Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Science and Medicine Page 1 of 2

Abortion Rights Under Attack in the U.S.

For close to half a century, the GOP has tried to overturn Roe v. Wade and curb women’s right to reproductive freedom. This concerted effort to prevent a pregnant female from deciding not to carry a child to term does not come with adequate funding or societal help to assure that the overwhelmed potential mother would be able to care for said child, in the event that she were forced to go forward with her pregnancy. While chipping away at the social network like a demented woodpecker, the GOP has simply thrown around hot-button words (“socialism,” “abortion”) knowing that they will evoke the crazy response they want in their followers. There has been no GOP up-tick in social programs to assist, for example, women of color with several children and no supportive mate.

Says Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen, “The threat to safe, legal abortion in America is at risk like never before.” In the past 9 years over 400 state laws have been passed restricting abortion services. Eight states have only one abortion clinic left. Exploiting the explosive “wedge issue” has become one of the mainstays of the GOP talking points, along with calling anyone who believes that a woman’s reproductive decision should be hers a “Libtard” or a “liberal snowflake.” Interesting to report, there are no similar liberal perjorative names aimed at the Conservative wing of the GOP, specifically designed to denigrate their political beliefs and, in some cases, not only verbally attack them but physically attack them, as well.

As for the majority of Americans on this divisive issue,  60 per cent believe abortion should remain legal and it is conceivable that one in four women of child-bearing age might decide to have an abortion in her lifetime. Some of these women may have been victims of rape or incest. Others may have health issues that would put their own lives at risk or simply not have the economic or psychological means to support a child at that time in their lives. Still, the anti-abortion foes will paint these women as monsters. The Conservative forces will misrepresent the point(s) at which ethical doctors will perform an abortion, and will continue to use unflattering semantics and Biblical backing from evangelical sects to support their point of view, irrespective of the wishes of the women, themselves. (I remember Dr. Howard Dean, campaigning in Iowa in 2004, telling us in someone’s back yard in Muscatine, Iowa, that he had gone through the records of his home state of Vermont and there had been NO record of a late-term (after the sixth month) abortion in the state of Vermont ever.  This was in response to a question from the Iowa caucus crowd).

In some states—Mississippi, for example—they are in the ongoing process of passing a fetal heartbeat law that bans abortions as early as six weeks, despite the fact that a U.S. district court has already struck down a law in the same state banning it at 15 weeks. Even if the opponents of legalized and safe abortions do not succeed in overturning the laws, the amount of time that these moves take can have an impact. Once closed, an abortion clinic may not open back up. Says Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood (currently under budget attack from the White House), “Even if Roe is still the law of the land, whether or not pregnant people can actually access abortion is another question entirely.” To all those individuals who are reading this and “tsk tsk-ing” about abortion, in general, I would recommend that you read “Cider House Rules” by John Irving before  becoming too secure in your position. Irving’s father and grandfather were obstetricians and he charts the drop in female mortality rates that accompanied Roe v. Wade. The safe abortion center in Bettendorf, Iowa, was forced to close some time ago, a result of the Conservative right’s concerted and never-ending attacks on them. With a Republican legislature in Des Moines, the service is no longer available in an area of 350,000 people, which, for the state of Iowa, is among its 3 largest metropolitan areas.

Meanwhile, proposed legal decisions like “June Medical Services v. Gee”  and 2016’s “”Whole Roman’s Health v. Hellerstedt” continue to move forward, challenging the current status quo. The packing of the courts by Trump supporters is not a good thing (think Brett Kavanaugh) and 21 of U.S. states are classified as “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion rights, while only 4 are “supportive” or “very supportive.” Five states currently have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade fell. The state of Arkansas has no exceptions for rape or incest and would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, 422 bills were introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia, which were aimed at protecting reproductive rights in 2018. One hundred were fully enacted into law. “Public support for Roe v. Wade has never been higher that it is right now” says a former Planned Parenthood leader: “If you are one of the majority of Americans who care about access to safe and legal abortion, now is the time to make your voice heard.” Otherwise, the Conservative plan is to make it so hard to access this currently legal right that it will, in effect, cause the downfall of Roe v. Wade without having to actually legislate it out of existence. In 1976, only 3 years after Roe v. Wade went into effect, the Hyde Amendment blocked federal Medicaid dollars from going toward abortions and the Supreme Court upheld that as constitutional in 1980. In “Planned Parenthood v. Case” the court further determined in that 1992 decision that limitations could be put on abortion as long as they didn’t create “an undue burden. (A blanket right was turned into a circumstantial right.)

