • Max Von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • H.B. Warner in The King Of Kings
  • Jeffrey Hunter in the King of Kings ('61)
Most of these portrayals are pretty serious. Admittedly, Life of Brian is a comedy, and Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical. But marrying the two genres with a Jesus character hasn't widely been done before. And Jesus singing about two men marrying in a musical almost certainly hasn't been done before.

Until now.

A recent musical comedy, Prop 8 The Musical, was prompted by the issue of gay marriage.

There's a good background piece at about the video. The video was launched at Funny or Die about four months ago (written, as writer Marc Shaiman notes, "six weeks later than he shoulda" referencing the date of the passage of California's Ballot Measure 9) and has received almost 4 million hits.

Shaiman refers to it as a "viral picket sign...hopefully funny" in his interview at NYT ArtsBeat Blog.

What do you think? Funny? Blasphemous? Likely to influence someone who didn't have a strong opinion before seeing it?

Do you think if this had been produced before election day, it could have made a difference to the outcome?

Oh - and one more thing. I just discovered this, a mock PSA on the Jimmy Kimmel show by actress Portia de Rossi, who married Ellen Degeneres in August 2008.

Any thoughts?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Class Five: Stephen Colbert on Gay Marriage

The late Tim Russert did a decidedly tongue-in-cheek bit on Meet the Press with Colbert in October 2007 where they briefly discussed gay marriage as part of an interview about Colbert's short-lived presidential campaign.

The Colbert Report did a funny piece on gay marriage in 2006 here.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins came on the show in May of last year. Stephen and Perkins discussed their outrage over the CA Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. I get the impression that Stephen is not really outraged, don't you? Ah, the power of satire.

After Proposition 8 passed in 2008, Stephen noted the attempt by newscasters to cast their issue as a Blacks vs. Gays conflict. His commentary, Imaginary Gay/Black Warfare: The senseless and escalating imaginary war between blacks and gays is tearing our great nation apart, called to mind the famous quote from William Randolph Hearst discussed in this article from Time Magazine in 1947.

What do you think about the media and their coverage of this issue and others?

A week after the election, Dan Savage, a sex columnist for Seattle's Stranger, appeared on Colbert's show and assessed whether black voters were responsible for the passage of Prop. 8. His conclusions may strike you as deliberately provocative, if not downright offensive. He believes that the major opposition to gay marriage came from "old people." And he proclaimed that the proponents of gay marriage will win in the end because they will "outlive, outlast and outsmart the bigots."

What do you think about what Savage says? Is it acceptable to fight discrimination by exhibiting ageism? Do you think his later remark, in which he replaces "old people" with "bigots" is an attempt to recast the comment and clarify who the true villains are?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Class Five - Gay Blogs

There are many blogs which focus primarily on gay rights and issues.

One that caught my attention is Petrelis Files: Reports & Musings from the Veteran Gay and AIDS Human Rights Advocate by Michael Petrelis. His profile states "Michael has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, CNN, ABC News, and National Public Radio. He has been quoted by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Raw Story, The Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, and Stars & Stripes."

Another is Big Queer Blog. It is written by a team of several authors. One recent post, White House's Support for the LGBT Community noted the Obama administration's policies:
Inside the agenda of the new office, listed under civil rights, is Obama's promise to support the LGBT community:

1. Expand Hate Crimes Statutes
2. Fight Workplace Discrimination
3. Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples
4. Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
5. Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell
6. Expand Adoption Rights
7. Promote AIDS Prevention
8. Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS

I noticed on both blogs, there was a little symbol:

So I did a little research. There's an enormous network of blogs which provide opportunities for advertising. It states that no explicit adult material is tolerated. I saw a pricing sheet with costs ranging from $10 to $18,000. It would appear that even if some segments of society aren't willing to grant equal rights to the gay community, there's recognition that gays have purchasing power. Sites in the Gay Blogads Network are most definitely part of our culture.

Lavender Newswire bills itself thusly: We're here. We're queer. We're news junkies.
The writers have an interesting post earlier this year:

NEW YORK, January 7, 2009 — The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today identified the worst anti-gay and anti-transgender voices of 2008.

