VictoriaBarmak

I have opinions, and I am not afraid to share them.

MERAMEC’S CONTRIBUTION IN MEDIA LITERACY

Originally posted on www.meramecmontage.com on November 22, 2011

As in previous years, the Media Literacy Week events, which hosted 13 workshops and seminars Nov. 5 – Nov. 12, brought together students, researchers, community residents, journalists and educators to learn and discuss what media literacy means.

For the last five years, STLCC-Meramec has partnered with Gateway Media Literacy Partners.  Five of the events this year took place on Meramec’s campus.

Media Literacy Week originated in 2004 when Eric Meyer, associate professor in English came across an article that cited a study about the sources of factually incorrect information.  The study, called “Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq”, asked participants factual questions about the Iraq war.

“Tons of people got the factual questions wrong,” Meyer said.  “The study got me to realize that the big part of the problem involved the media and how people interact with the media.”

Prompted by what he learned from the study, Meyer went to a National Conference For Media Reform where he found that media literacy crosses all disciplines and touches almost everything.   ”It really is just an extension of standard literacies,” Meyer said.  While at the conference, Meyer began planning Meramec’s Media Education Week which debuted at Meramec later that year and in 2009 became Media Literacy Week.

Over the years, the event has attracted such prominent figures as Jackson Katz, Ph.D., Gender Scholar, one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists as well as KSHE’s Radio Rich Dalton, St. Louis’ own air personality for more than 30 years.

The Meramec student body has also been involved in Media Literacy Week events. The Montage student newspaper presents annually and Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) was added to this year’s program.

When Meyer approached PTK President Robyn McGrade about organizing a student-run program for the Media Literacy Week, she jumped at the opportunity. Currently, the study topic for PTK, the national honor society for two-year colleges, is political literacy.

“Media literacy has a lot of amazing information to offer, and the more opportunities you have to get people to want to participate in deciphering information around them, the better.  Ideally, media should be responsible for giving us fact-checked information.  But since that is not the case in our day and age, we have to take on a responsibility of our own to be knowledgeable about what’s going on,” McGrade said.

On Monday, Nov. 7, McGrade and Mark Wilson, student government president, gave a presentation called Political Media Literacy: Deciphering our Political Commercials.

“Media literacy is extremely important because every day we are bombarded with media from the Internet, TV, billboards and advertising in stores so the ability to read through that is extremely important for everybody,” Wilson said. “But as a college student, a big part of education is learning how to think critically, and if you cannot go out into the world and critically interpret what you see and what you take in you are not going to be as great of an asset to the society or to yourself.”

Dr. John Messmer, political science professor has supported the Media Literacy Week program events each year. This year, his class attended the PTK presentation.

“You should have a care about information; there should be a natural concern.  Am I getting the right news or am I being manipulated? Am I getting a short end of the stick?  Got to question everything,” Messmer said. “We are talking about being able to digest the information, and understanding the truth. Whether or not it is celebrity news or whether it is political news, whether somebody is trying to sell you cornflakes or a car, information is still information. That’s why media literacy is fundamentally so important.”

SHOULD MARIJUANA BE LEGALIZED?

Originally posted on www.meramecmontage.com on February 8, 2012

What do the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 have in common?  Both laws were once part of the American legal and social landscapes, both were once considered perfectly natural; and to most modern men and women those laws are inconceivable.

As our society evolves, we reconsider previously accepted ideas.  Other ideas give rise to panic, and are resisted; for example, Cannabis Sativa L.

Bud, nuggets, blaze, Mary Jane, rope.  No plant has yielded as much controversy and has been as misunderstood as cannabis. The myths about marijuana and its effects are as plentiful as its names.  All the myths, although still widely exploited, have been debunked or credibly challenged.

Scientists have proven alcohol and nicotine are far more addictive than marijuana. There is no need to remind anyone that a wealth of data attests to marijuana’s medical benefits.

Despite America’s comparatively severe penalties, the U.S. is already the world’s leading per capita marijuana consumer.