Julie Rikelman, Director of U.S. litigation for the Center for Reproductive Rights says, “Even if the Supreme Court never utters the words ‘Roe is now overruled,’ it can do a huge amount of harm.” Are the women of 2020 willing to go back to the days of back-street illegal abortions (one of which left a friend and former classmate of mine dead in her apartment in Iowa City, Iowa, back in 1964? I hope that the young women of the United States start paying attention to this area that DJT is also stirring up and, flying the false flag of Conservative evangelical piety, is attacking as he is attacking most other bulwarks of our Constitutional democracy.

Has James P. Allison Found the Cure for Cancer? The Nobel Prize Committee Awards University of Texas Researcher the 2018 Prize for Medicine

James P. Allison

James P. Allison

     [Nobel Media Phot0]

James P. Allison of Alice, Texas, was inspired to try to develop a cure for cancer when he was eleven years old in 1959. That year, Jim’s mother died of lymphoma. As the years went by, one brother died of prostate cancer and one developed metastatic melanoma. Jim, himself, has faced down cancer three times, so far, in his seventy-one years.

BACKGROUND

Said Jim of his life’s work and ambition:  “If you’re gonna’ do these things, you oughta’ at least do things that help people.” He thought back to his own childhood and reminisced, “They thought I was a troublemaker. I just knew I was right…If you disagree with someone or something, you just have to stand your ground.” When he finally found a way to put his discovery into drug form, it took many years spent overcoming “all kinds of things that stood in the way.”

Young Jim’s father traveled frequently, so he often spent time with another family that had a son about his own age after his mother’s death and, always, he played the harmonica and relied on music to release some of the pain and the pressure in his life. His friendship with Willie Nelson is illustrated, with an appearance onstage at Austin City alongside his musical idol.

After graduating from high school at the tender age of 16 in 1965, Jim went on to become a researcher in the field of immunology—using the body’s own defense system to cure cancer tumors. It was for his discovery of a drug dubbed Ipilimumab or Ipi (known commercially as Yervoy) that he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Stockholm for medicine or physiology.

BREAKTHROUGH, THE DOCUMENTARY

Director Bill Haney, winner of a Silver Hugo, the Gabriel Prize, short-listed for an Oscar, and winner of accolades from Marine Conservation, Genesis, Amnesty International and Earthwatch weaves an engrossing tale around Allison’s achievements, narrated by Hollywood’s Woody Harrelson. He inserts scenes of James Harrelson with his wife and son alongside the expert testimony of some of the other leading researchers in the field, including the University of Chicago’s Jeffrey Bluestone, whose own discovery challenged Ipi in the field at the time.

Another effective visual method for the audience was to find the dramatic patient—the one whose participation in the clinical trials for Ipi saved her life. That patient was Sharon Belvin, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma at the age of 22. With metastatic melanoma, she was told she would not live more than 7 months. As we see in the film, Sharon has not only lived decades beyond her original diagnosis, she has been completely tumor-free since receiving Ipi, is married, and has two children.

We even get to have a happy ending of James Allison “getting the girl,” in this case, prominent fellow researcher Dr. Padmanee Sharma, whom he married after his marriage to wife Malinda fell victim to his work.

THE STORY

Jim struggles throughout to make it clear that Ipi is NOT an anti-cancer drug. It all started with the belief that the immune system played an important role in responding to cancer and that the T cells of the immune system needed to be studied. “I really wanted to understand T cells and the immune system,” James Allison says. Tyler Jacks, a fellow scientist, tells us: “Jim doesn’t care that he is not following convention. He’s an iconoclast. They are always thinking beyond the work. They’re creative people.” Jim felt that tumors caused T-cell receptors to turn off the immune system, but if you inserted an antibody, then the T-cells would be free to attack the tumor. His experiments with mice were amazing as the mice that had received the antibodies just before Christmas became tumor-free.

But now the real work began.

OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME

Jim spent ten years trying to get his discovery of the antibody that would turn the immune system into a fighting force against tumors made into a drug for cancer patients like Sharon Belvin. He had written his first paper (“Enhancement of Anti Tumor Immunology by CTLA-4”) in 1996, but things went South fast.