Not all gay blogs focus on news and political commentary. Some are just collections of photos of handsome shirtless men or writings from a gay perspective about music or travel or a million other things. Some, like Ham and Cheese on Wry by Curly McDimple, are not overtly gay at all. They focus on day to day trials and tribulations of work, weight loss and financial woes.

Just like straight blogs.

What do you think about the issues raised in some of these gay blogs?

And if you're wondering about the photo at the top of this post, do a little research on Alan Turing. Note that the woman is carrying a rainbow flag and wearing an "I agree with the SJC" sticker. Protest signs that use sarcasm and slighty obscure references can be tricky to decipher. But I have faith in you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Class Five - Other Films about Gay Rights

Before there was Milk, there was Wilde. Le Placard's main character wasn't really gay, but there are plenty of films that feature real life gay people. Wilde is one of them. And unlike the recent Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who portrayed gay activist Harvey Milk, Oscar Wilde-portraying actor Stephen Fry is gay. Fry may not have received an Oscar for his Oscar, but he was the winner of the Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor. Really, isn't that just as good? has a list of Gay and Lesbian Films created a post called 50 Greatest Gay Movies of All Time! posted The Best Movies About Gays

Had you previously seen any films with gay characters that you thought were particularly good? Did any film make you think about gay rights differently?

I can remember seeing Philadelphia in 1993; Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington were wonderful in the drama about fighting against discrimination facing a gay man who is dying of AIDS.

Did you read about any films that you'd like to see? I did! My "DVD's to rent" list has officially expanded. One of the movies is In & Out with Kevin Kline. In some ways, it's like Le Placard when an straight man is "outed" as gay and has to deal with everyone's new view of him. Wikipedia describes the inspiration for the plot:
The film was inspired by Tom Hanks' tearful speech when he accepted his 1994 Oscar (for his role in Philadelphia), in which he mentioned his high-school drama coach Rawley Farnsworth, and his former classmate John Gilkerson, "two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with" - unaware that Farnsworth was still 'in the closet'.The film became one of mainstream Hollywood's few attempts at a comedic "gay movie" of its era, and was widely noted at the time for a 10-second kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck.

Guy Damman wrote an article for the Guardian Film Blog, How Gay Films Made Me a Better Man, when he reviewed a new book
Out at the Movies: A History of Gay Cinema by Steven Paul Davies in December 2008. He states:
I was, for many years, one of those who looked away. It wasn't that I wanted to, or that there was any genuine homophobia in my attitudes. Yet I simply found I just couldn't quite cope with the sight of Rupert Everett canoodling with Michael Jenn in Another Country, or Daniel Day Lewis getting it on with Gordon Warnecke in My Beautiful Laundrette. Now, though, with the progress of cinema's slow journey out of the closet and the gentle readjustment of my sensibilities - and perhaps those of millions of others, too – I can, with pleasure.

Though our focus is on popular culture films, I think it's worth mentioning Celluloid Closet, a 1995 documentary of the history of gays and lesbians in cinema. It was based on the book of the same name by Vito Russo.

Have your attitudes about gay people changed as cinema has come out of the closet?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Class Five - Gay Rights

There are a huge number of organizations who advocate for gay rights. Two are
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

There's an extensive list of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) groups around the world here.

Alvin Fritz of University of Washington Libraries has assembled a very comprehensive list of national and international gay and lesbian organizations and publications. His table of contents is as follows (each one is a link):













What groups are you aware of? Were you surprised at the number of organizations listed within these links?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Class Five - Le Placard (The Closet)

This is the sole comedy in our social justice series. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) summarizes Le Placard:

François Pignon, a very bland sort of man who works as an accountant in a rubber factory, is about to be fired. His new neighbour comes up with an idea to prevent such a thing to happen: he spreads the rumor that he's gay so that the factory management might be afraid they'll be sued for sexual discrimination. Of course, nothing happens as it should, but the changes in François Pignon's life -and other people's too- is drastic!

The Political Film Society nominated the film for its 2001 Human Rights Film award. You can read the society's review here.

There's a great little film review blog called In the Mood. You might like to check out this post, where blogger shepster talks about Le Placard and other films of Daniel Auteuil.

Here's the trailer for the film:

If you have trouble viewing this here, you can go to this link for youtube and watch it.