The economic ramifications of the prohibition of marijuana and its subsequent black market economy with its billions of tax-free dollars are evident.

In order to understand the actual nature of marijuana’s prohibition, one must understand it has very little to do with the purported “harm” cannabis does and more with the politics behind it.

Marijuana has not always been illegal.  For example, Cannabis was prescribed by physicians for medicinal purposes in late 19th century.  Farmers were encouraged to grow cannabis in the form of hemp as early as the 17th century.

Other evidence, however, suggests the prohibition of marijuana was nothing more than a xenophobic attempt to control the influx of Mexican workers into the U.S. The migrants, who used marijuana for recreational purposes, were coming into the United States in search of work during the Great Depression and were competing with the white men seeking jobs. Some have also argued the pharmaceutical industry promoted the prohibition of marijuana because it saw marijuana as a competitor.

Why then, despite all the knowledge discrediting the myths and the information available, is marijuana still a taboo?

The answer is simple.  Argumentum ad antiquitatem – it has always been this way.  Any orthodoxy or convention is very slow to change.  The status quo is always the most comfortable place to be.   Hesitancy to legalize marijuana stems from the same ideas; since it has always been done this way, leave it as is.  Everything new is always scary.  The problem is marijuana use is nothing new.

Despite opposition, the war on marijuana is futile.  Look no further than the Alcohol Prohibition laws, just as with prohibition, people can learn a lesson here: the government’s job is not to coerce and censor, but to inform and promote responsible usage and give help to those who need it.

So what are the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924? The former stated that all runaway slaves had to be returned to their rightful owners and the latter was an anti-miscegenation law that prohibited interracial marriages. Wrap your minds around those two in our contemporary world.

By the way, once upon a time, tomatoes were illegal and considered deadly poison. Add that one to the list of things to ponder.

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU LUCKY

I knew it.  Call it sixth sense, if you will. I knew it when the face of the sonogram technician changed, and she suggested I follow her to the next room to get prepped for a mammogram.  “What’s wrong?” I asked her then.  “Nothing,” she replied, “just a standard procedure for young women.”  I did not believe her.

Exactly four days, a sonogram, two mammograms, and two biopsies later I received the phone call.   “I’m sorry, Vic.  It’s bad news.”  Dr. Luedke’s voice sounded comforting, yet distant.  As if she had done this hundreds of times before.  She had.

Cancer.  I was utterly unprepared to hear this.  But no one ever is.

There goes my trip, I thought.

I had found the lump three months earlier but dismissed it.  After all, I was only 34 years old without family history of breast cancer.  I didn’t even want to think about the lump.  My mind was busy planning a trip back home, to Belarus, previously a part of the Former Soviet Union; the trip was 20 years in the making.  I spent months on the Internet reconnecting with my former classmates, surprising myself with our ability to bond with each other as if I had never left.  My itinerary was planned.  I knew where I was going as soon as I landed and what I was going to wear to dinner with Victor, my first love.  I remember fantasizing about us in 5th grade: Victor and Victoria. Funny, I had never even heard of Julie Andrews.

All those previous months I was planning to live.  Now, I was planning to not die.  What a difference.

Had I known what lay ahead I would have preferred to die.  I had never thought the words “chemotherapy”  and “mastectomy” would be a part of my personal vocabulary.   Nor I have ever experienced such shattering pain. 

The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells, cells that divide rapidly.  But, according to cancercare.com, as chemotherapy wipes out fast-growing cancer cells, it destroys all fast-growing healthy cells — that means hair, nails, and skin, inside and out. The side-effects are brutal.

Chemocare.com, a website that educates about various chemotherapies, lists all possible chemotherapy side effects in an alphabetical order.  I was only mid-way through H’s when I counted more than a hundred.  I was lucky.  I had only experienced about fifty.  No burning peeling nails.  No painful mouth sores.