Interferon 2 was in the news then, but it took “two years and nobody would listen.” This is the period of time when Jim’s brother, Mike, was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in his fifties. Two of Jim’s uncles had also died of cancer. Jim’s urgency escalated. But clinical trials take deep pockets; no big pharma firms wanted to shell out for them. If a drug is deemed safe in Phase 1, it goes on to Phases 2 and 3. As one fellow researcher said on camera, “Mainstream medicine was ignoring the immunology crowd. And pharmaceutical companies don’t know if something is promising or deadly.”

James’ P. Allison’s drug, known commercially as Yervoy, became the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years with many living beyond 10 years— unprecedented results. Additional research has extended this approach to new immune regulatory targets with drugs approved to treat certain types and stages of melanoma, lung, kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, cervical, colo-rectal cancer, and head and neck cancers as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The documentary premiered at SXSW on March 9th. If you have a close friend or loved one affected by cancer (and who doesn’t?) you should see this one.

Foxconn (Co.) Is Not Hiring 13,000 Wisconsin Workers After All

Many stories breaking now, including the loss of Foxconn in Wisconsin, a company that had promised to hire 13,000 people and bring back jobs to the Heartland. This promise was trumpeted by Donald J. Trump (henceforth referenced as DJT) and Foxconn’s $10 billion dollar plans were conscripted by DJT to show he was “making America great again.”

Well, Foxconn may not build this plant and all the photos of DJT manning a shovel in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin in June are toast. Foxconn received billions of dollars worth of incentives from the state of Wisconsin (under then Republican Governor  and notorious union-buster Scott Walker) but now they say it is going to be more of a technology hub, NOT the return of manufacturing jobs to the United States. (“Say it isn’t so,” wails DJT).

And, of course, I’ve recommended watching “Blood on the Mountain” about coal mining in West Virginia on Amazon Prime many times, for those who believed DJT’s promises of bringing back coal mining jobs to mines that are, essentially, pretty well shot. According to “Blood on the Mountain,” companies are actually resorting to blowing up the tops of mountains, since deep mining has exhausted the coal supply over decades of previous continuous mining.

Trump took credit for Foxconn’s supposed return to the U.S., saying they only were going to come back to the United States (and Wisconsin) because he was elected president. And only Trump knows about the military, as he publicly called his military advisers “naive.”

Everything is looking like his only way out of the corner(s) he has painted himself into (the wall, Foxconn’s return, etc.) is “once again into the breach,” meaning shutting down the government. Again.

Ugh. 

Meanwhile, crews are lighting train tracks on fire in Chicago (my home town) because of the intense cold and I’m amusing myself by playing the recording of towns around the U.S. like Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids (IA), Des Moines (IA), Independence (IA) and Menomonie (WI), [all of them c-c-c-cold] on WTForecast.com (a humorous weather app).

Global Warming is Wreaking Havoc with Weather Patterns

In a recent Gallup poll, 66% of Americans said they wanted to see something done about global warming. Scientific studies have long cried “Wolf!” about the impending climate change, caused by global warming, and reversible, we thought, up until 2020—DoomsDay, according to a 2014 Field Museum documentary.

But developments are  heating up, in more ways than one. Rising temperatures are wreaking havoc in the Arctic and Antarctic and melting ice sheets that were thought to be impregnable, like the Vincennes Bay glaciers just south of Australia, crucial because they block the inland Aurora and Wilkes ice basins from falling into the sea.

If both basins collapsed, sea levels could rise by up to 92 feet, submerging coastal communities across the globe (this means you, Miami! And New York City might become the Little Apple if part of it goes under due to a catastrophic event like this.

Lately, Donald Trump has been on his Twitter feed ignorantly trumpeting his complete indifference to this life-threatening scenario while a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that 2018 was the second-warmest year on record and the second-worst year for sea ice.

The Bering Sea lost an area of ice the size of Idaho in 2 weeks’ time in February, 2018. Toxic algae blooms, a warm weather phenomenon, are also becoming common and all manner of wildlife are threatened, including 80% of the krill on which walruses and penguins in the Antarctic feed. Global warming causes unusual weather patterns, like the polar vortex currently causing -40 to -60 temperatures in the Midwest or the forest fires that swept California.

It’s time to wise up and join other nations in combating human effects on global warming; we don’t have time to wait around to do it!

Steve Bannon is Profiled in “American Dharma” by Errol Morris

Errol Morris, one of the world’s foremost documentary filmmakers (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”), presents us with his latest film, “American Dharma,” a sobering peek into the mind of the man “Time” magazine dubbed the Master Manipulator, Steve Bannon.