What did you think of Le Placard?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Class Four: Some Extra Bits

I discovered some miscellaneous goodness to share:

1. Remember the line "Si se puede" that the strikers shout? I told you that Cesar Chavez and others in the United Farm Workers used it as their slogan. Read more here.

2. I found this photo on Flickr, a photo sharing site. It is by Artful Dodger, also known as Kate. It was taken march 4, 2008 in Portland at Pioneer Square. Here's the caption

Human rights demonstration by with demonstrators wearing frog costumes and bearing "Si se puede" / "Yes we can" slogans.

3. There's a great list of videos and resources regarding work and workers on the Labor Studies site for Hofstra University.

4. If you'd like to know more about the National Labor Relations Act, this is a good place to start.

5. I just saw a trailer for a new movie coming to theatres about immigration starring Harrison Ford and Ray Liotta. It features a whole host of different stories. You can read a review here and click on a link to watch the trailer.

What have you found?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Class Four - Comedians take on Unions, Immigration and Health Care

Class Four - Comedians take on Unions, Immigration and Health Care

It's time once again for the funny bits. Sure, these are serious issues, but American popular culture folks love to poke fun at everything.

Stephen Colbert's staff over at Comedy Central's The Colbert Report has assembled a medley of pieces he's done on labor unions. You can check it out here.

Have you ever seen The Onion? It's an elaborate parody newspaper and website with satirical video news reports dubbed ONN - Onion News Network. Writers have produced several humor pieces on immigration, which you can view here, here, and here. They also did a piece in which an illegal immigrant from Mexico replaces a Lucent Technology executive because he's willing to work for less:

I discovered a site that compiles clips from various places, Here are two commercials on the site labeled funny - health insurance:

Funny - Health Insurance Commercial - Free videos are just a click away

Perhaps we should have a class in the future that just focuses on social/political issues in commercials! Then again, maybe not...

Have you seen any amusing takes on the subjects of immigration, healthcare, or labor unions? It's time for show and tell! Click on the comments and share.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Class Four - Immigration Issues

In Bread and Roses, Maya enters the United States illegally. At the end of the film, she's sent back to Mexico. While the primary focus of the movie is on unionization to get fair wages and healthcare for the workers, her experience highlights the plight of illegal immigrants.

There are numerous organizations on both sides of the issue of illegal immigration. It's a topic that often provokes heated debate. The Politics of Immigration provides a list of resources here which includes books, films and links to many groups such as Border Action Network, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Families for Freedom.
I found some interesting teaching materials at Rethinking Schools. They offer a unit of materials based on the book The Line Between Us: Teaching about the Border and Mexican Immigration which includes activities such as this one.

Southern Poverty Law Center has a partial list of the major anti-immigration groups here. There's an interesting article at about how some of the groups have sought to appeal to environmentalists and form an alliance. Writer Ben Adler notes:

Readers of the Nation and other left-leaning magazines may have noticed a new addition to the usual advertisements — full-page advocacy ads by an ad hoc coalition of anti-immigration organizations.

The ads place the blame for traffic and sprawl, frequent villains for urban-oriented members of the left, on population growth, another such villain. The kicker? That population growth is blamed on immigration.
The Sierra Club, a group originally founded to protect and preserve wilderness lands, was targeted by anti-immigration groups seeking to take over the Board of Directors. The unsuccessful attempt of a few years ago is described in this Christian Science Monitor article.

Were you surprised by any of the information you read in these links? Were any of the concerns of one side or the other more compelling to you?

Do you know anyone who is an immigrant, legal or otherwise? How many generations of your family have been born in America? Are you like me, a descendant of varied ancestors' different immigration dates? How does your own experience shape your perspective on the issue of immigration?

Did Pilar Padilla's portrayal of Maya's story change your attitude about immigration? If not, why not?
If yes, in what way?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Class Four - Health Care in America - Toward a Just System

Health care in the United States is one of the most complicated issues facing social justice advocates. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the U.S. health care system as the highest in cost, first in responsiveness, 37th in overall performance, and 72nd by overall level of health. There were 191 member nations included in the study. A 2008 report by the Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States last in the quality of health care among the 19 compared countries. However, the U.S. is a leader in medical innovation, with three times higher per-capita spending than Europe. The U.S. also has higher survival rates than most other countries for certain conditions, such as cancer. You can read more about these statements above which are made here.