In his blog “The Chronicles of a Cancer Patient” pianist David J. Hahn, who was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Hodgkins Lymphoma in July 2005, wrote about his experiences with chemo: “Chemotherapy side effects are worse than cancer, that’s for sure. With cancer, most of the time you’d hardly know it if some doctor didn’t tell you. I mean, I was pretty hard up by the time they found it in me, but sometimes cancer can go all the way to stage IV and you’d never know it.  Chemo, on the other hand, you can never forget that. Not for a second. There’s no ignoring. It invades every cell by the end of it. You spend months marinating in a stew of toxic wastes that are out to kill you. And I don’t think that’s overly-dramatic. You try it sometime and see if I’m not right.”

These side effects occur during treatment.

In 2006,  the online edition of the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, reported findings of the UCLA study which shows that chemotherapy causes changes to the brain’s metabolism and blood flow that can linger at least 10 years after treatment.

I had to make a decision.  It was the hardest decision I had ever made.  It was the most courageous decision I ever made.  You see, it takes courage to refuse the very thing everyone is convinced will save you.  I quit chemotherapy after four excruciating treatments.

Everyone was convinced I was signing my own death sentence.   My husband and my parents were begging me to give it another go.  “You only have two treatments left,” they were crying.  My father was on his knees pleading, questioning me whether I was ready to turn my children into orphans.

Besides the doctor treating me, I consulted four other oncologists, who were telling me the same story: Chemotherapy significantly lessens the chances of cancer relapse and death from the disease;  Chemotherapy can eliminate the number of cancer cells that can travel and spread to other parts of the body that may not have been detected by MRI.  One of the oncologists I consulted challenged my decision to quit chemotherapy.  “What if cancer comes back? What are you going to do then?” he asked me.  In response I asked him why he was placing all bets on cancer?

I had done enough research.  I was firm in my decision.  I had never felt that strongly about anything in my life.

In 2005, the Australian Journal Clinical Oncology published a study titled “The Contribution of Cytotoxic Chemotherapy to 5-year Survival in Adult Malignancies” whose goal was to accurately quantify and assess the actual benefit of chemotherapy in the treatment of adults with the commonest types of cancer.

The three authors of the study were oncologists.

The International Center for Nutritional Research Inc. posted the finding of the study on its website:

“Their meticulous study was based on an analysis of the results of all the randomized, controlled clinical trials (RCTs) performed in Australia and the US that reported a statistically significant increase in 5-year survival due to the use of chemotherapy in adult malignancies. Survival data were drawn from the Australian cancer registries and the US National Cancer Institute‘s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry spanning the period January 1990 until January 2004.

Wherever data were uncertain, the authors deliberately erred on the side of over-estimating the benefit of chemotherapy.”

The study concluded that chemotherapy contributes just over 2 percent to improved survival in cancer patients.

The authors of the study continued: “…in lung cancer, the median survival has increased by only 2 months [during the past 20 years, ed.] and an overall survival benefit of less than 5 percent has been achieved in the adjuvant treatment of breast, colon and head and neck cancers.”

To me, continuing something that had little chance of working was the very definition of insane.

I knew the treatment was going to kill me faster than the disease ever would; and I would be lucky if I survived the treatment.

Thus began my fight for my life.  On my own terms.

I read everything I could find on alternative treatments.  Anticancer, The New Way of Life. Beating Cancer with Nutrition.  Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer–And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place.

I was on a mission.

Cancer Cure.  Burzynski, the Movie. Crazy Sexy CancerThese are just a few of the films I saw.

The more I read, the more I knew I made the right decision.

It was a lot of work.  At the end, I am not sure what did it:  quitting chemo in time before it did its damage, changing the way I lived, or just sheer willpower.

A day doesn’t go by that I do not think about my decision.

I see my oncologist (some have manicurists; I have an oncologist) every six months.  I would be lying if I said I did not worry every time I go see her.  I would be lying if I said somewhere deep inside I am not afraid cancer may come back.  But I can state with complete confidence I stand by the decision I made three years ago.

By the way, I did manage to fly back home.  It took 21 years rather than 20, and it was glorious.

VIOLENCE: ACCEPTABLE IN AMERICA?