Dharma means “duty, fate and destiny,” according to this past and present Trump advisor.  Before the film screened, the Chicago Cinema documentary chief (Anthony Kaufman) read a brief note from the filmmaker which said, “Who would have thought that Henry King, David Lean, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Ritchie and Orson Welles would offer such fertile ground for Fascism.  This is my most despairing and horrifying movie.” Morris was referencing Bannon’s frequent allusions to films he has seen which have spoken to him, none mentioned more frequently than “12 O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, (directed by Henry King).

There is little doubt that Bannon (assisted by Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway), entering the Trump campaign at the eleventh hour with the financial backing of Rebekkah Mercer and family, saved Trump’s campaign. Bannon brought with him a game plan and what he refers to in the film as the Honey Badger spirit of never giving up. Bannon brought a first-rate mind and education (Harvard Business School, among others) to the battle, albeit a reputation for being “a stone-cold racist” and someone who is “doubling down on fear.” As Bannon says onscreen, “You need to be a blunt force instrument.”   He adds, “We just did it and now we’re gonna’ march on the Capitol.  We’re gonna’ drop the hammer.”

Bannon, who was Executive Chairman of Breitbart News under Andrew Breitbart said, “The medium is the message and he (Trump) understood that.”  Bannon described 15 to 18% of the voting public as people who didn’t like either candidate offered them in the presidential race, and notes that two-thirds of those people opted to vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Bannon—who has been taking his show on the road covering the European circuit since his dismissal by Trump after Charlottesville— reminds the interviewer that “We had Brexit as the canary in the mineshaft.” Says Bannon, as campaign guru he felt the Trump campaign needed to convince the American voting public of 3 things:

  • That Trump would stop immigration.
  • That Trump would bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
  • That Trump would get us out of foreign wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Referencing a cautionary speech by Hillary Clinton in her campaign, known as the “alt right” speech, in which Hillary warned of the dangers inherent in a Trump presidency, Bannon crows, “That’s when I knew we had her. They’d walked right into the trap. If they (the voters) see you as the instrument to get their country and their jobs back, they’ll vote for you.” His point: Hillary did not represent the change that the states of West Virginia and most of the Midwest wanted to see.

Citing quotes like “When the legend becomes more powerful than the truth, print the legend,” and “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” Bannon pulls from Errol Morris an admission that Morris voter for Clinton “because I was afraid of you guys.  I still am.  I did it out of fear.”

Another favorite Bannon quote from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is, “I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in heaven.”

Morris asks Bannon if he’s all abut destroying everything and Bannon basically acknowledged that he is, saying, “We have to clean out some of the underbrush” and “A complete rejection of the system is due,” which he predicts will come after another financial crisis and will be “like a scythe through grass. It is coming.”

THE GOOD

In addition to warning us all exactly how this administration thinks, the solemn, depressing, insistent music, courtesy of Paul Leonard-Morgan, adds immensely to the tone and impact of the film. The cinematography by Igor Martinovic, who frequently poses Bannon in profile against the horizon, is good. Setting fire to the hangar (Quonset hut?) where the interview takes place is both a great metaphor for Steve Bannon’s philosophy of “the Fourth Turning” and makes for great visual imagery.

THE BAD

Is there anything more depressing than listening to someone this close to power telilng us, “Revolution is coming. It will come, as night follows day?” Aside from the Steve Miller-crafted “American Carnage” speech, [which George W. Bush on Inauguration Day declared was “Some weird shit”], how uplifting is it to hear Steve Bannon tell say, “I’m saying if we don’t make changes we’re going to have an Apocalypse.” (Bannon also claimed that Trump wrote the speech himself and denied that Trump ever lies.)
Recommended, but have something uplifting awaiting you when you finish up watching this important 95 minute documentary from the master.

 

 

Jane Goodall & the Wild Chimpanzees of Gombe Are the Subject of Husband Hugo VanLewick’s Treasure Trove of Discovered Film

When  I taught 7th and 8th grade Language Arts, I always showed the students the documentary (16 mm. film rented from the local library) “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees.” Imagine my excitement at learning that Director Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays In the Picture” (2002); “The Chicago Ten,” (2007); “Cobain:  Montage of Heck” (2015)) had unearthed a vast treasure trove of National Geographic film shot by Jane Goodall’s husband, Hugo Van Lewick, long considered one of the most accomplished photographers of wild life.

Jane Goodall was Louis Leakey’s 26-year-old British secretary when Leakey selected her to go to Gombe in 1957 and study chimpanzees. She had no formal higher education, as her parents were not wealthy enough to afford university, but she had an abundance of patience, an open scientifically inclined mind, and a life-long love of animals. She had a desire to get close to wildlife. Jane’s father left for the war when she was five, and her mother was very supportive of her daughter’s unorthodox aims.