The Center for Economic and Social Rights discusses the philosophical question of whether people are entitled to healthcare in their piece The Right to Health in the United States of America. For a different view, check out this: The Political Fallacy That Medical Care is a Right. How do those two views grab you?

AFL-CIO offers its take on What's Wrong with America's Health Care.

What do you think of the situation? Have you had any personal experiences that convince you there's a problem? Or is everything hunky-dory?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Class Four - Labor Unions and Fair Pay for Workers

There are a dizzying number of websites and organizations that represent labor unions and workers' rights. Your mission is to find and share at least one!

I'll give you one to prime the pump:

Bread and Roses Cultural Project at

Bread and Roses is the not-for-profit cultural arm of New York's Health and Human Service Union, 1199/SEIU. Its 220,000 predominantly Latina and African American women members are employed in all job categories in health care institutions throughout the metropolitan area, New Jersey and Florida.

Bread and Roses was founded in 1979 as a cultural resource for union members and students in New York City who would otherwise have little access to the arts. Special emphasis is given to programs that signify and interpret their history while generating new artistic expression.

Now, go forth and explore. Come back and tell us what you've found.

And, of course, being me, I also have to ask you a few discussion questions:

Are workers' rights and fair pay important?
Should workers organize?
Are labor unions the best way to assure workers' rights?
What negatives are associated with labor unions?

Feel free to offer your own questions related to this as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Class Four - Other films about Labor Unions, Immigration and Health Care

Bread and Roses addresses so many different social justice issues that it's hard to know where to start in finding other films.

Labor union organizing? Of course, there's the Oscar-winning Norma Rae with Sally Field and The Garment Jungle with villain Lee J. Cobb.

I found a set of labor union films called Classic Labor Unions Films 3 DVD Box Set: 1940s - 1950s American Labor Union Relations, Workers
Rights & AFL-CIO History Pictures Films. It features many short pieces, really more like documentaries and recruitment pieces, but it does include a movie described thusly at
Salt Of The Earth (1954) - A full length feature produced by the International Union Of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers which tells the story of the struggling mine workers efforts to gain a safer working environment and higher pay.

There's a great list of labor and big business films at - take a peek at the site and list and see if there's something you recognize, or something you'd like to see. While it's traditional to think of unions in terms of blue collar jobs like garment workers or truck drivers, one of the films reminds us that workers have been exploited in a wide variety of fields - including the outfield. The list includes Eight Men Out, described thusly:

Eight Men Out - The loose history, directed by John Sayles, of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. The players received a pittance and turned to the only source of financial security they could find, the bookies. With stunning performance by John Cusack as the only player who refuses to go along, and a cameo by Studs Terkel.
It would be fun to do a course on sports in popular culture films. Interested? For that matter, we could do a series just on baseball in film... There are so many good ones.

Actor John Cusack's in another film where he pursues an unconventional profession which Dan Ackroyd tries to unionize:
Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997). Though a case can perhaps be made that a running gag in this film, Dan Aykroyd's attempt to form a union of hit men, underscores the film's portrayal of professional killers as the hired help of the ruling class, that argument is undercut by protagonist John Cusack's anti-union position. The real left-wing content of this film is the subverting of the product placement trend in movies and the solidarity with the Detroit newspaper strike by placing a "No News or Free Press Wanted" sign in a storefront window. - Steve Press
Check out the trailer here.

Maybe I just need to offer a John Cusack film class...

There's a great list of films dealing with immigration over at I think the earliest one they include is The Immigrant by Charlie Chaplin. The film's origins - and its use by the US government against Chaplin - is fascinating. Wikipedia comments:

According to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary series Unknown Chaplin, the first scenes to be written and filmed take place in what became the movie's second half, in which the penniless Tramp finds a coin and goes for a meal in a restaurant, not realising that the coin has fallen out of his pocket. It was not until later that Chaplin decided the reason the Tramp was penniless was that he had just arrived on a boat from Europe, and used this notion as the basis for the first half. Purviance reportedly was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence (in character as another immigrant who falls in love with Charlie) that she became physically ill.

The scene in which Chaplin's character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952. In 1998, The Immigrant was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

So Chaplin's film helped in the effort to deport him. Life is weird.