Originally posted on www.meramecmontage.com on May 2, 2012

When the article of the April 9 fight on STLCC-Meramec’s campus first broke on http://meramecmontage.com, it came as a shock to many. Some online comments raised questions about safety on campus. One student was even reconsidering attending Meramec in the upcoming fall semester due to safety concerns. A comment on http//:kirkwood.patch.com read, “Meramec was once considered the safe and respectable community collegeto attend.” Missouri Education Watchdog referred to the fight as “scary time at Meramec”.

The above sentiments are odd given the fact that our society is steeped in violence.

In this country, violence is heavily promoted. Just watch any news program. Despite the violent crime rates being significantly down, the reports of violence are on the rise. Why? Violence is the ultimate attention grabber; it brings in the viewers (in other words: money). “This was quality entertainment! Why’s everyone so uptight?!” read one of the comments on http://meramecmontage.com, referring to the fight. So maybe if the fight on Meramec was brought to us by a sponsor, as is TV programming, the fight would be acceptable.

War is the epitome of violence. Yet, this country has been involved in some kind of war for 69 years out of 238 – approximately one third of the country’s existence. The most recent one has been going on for the last 10 years with enthusiastic support from many people. They scorn diplomatic solutions and vehemently defend any violent intervention necessary to achieve the goal of that war. But you cannot have it both ways. Condoning war, the ultimate violence, while condemning the local college altercation is beyond hypocritical.

Ever heard of WWE? Instead of protesting it, people love it. They are willing to pay big bucks to watch others get beaten to a pulp, maimed, break each other’s bones and see blood splatter. Some consider it great entertainment. They defend WWE by stating the organization gives back to the community via Make-A-Wish foundation. So maybe Meramec’s brawl observers should have paid an admission fee to watch the fight to make it acceptable. Oh, proceeds can go to the local Ronald McDonald house. How lovely.

And last, but not at all least, the Bible. The world’s best seller is violent. There is no way around it. The moral compass that is the Bible demands those who believe (let us not get into it here) to kill those working on Sabbath, false prophets, women who are not virgins on their wedding night and children. Mass murder is also practiced in the Bible. But hey, in the name of religion anything goes, right? So maybe if a clergyman was present during the campus fight it would be acceptable. It would be a religious experience.

The bottom line is we are a culture of theoretical anti-violence but push violence in people’s faces all the time. When it is on TV, it is entertainment. When it is from a church pulpit, it is a word of God. When it is in another country, it is foreign policy. No one seems to mind until an isolated incident like a campus fight reminds everybody what violence really is.

But as the adage goes: you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Violence cannot be condemned while being condoned. But, alas, that is the American way.

WOMEN STILL FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS, EVEN IN 2012

Originally posted on http://www.meramecmontage.com on March 29, 2012

Prostitute! Slut! This year’s celebration of March as Women’s History month started early and with a bang. In late February, Rush Limbaugh, a radio personality, went on a three-day rant about a Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke when he named her the aforementioned terms. Fluke earned those honorary titles, courtesy of Limbaugh, when she testified at a congressional hearing advocating for employers’ coverage of birth control in their health insurance plans.

About a week later the celebration continued. In the first days of March, Georgia State representative Terry England had something to say about women’s reproductive rights. The hearing was about the law that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, even if a woman were carrying a dying or dead fetus, until she goes into natural labor. England defended this law by saying that when working on a farm he had delivered pigs and calves, dead and alive. “It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it,” England said.

Comparing women to pigs and cows is not where the celebration ended. In mid-March, when Women’s History month was in full swing, Arizona House voted on a bill that would allow employers to reject coverage of hormonal contraceptives in their health insurance plans if offering those contraceptives conflicted with the employers’ religious beliefs. But if employees can offer proof that the use of hormonal contraceptives is for uses other than birth control then employers may consider covering it.