Said Jane, “I wanted to do things that men did and women didn’t. I wanted to come as close to talking to animals as I could. I had dreamt of going to Africa ever since the age of 8 or 9.  I felt that this was where I was meant to be.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but I wanted to be able to move among them…And so began one of the most exciting periods of my life: the time of discovery.”

Through Jane’s extensive documentation and Hugo’s photographic record (he arrived September 1,1962, funded by National Geographic), we learn that it took almost 5months in Gombe before the chimpanzees began to accept Jane Goodall.  Jane began naming the chimps (David Graybeard, Goliath, Mr. McGregor, Flo and her baby Fifi and, eventually, Flint) and the chimps began to actually come into the tents to steal bananas. In fact, ultimately a system had to be put in place to keep the chimpanzees from stampeding the place in search of any manner of goods to carry off. Jane comments: “Staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back..How like us in so many ways.”

Both Jane and Hugo found it “absolutely thrilling to have the chimps so close.” Jane writes, “What an amazing privilege to be accepted by a wild, free animal.” Hugo’s funding from National Geographic (which contributed most of the film used, but without much organization or color, as the director confided, both of which he had to provide) ran out and Hugo left, moving to the Serengetti Plain to photograph all manner of animals. A telegram arrived for Jane that said, “Will you marry me? Stop. Hugo.”

And so the woman who had given little thought to marriage or having a family did marry Hugo and the newspapers of the day had a field day with headlines like: “Me Hugo, You Jane.” “Jungle Relationship Leads to Altar.” “Eat Your Heart Out, Fay Wray,” and “Beauty and Her Beasts.” Soon, the couple had a son, whom they called Grub. As Jane recounted the couple’s partnership, she said, “You got married. You got pregnant and you had a baby.” Jane dedicated herself to raising their son for the first three years, and commented that, “There is no doubt that my observations of the chimpanzees helped me to be a better mother.” She commented that she “understood the mother/child bond better” after giving birth. However, she also soon found that she couldn’t both raise a child and study the chimps.

Jane Goodall with one of her wild chimpanzees.

Jack Parr (better known as the early host of the “Tonight” show) came to interview Grub and we learn that Grub had to be locked In a sort of grandiose enclosure or cage, as chimpanzees have been known to eat other small primates.  At the age of six, Grub was sent back to England for schooling and, after a period spent working as Hugo’s assistant on the Serengetti Plain, Jane returned to Gombe, visiting her son who was being raised by Jane’s mother (his grandmother) on holidays in England.

When Jane returned to Gombe, however, tragedy struck. The chimps had been struck by a polio epidemic and many of them died or were crippled. McGregor had to be shot, and Jane comes down definitively on the side of euthanasia, saying, “I see no difference between helping an animal and helping a human.  The epidemic didn’t start with us, but it was tragic.” A rule was made that students studying the chimps could no longer touch them.

Flo, the dominant female amongst the group, had a daughter, Fifi. Then came Flint and the opportunity to observe a baby chimpanzee grow to adulthood in the wild presented itself. The observations so far had already proven that chimps were capable of making tools (in this case, long sticks used to lure ants from logs). Now more funding could be garnered to study a baby chimp that would grow to adulthood while being observed.

However, Jane’s own marriage to Hugo was faltering, impacted by their differing circumstances, and ended in divorce (Hugo died in 2002). Hugo’s letter to Jane spelled out the conditions of marriage: “The woman is to be a compliment to the man in all things.” Let’s just say that Jane Goodall did not completely buy into that philosophy and the pair went their separate ways, while remaining friends.

Grub, their son, now lives in Dar Es Salaam, where he builds boats.

Brett Morgen describes some of the difficulties faced in helming “Jane” about Jane Goodall and the wild chimpanzees and her life. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Filmmaker Brett Morgan, who appeared after the showing for a Q&A. announced that the film will be showing in Chicago by Friday, October 26. He was asked how he got the film and responded:  “I received a call from National Geographic about this lost film. But there were no 2 consecutive shots. We had to construct the narrative. That was 2 and ½ years ago.  The film was also totally silent, so we had to add sound editing in the office. There was a massive library of chimp vocalizations and we arranged for all the footage to move to the music. We also put in 225 hours of hand painting to make the film resemble the vibrant forest that Jane described, as it was sort of brown when it was found. There were very few scratches on the film. Every shot is Hugo’s. There is no stock footage.  Hugo was a total neophyte when he went to Gombe, but these two people defined and redefined their vocations.”