What films are you aware of that deal with unions and/or immigration?

As for the third focus of Bread and Roses, it's your turn - what popular culture films deal with the issue of inadequate access to health care and insurance coverage?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Class Four - March 16: Bread and Roses

I found a great description of the film at
A fine piece of polemical cinema, Ken Loach's Bread and Roses tells the story of the successful "Justice for Janitors" campaign, which helped establish improved pay and working conditions for the largely Latin American unskilled workforce in Los Angeles. Pilar Padilla plays Maya, who, following a traumatic crossing of the Mexican border, manages to find her older sister Rosa and eventually find work as a janitor. There, she runs into labour organiser Sam (Adrien Brody) when he evades security guards in a comical, Keystone cop-chase through an office building. He persuades her to join his campaign and a tentative romance blossoms.

Bread and Roses is a "Hollywood" movie with a difference, filmed in and around corporate LA but homing in on the lives of the ignored army of grotesquely underpaid, often illegal immigrants who give the area its sheen. At times, the semi-documentary footage of meetings and demos slackens the dramatic pace and it's interesting that the film's strongest scene is when the sceptical Rosa cuts through her sister's pro-union spiel with a devastating speech about the realities of her own life (she had to work as a prostitute). While this an imperfect movie, its political point hits home hard. Brody as Sam in particular brings a streak of fun to the movie.

David Edelstein has written a really interesting piece about the film at

Political Film Society reviews the film here.

Britfilms reviews it here.

Atlanta Journal Constitution reviews it here.

There's a great interview with director Ken Loach here.

There's another one here which, although primarily about his Irish Civil War film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, references Bread and Roses. It's well worth your time.

What did you think of the film?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Something the Lord Made

A couple of extra goodies for you today:

There is a wonderful review of Something the Lord Made at the blog Big Media Vandalism. The author, blogger Odienator, describes himself thusly:

That bald, Black, half-blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.

His writing is engaging and intelligent. He compellingly shares his personal feelings and observations. Warning: you might not ever want to leave the site. It's awesome place to learn more about how popular culture and history are viewed by someone for whom, as I think comedian Chris Rock put it, every day is Black History Day. His irreverent use of slang and dialect threw me a bit at first, but I had to laugh at his label "Black History Mumf" and general silliness like:
"The management wishes to inform you that it is aware that the proper spelling of "colored" is "cullud," and also asks: Please, no drooling on Lena Horne."

Too funny! Read his review and tell me what you think.

There are zillions of sites with teaching ideas to discuss African American History. I found a neat one linked to the Partners of the Heart PBS site. You could spend years checking out all the links!

A video clip of interviews with Alan Rickman and Mos Def and one of the men who knew Blalock and Thomas back in the day is found by clicking here.

Because you know I am a HUGE Rickman fan, I'm compelled to share this piece - Rickman reciting the poem The Long War by Laurie Lee.

If you'd like to learn more about the poet, check this out.

We haven't really explored the issue of war in this course other than looking at the Japanese internments. Perhaps that could be the focus of another course. Are you interested? What films would you like to view and discuss? I'd love to show The Wind That Shakes The Barley, about the Irish civil war. Of course, I'd also love to have an Irish film course. Would anyone care to have me offer that?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Class Three: Art Imitates Life/Life Imitates Art - The Case of the Biracial President

Today is your lucky day! I couldn't decide which of two film clips to share with you, so I'm including both.

Here's the concluding monologue to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner by Spencer Tracy. He died 17 days after filming ended. Those tears you see in Katharine Hepburn's eyes are real. She knew this would be their last film together.

Does life imitate art? Here's a conversation between Tracy and Poitier as they speculate on the fate of any future children of the interracial couple. Tracy's character's daughter had met Poitier's character in Hawaii. It's fascinating to think that six years prior to the scene being filmed, a baby was born to a white mother and black father who met in Hawaii.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote an interesting piece comparing the film with the real world in light of Barack Obama's election. He reflects on how different things are now in comparison to when the movie was made:
As Mark Harris reminds us in his recent book about late 1960s Hollywood, “Pictures at a Revolution,” it was not until the year of the movie’s release that the Warren Court handed down the Loving decision overturning laws that forbade interracial marriage in 16 states; in the film’s final cut there’s still an outdated line referring to the possibility that the young couple’s nuptials could be illegal (as Obama’s parents’ marriage would have been in, say, Virginia). In that same year of 1967, L.B.J.’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, offered his resignation when his daughter, a Stanford student, announced her engagement to a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn’t accept it.)
Do you remember a time when it was unusual to see an interracial couple? Did you hear racist remarks about such a situation? Do you think prejudicial attitudes have changed completely, or do such couples still face challenges?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Class Three: Other Films Dealing with Racial Prejudice

There are many well-known films dealing with racial prejudice. Two recent popular titles are Gran Torino and Remember the Titans.