In response to questions from the audience, Morgan said, “It was also kind of empowering that Jane didn’t’ have to give up her dream for a man.  It is a very refreshing message for boys and young men and is of equal or greater value for young boys. Kids: follow your dreams! The message for parents comes from Jane’s strong mother: she listened and accepted Jane for who she is and allowed her to be heard and identified.”

Documentary “Jane” plays the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When asked about interviewing others who might know Goodall (now in her eighties) Morgan said, “I don’t do the broad interview approach where you interview anyone and everyone.  Jane was enough.”

VERDICT

This is a truly outstanding look at the work of two pioneering students of animal behavior and the landscapes and photography of wildlife in Africa are beautifully done, with a score by composer Philip Glass. Although there were moments when the soaring crescendos of Glass’ music became almost intrusive, the film as it was originally found (silent and brown) was vastly improved by the addition of the animal sounds and the voice of Jane, herself, reading from some of her books, including “Reason for Hope.” I learned so much that I had not known about this truly remarkable woman and one of her observations late in the film, when her chimpanzees became aggressive and violent, was sad: “I had no idea of their (the chimpanzees) brutality. I thought that was just humans, but now I think it is deeply embedded in our genes.”

As Director Brett Morgan said, “Jane Goodall is an author, first and foremost, and also a good speaker.” He mentioned “Reason for Hope” and talked of the poetry and lyricism of her writing. She has devoted her life to trying to help preserve the wild chimpanzees, moving around the globe with her message and never spending more than 3 weeks in any one place since leaving Gombe. She has said of Morgan’s film that it is “the only one that has captured Gombe” and her favorite of all previous films made about her work.

Totally Preventable Disease that Killed “The Cincinnati Kid”

There are diseases that become forever associated with a famous victim. Michael J. Fox is active with research for Parkinson’s Disease. Mary Tyler Moore was a lifelong diabetic. Jerry Lewis, although not a victim of the disease, will always be associated with the marathon television fundraisers he organized and helmed for Muscular Dystrophy.

One particularly insidious disease had, as its most famous victim, Mr. Cool, himself – a man who once said, “You only go around once in life, and I’m going to grab a handful of it.”
And, boy, did he ever!

This famous actor once was at the top of Charles Manson’s “hit list.” It was by sheer luck that this A-lister was not present the night Manson’s minions struck and killed Roman Polanski’s pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate, and her entourage at her Los Angeles home. (After learning his name was on a Manson “hit list,” the star began carrying a gun.) His last words were said to be, “I did it,” although other reports say he died in his sleep under an assumed name (Sam Shepherd) at a Juarez, Mexico clinic. This mega-star died of mesothelioma – a cancer affecting the lining of the organs, such as the lungs, heart and/or abdomen.

Who was he? More about that in a moment.

Mesothelioma is a disease that kills between 2,000 and 3,000 people annually, and an estimated 43,000 people around the world die from the disease each year. You can be exposed to the asbestos, which is a known cause of the illness, and not show any symptoms for decades due to the disease’s long latency period. It is particularly difficult to catch early, because the symptoms mimic so many others. To wit:
1) Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
2) A persistent cough that worsens
3) Blood coughed up from the lungs
4) Pain or tightness in the chest
5) Difficulty swallowing
6) Swelling of the neck or face
7) Loss of appetite
8) Weight loss
9) Fatigue or anemia

Those symptoms mimic many other diseases, and victims often do not seek help until their illness is too far advanced for effective treatment. Even cases that are caught early have a grim prognosis.

One other famous face of mesothelioma was musician Warren Zevon, who wrote “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” In a “Tonight Show” program devoted solely to Zevon and his music, talk show host David Letterman paid tribute to the “Werewolves of London” tunesmith. Zevon advised, known to be terminal with mesothelioma at the time of the taping, advised others “enjoy every sandwich.” (These taped appearances can still be found on YouTube and are deeply moving; Zevon worked right up until his death, compiling a memorable final album which featured many guest artists.)

The famous face of mesothelioma mentioned in paragraph two has been named one of the Top Thirty Movie Stars of All Time on various polls. His work has been cited as an influence on actors working today, like Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell. He once said, “I live for myself, and I answer to nobody.” That maverick anti-establishment attitude informed his work and his life—and made it more difficult to get him to consult a doctor when he first noticed a persistent cough in 1978. Although he gave up his cigarette habit and underwent antibiotic treatments, he did not improve.