Classic film dramas In The Heat of the Night and To Kill A Mockingbird both won numerous Academy Awards, as did the comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. All three of those dealt with racism toward a black man. In fact, it was the same black actor in Heat and Dinner - Sir Sidney Poitier.

Another famous flick, Gentleman's Agreement, exposed anti-Semitism.

I discovered several sites which have listed films about racial prejudice:


Internet Movie Database

Planned Legacy


YWCA Racial Justice Film Series

What films have you seen that deal with prejudice based on race?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Class Three: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Organizations That Promote Racial Equality

When I began to write this post, I was talking with my beloved husband. He reminded me of a public service announcement from the seventies. It memorably conveyed the notion of wasted opportunities to cure disease and make peace because of racial prejudice. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I hereby present the 1972 ad from the United Negro College Fund.

Even if you'd never seen that particular ad before, you probably remember the slogan "A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste." It summarizes the concept beautifully, I think. UNCF did other commercials on that same theme. You can watch a few of them here, here, and here. Some of their recent ads are on their site here. The Ad Council talks about the campaign here.

Do you think one is more effective or moving than others? Why?

Slight diversion:
There's a great article in Columbia Journalism Review about how Dan Quayle mangled the slogan. For some weird reason, I can't get a direct URL or find it on their site, but I was able to call up the cached version here. It's worth your time. Written in 1991 by William Boot, (the pen name of Christopher Hanson, Washington correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) the article explains:

When he addressed the United Negro College Fund, whose slogan is "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," Quayle said: ". . . you take the United Negro college fund model that what a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is." The New York Times (June 25, 1989) and at least forty other publications picked up that remark.
Quayle's mangled speech has haunted him for decades. There's even a book entitled What a Waste It Is to Lose One's Mind: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Dan Quayle.

But I digress. The topic of politicians who verbally stumble could be an entire course.

UNCF is one organization that's sought to overcome the harmful effects of racial prejudice. Another is NAACP - National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The ACLU has its own Racial Justice Program. A google search for the term racial justice groups yields
3,190,000 results.

What racial justice groups have you encountered? Are they effective? Are their efforts still needed today?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Class Three: Another Case of Prejudice Preventing Proper Credit

Perhaps you remember
this man...

but do you know who this man is?

When I was growing up, I remember my mother talking about Dr. Christiaan Barnard, a South African surgeon who had performed the world's first human heart transplant in 1967. She marveled at this feat.

Little did she - or the rest of the world - know that a black man, Hamilton Naki, was instrumental in the development of this surgery.

Naki's NYT obituary in 2005 noted:

Dr. Barnard began to acknowledge Mr. Naki's work only after the end of apartheid in 1991. In an interview shortly before his death in 2001, he called Mr. Naki "one of the great researchers of all time in the field of heart transplants."

Numerous bloggers responded passionately to the story of Naki's long uncredited contributions to science. Here are a few links to posts I found:

Disparate Thoughts - Hamilton Naki - A life worth emulating

Prometheus 6: All Respect and No Restraint - Think about how just a fraction of Mr. Naki's capabilities were developed. Think about what else racism made us miss.

Billy Rubin's Blog: A Blog Focused Principally on Medicine, Health and Commerce - A Parting Shot for Black History Month, Through the Medicine Lens

Of what examples are you aware where heroes were unsung due to racism?

Or sexism?

Or some other form of prejudice?

What are your feelings about those situations?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Class Three: Partners of the Heart - Documentary version of STLM

The PBS program American Experience produced a show based on Vivien Thomas' book, Partners of the Heart. You can learn about it at the movie's site. There's a wealth of material there, including some profiles of other African American medical pioneers.

It's thought-provoking material indeed. PBS offers further reading suggestions with a list of books and websites that will keep you busy for the rest of this year.

Do you think it's valuable to have films like Something the Lord Made to reach audiences that prefer dramatizations to documentary-style films? Which do you prefer? Or do you like to watch both?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Class Three: Something the Lord Made

Originally premiered on HBO in May, 2004, Something The Lord Made is the story of two men - an ambitious white surgeon and a gifted black carpenter turned lab technician - who defied the racial strictures of the Jim Crow South and together pioneered the field of heart surgery.

You'll find a wealth of material on the film at HBO's site. Brew yourself a cup of tea and settle in for a good read. Of particular interest are the features in the top right - interviews with the actors and director, and a tab called Share Your Story, which leads to real stories from website users who knew the doctors or had experiences related to racism and segregation.

What stories do you have about that period of time in America's history?

Here are a few reviews of the film:

Good News Film Reviews

Movie - The Film Palace

What did you think of the movie? Do you agree with the reviews, or have a different perspective?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Class Two: Bonus post for a Sunday! A Comedian's Take on Evolution vs. Creationism

Because I love my students SO much, I've decided to share a very funny clip of a one of my favorite funny men talking about evolution vs. creationism. Dara O'Briain actually raises some pretty valid points in his support of evolution...

Please note: You may wish to play it a couple of times to get used to his Irish accent.
Warning: if you are offended by mild bad language, you might not want to play this.

If you enjoyed this clip, it's part of a DVD released in the United Kingdom called Dara O'Briain, Live at the Theatre Royal. I'm not sure it plays on all US DVD players, though, so if you order it, check the DVD region(s) to make sure they're compatible with your equipment.

Class Two - Song of the Young Paleontologist

Col. Clarence Darrow and Col. Wm. Jennings Bryan
share a companionable moment during the Scopes trial.

I stumbled upon discovered this site quite by accident while doing some research about singalongs.

Don't ask.

Anyhoo, it looks pretty interesting. Remember that Tennessee was the location of the Scopes Trial. Now the East Tennessee State University Department of History hosts numerous evolution links on its webpages.

If you scroll halfway down the page, you'll find a funny song by Alexander Volokh. Sing along to the tune of
My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music.

Do you think William Jennings Bryan would have enjoyed this song? Discuss.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Class Two - Intelligent Design Proponents Claim Intellectual Freedom Threats

There is an organization called the Discovery Institute, which includes the Center for Science and Culture. Their focus is on intelligent design, which they describe thusly:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Proponents of intelligent design made a movie called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which asserted that:

The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations.

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” rejects the notion that “the case is closed,” and exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy.

You can read a New York Times article about one of the premieres of the film, in which organizers denied entry to evolutionary biologist P. Z. Myers. I suppose another way of phrasing it was that he was expelled from the theater...

Here are links to a few reviews of the film, as well as a detailed rebuttal websites:

New York Times


Christianity Today

New Scientist

Vue Weekly

Scientific American

Expelled Exposed

Movie Mom at beliefnet posts a thoughtful review of the film, as well as offering some analysis of intelligent design . She discusses the first federal case which considered whether to teach it in the schools:
A Republican Christian judge appointed by President George W. Bush ruled that Intelligent Design is not science. He ruled, "The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory...ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID...Accordingly, we find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause [of the Constitution]."

What do you think of the intelligent design theory? Is it science? Should it be taught in schools? Should teachers' rights of intellectual freedom permit them to discuss this with their classes?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Class Two - March 2: A New Religion Emerges in Response to Creationism

There's a battle in America. It's being waged on the rear ends of vehicles across the country.

I'm guessing that, at some time or another, you've seen this symbol
on the back of a car:

Christians call it the Ichthys or Ichthus, which means fish. You can learn the religious significance by clicking here. The symbol sometimes has a small crucifix inside or the Greek letters for fish, ΙΧΘΥΣ or ΙΧΘΥC.

You may have seen this one, favored by fans of evolution:Or this one, in which Christian creationists respond to evolutionists:

The evolutionists have responded with a T-Rex eating the truth fish. I'm waiting with breathless anticipation to see what happens next.