Finally, after filming one of his final films, “The Hunter,” Steve McQueen had a chest X-ray and a biopsy. The biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive and rare cancer directly caused by exposure to asbestos. The most likely explanation for why McQueen contracted the disease is also in keeping with his rogue image: he was a Marine at one point early in life and was sent to the brig for not reporting for duty, but being absent without leave (AWOL) to spend time with a woman. Part of McQueen’s punishment was to remove asbestos from pipes aboard a troop ship.

McQueen also speculated that Hollywood’s love affair with asbestos, which was used on movie sets to create fake snow from 1930 to 1950, might have exposed him to the deadly carcinogen. The use of asbestos occurred in movies as famous as the Bond film “Goldfinger” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (although not used in that Jimmy Stewart picture as snow, because a substance known as foamite had been invented for that purpose in 1946). Asbestos was used to decorate other parts of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” set and it was used in the CBS Network facilities building for years, where another veteran character actor, Ed Lauter (“The Longest Yard,” “The Family Plot”), worked for many years. He died of the disease in 2013 at the age of 75, only five months after his diagnosis.

In 1942, when Bing Crosby sang “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in the film “Holiday Inn,” the snow falling was actually asbestos, and 1939’s “Wizard of Oz” relied on asbestos for the poppy field scene
. Stunt men who wore flame retardant suits in films were exposed to asbestos (McQueen did many of his stunts himself and “Towering Inferno” was one of his biggest films) The suits that race car drivers often wore contained asbestos in the early days; McQueen was a well-known racing enthusiast of both fast cars and motorcycles.

Steve McQueen’s efforts to find treatment led him to Mexico to undergo questionable treatments by a man (William Donald Kelley) who promoted a version of the Gerson therapy. It used coffee enemas, daily injections of fluid containing live cells from cattle and sheep, massages, frequent washing with shampoos, and laetrile, which is derived from apricot pits. Nothing worked. McQueen paid upwards of $40,000 a month ($116,000 in today’s dollars) for the treatments over three months in Mexico. (Kelley’s medical license was revoked in 1976).

Against his U.S. doctor’s advice (U.S. doctors said his heart was too weak), Steve McQueen underwent surgery to remove huge tumors that had, by that time, spread to his liver, neck and abdomen. [The liver tumor, alone, allegedly weighed five pounds] McQueen died of cardiac arrest at 3:45 a.m., twelve hours after surgery on November 7, 1980, at age 50. The El Paso Times said he died in his sleep. He was cremated and his ashes were spread over the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, the asbestos that took Steve McQueen’s life at age 50, almost 40 years ago, is still legal in the United States. First responders to the 9/11 attack in New York City on September 11, 2001, survivors present in the city and those involved in cleanup at the site were exposed to asbestos, as it was used in the construction of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of tons of asbestos was released into the atmosphere as a result of the airplane attacks. My own nephew, an architect, was in charge of plans by an architecture firm to remove asbestos from schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that took place within the last five years.

Organizations like the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance work year-round to educate people about the dangers of asbestos. Steve McQueen’s death was only one of thousands that year, but people are still being exposed to the mineral today and thousands will be diagnosed this year.

Maybe it’s time to step up and make asbestos illegal in the United States?

Super Bowl Sunday: Not Feeling So Super

I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.

Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.

Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).

Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.

On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.

Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.

Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.

On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.

As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!

Danny Glover Accepts Visionary Award at Chicago International Film Festival

Danny Glover accepts the Visionary Award from Cinema Chicago founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.

Danny Glover accepts the Visionary Award from Cinema Chicago founder and artistic director Michael Kutza.

Danny Glover appeared in Chicago to promote the Nigerian film “93 Days” and accept a Visionary Award from Festival Founder Michael Kutza.The film “93 Days,” based on real-life events, follows the Nigerian effort to stop the Ebola virus from spreading, when it was introduced into the capital city of Lagos (21 million people) in 2014.

Director Steve Gukas and star of "93 Days" Danny Glover.

Director Steve Gukas and star of “93 Days” Danny Glover.

As Director Steve Gukas said, “This film is about our inter-connectedness. The sacrifice of a few actually saved the lives of many the world over.” The trailer looked good, so I gave the film my attention for what seemed like an interminable 124 minutes of time. The film has international distribution at this time, but no U.S. distribution yet, so my remarks about the film must wait for later.

(L to R) Producers Dotun Okahunri, Bolanie Austen-Peers, Pemon Rami and Director Steve Gukas.

(L to R) Producers Dotun Okahunri, Bolanie Austen-Peers, Pemon Rami and Director Steve Gukas.

Many of the film’s producers and stars accompanied the film to Chicago and Glover said, before its screening, “I can’t tell you how proud I was to work with my brothers and sisters in Nigeria. I can’t thank the producers and Steve Gukas enough for allowing me to be a part of this.”

Producer Pemon Rami of Chicago.

Producer Pemon Rami of Chicago.

The only United States producer on the project was Pemon Rami, who is one of the elders of black cinema and has been involved in the development of TV shows, films, music concerts, documentaries and plays for more than 60 years. He is the first African American casting director for Chicago films. When asked about his experiences helping make “93 Days,” Pemon said, “I was the only producer from the U.S. I was there for 3 months working on the film. We were in places in Nigeria that you don’t typically see. Some of the places the houses all looked like the White House!” When asked how Danny Glover became involved with the film, Rami said, “When he read the script, he wanted to be involved in a bigger way.” As it is, Glover’s part is bigger in the opening parts of the film when the crisis is being diagnosed than it is during the “solve-this-problem” parts of the film, when actor Tim Reid, playing Dr. David, took over.

ffthroughdannyglover-077When Festival founder Michael Kutza mentioned that an invitation to attend Chicago’s Film Festival has been extended on three earlier occasions, Glover vowed it would not be his last visit and said, “You know, I was in Hyde Park in New York City accepting an award just a day or so ago, and then I had a commitment with the school board there. Then I was cooking dinner for Harry Belafonte at his home the other night, at Idlewild to honor labor leaders, and at the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party on Saturday.” In other words, Glover keeps busy, and he was nowhere busier than in Chicago where he appeared in not just one, but three separate film entries.

“24 Weeks” Examines the Issue of Late-Term Abortion(s) in Germany at Chicago International Film Festival

The German film “24 Weeks” from Director Anne Zohra Berrached was screened in Chicago for 8 members of the press on Wednesday, October 5th. It is the story of a popular stand-up comedienne (think a German version of Amy Schumer) who finds herself pregnant by her live-in long-time love and manager, only to discover, several months into her pregnancy, that her unborn child will have both Down’s syndrome and a serious heart condition.

Movingly portrayed by German actress Julia Jentsch, this is not a “feel good” movie. Comedienne Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch) shows every sign of being a woman on the fast track to comedy success. Onstage, she even jokes, “You can tell a decent joke and lactate,” to an adoring audience.

That is all before the couple discovers the health problems their second child will face.

Astrid’s partner, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) wants to go to any lengths to have this second child, who will be a younger brother to their daughter, Nele (Emilia Pieschke). The couple is preparing to accept the Down’s Syndrome baby into their lives and visit similarly afflicted youngsters, taking their young daughter. Then their housekeeper, Kati, announces that she is not prepared to stay on and help them, and they turn to Astrid’s mother, who seems to be Astrid’s last hope.

Astrid’s manager and live-in love of 8 years, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) is very pro-life and wants to do everything to make this second child happen.
(“It feels wrong somehow to decide whether a human being lives or dies.”) Astrid (Julia Jentsch) is initially in synch with her spouse’s wishes.

But, as time goes on, she becomes more convinced that, as she explains to their young daughter, Nele (Emilia Piescke), “I don’t think he (the unborn fetus) will have a nice life.” Accusations come her way from Marcus that she is only thinking about her career and I honestly was waiting for the entire relationship to spiral out of control. (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” William Butler Yeats).

I was the only woman in the theater today watching “24 Weeks.”

I sensed outrage amongst the male critics present when the hospital authorities told the frustrated father of the child, “In Germany, ultimately it’s your wife’s decision. That’s the law.” Markus (the prospective father) rails against any talk of a late-term abortion, which would be achieved by injecting potassium chloride into the fetus’ heart, after which the mother would go into labor and give birth to a dead child. Markus tells Astrid, “You can’t do it. Nothing else matters.”

This is a film about life-altering decisions and the people who have to make them.

It is extremely well acted and well written (also by director Anne Zohra Berrached). The topic is still an ongoing debate in this country and will continue to be after the upcoming election. Abortion and capital punishment are always “hot button” issues; that will probably always be the case.

And, no, I won’t tell you what Astrid decides to do.

That really would be a “spoiler.”

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