There's an intriguing article analyzing what's going on when people use these symbols. University of Georgia Speech Communications Professor Tom Lessl

contends that the Darwin fish is an act of "ritual aggression" for some, a lighthearted humorous act for others. But he asserts that it is "humor with an edge."

But have you ever seen this one? Do you know what it stands for?

Check out this website. You will find an elaborate "religion" created by one man, enthusiastically embraced by followers around the world. It's The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Bobby Henderson was responding to the Kansas School Board decisionmaking on science standards. They were considering including the "alternative theory" of intelligent design with the "theory" of evolution in classes. He wrote them a letter proposing that his religion also be presented. His letter concluded:
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.

Niklas Jansson's adaptation of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam depicts the Flying Spaghetti Monster in its typical guise as a clump of tangled spaghetti with two eyestalks, two meatballs, and many "noodly appendages".

This is the most creative satirical protest I've ever seen. Followers call themselves "Pastafarians." Their official conclusion to prayers is "RAmen."

Can you imagine them appearing in the court scene of Inherit the Wind, cheering on Spencer Tracy as he argued on behalf of evolution? Alas, they commenced their worship/activism 45 years too late. Timing is everything.

What do YOU think of all this? Craziness? Crazy-like-a-fox-ness? Blasphemous? Savvy political theatre?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Class Two - March 2: Similar Conflicts - Global Warming

There are parallels between the intellectual freedom issues raised in Inherit the Wind and the current battle over global warming. The Union of Concerned Scientists provides information and analysis here about "contrarians" - skeptic organizations who reject the widely accepted conclusions about global warming. In many cases, it's not Christian fundamentalists who are fighting scientists. It's corporate interests or extreme right-wing groups like Rev. Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Media Matters for America took issue this week with the Washington Post and columnist George Will for his alleged misuse of data and distortion of statements by climate experts to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring. You can read more details here.

Now for a more lighthearted look at the issue, courtesy of The Big Picture:

The more observant of you will note that there is no California on this map . . .

This is a parody of the famous Saul Steinberg 1976 New Yorker cartoon called "A View of the World from 9th Avenue, 1976"

Can you think of any other issues that have emerged in which groups attempt to silence scientists?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Class Two - March 2: Intellectual Freedom

Marian the Librarian
might have been a bit prim and proper,
but she was passionate about intellectual freedom!

As you know, Inherit the Wind addresses the issue of what material can be taught in public schools. The American Library Association maintains an Office for Intellectual Freedom. You can learn about their initiatives and projects such as Banned Book Week, resources such as information about intellectual freedom in the states, censorship in schools, and effects of the USA Patriot Act.

Hours of reading pleasure, indeed!

Do you think some books should be banned? What do you think of the USA Patriot Act? Should there be limits on free speech in the schools? Share your thoughts!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Class Two: Evolution vs. Creationism Today

There are numerous blogs that focus on evolution issues. Here is one that I found interesting:

EvolutionBlog Commentary on the Endless Dispute Between Evolution and Creationism

Many evolutionists consider the Obama administration to be friendly to their cause. The Tree of Life cites the science backgrounds of several new executive branch members here.

The evolutionary biologist who writes that blog, Jonathan A. Eisen, was so enthusiastic about candidate Obama that he wrote a funny post in which Charles Darwin endorsed Obama.

Indeed, the New York Times commented shortly before the election that
Mr. Obama embraces the theory of evolution and argues that the teaching of intelligent design and other creationist ideas “cloud” a student’s understanding of science.

You may recall the hullabaloo surrounding creationism vs. evolution during the 2008 Presidential election.

If not, allow these writers to remind you...

Sarah Palin, Evolution and Creationism from Science & Religion Today

Palin's Dangerous Views on Science Education from Michigan Messenger

There are also some interesting books about evolution and genetic development. Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene intrigued me. The review noted:

Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel's work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that "our" genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven't thought of evolution in the same way since.
What's YOUR view of the evolution/creationism issue?

Only a few of you commented in class. Did you agree with the student who said that she didn't understand the conflict? She viewed the Biblical stories as metaphors, not to be taken literally, so that she could simultaneously accept scientific explanations. Do you think that it's possible to believe in a god-like creator and also accept Darwin's theory? Or do you have another viewpoint?