Virginia, along with 11 other states, is currently considering requiring women to undergo transvaginal ultrasound prior to abortion by means of a condom-covered 6- to 8-inch device. Forcing women into involuntary vaginal penetration sounds a lot like rape. A little over a year ago, Bei Bei Shuai, a restaurant owner, attempted suicide. There was a caveat: at the time of her suicide, Shuai was eight months pregnant, and three days after the caesarean delivery, her baby, Angel, died. A suicide attempt is not a crime. Moreover, anyone attempting suicide is placed under psychiatric watch. Nevertheless, for the past year, Shuai finds herself in jail. Her crime is an attempted feticide and murder. This charge is problematic on many levels. The most important one is that a pregnant woman is punished for her behavior during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, up to 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That means a woman can be held liable for that miscarriage if one is to look hard enough.

What all of the above have in common is they are an attack on women’s rights; not only reproductive rights but the fundamental rights to their bodies and their basic rights to choices in general. Women should not have to defend these rights in the 21st century. In 2012, these freedoms should no longer be up for debates and votes.

So this March it is unclear exactly what the country is celebrating. It seems more like lip service to an idea than the true respect of women’s achievements and contributions to society. Nothing more.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE: WHY THE BAD REP?

Originally posted on www.meramecmontage.com on January 4, 2012
So there I was, contentedly leafing through a local school district’s newsletter when I came across an article about a high school junior who recently took a college entrance exam. The student, let us name her Mary, never thought herself capable of attending a four-year college before taking the exam and receiving an acceptable score: with the grades she had, Mary was convinced she was heading straight for community college. Needless to say, Mary thought the idea was horrible.Why do community colleges have such a bad rep? There are so many benefits to attending one.
Let us start with the obvious one: money. For a St. Louis resident, one three-credit course at Meramec is $270 or so. One course at Saint Louis Universityis $590. Did that say one course? Oops, should have said one credit. Yep, you read that right. C-R-E-D-I-T. Multiply that by three.
The score is 1-0, with community college in the lead.
Next, the quality of education: what Meramec offers is simply excellent. The professors are knowledgeable and really committed to education. They really know their stuff. As someone who is a graduate of a four-year private university in the heart of New York City, a university in the top 50 schools in the country, by the way, I am fully qualified to compare. Meramec’s professors are not in any way less capable, competent or skilled than their four-year counterparts.  Trust me. By the way, many Community Collegeprofessors teach at four-year universities at the same time. Simultaneously. Same semester. So, a student at a community college gets a four-year university knowledge for a fraction of the price.
2-0.
College should be about experimentation, figuring out not only what one’s profession could be, but more importantly figuring out whom one is. Who does not have a friend or two who started out with one major to realize two semesters in there is not enough money in the world to pay them to continue majoring in THAT? With an array of courses on a multitude of subjects colleges offer, getting to “know thyself”, as Socrates recommended, can get pretty pricey. What better place to do it if not at a community college where the smorgasbord of courses and the price just cannot be beat? If you do not agree do the math.
3-0.
Many claim community colleges are for the intellectually lazy; for losers who will never be good enough for a four-year university and who will end up pumping gas for someone someday. Well, there are many who attended very expensive universities and who majored in Bud and Weed (Ben and Sophie, mommy did NOT inhale!) and who have nothing to show for it but a very expensive tuition bill; a bill they will still be paying when their own children are in college. Oh yeah, one more thing: It is much better to do poorly at a four-year university than to be an Honors Scholar at a community college. After all, geography is what really matters, right?What’s the score so far?
4-0.

Let us get back to money. A significant number of students on Meramec’s campus attend community college with the intention of transferring to a four-year university. The courses offered at Meramec enable one to get general education requirements out of the way so when these students transfer to a university they enter as juniors and can get right into their major. That means the four-year college tuition is slashed in half. And when they graduate from that four-year university, the diploma does not say: “BA from so-and-so university (with the first two years in a community college)”.

Most of you already are fully aware of the benefits community college education offers. Just in case you need to defend yourself against those attacking your choice of educational institution, you may use this article as ammunition. Feel free to fire back with any of the information or statistics provided above. Or, as a last resort, you may roll up my very prestigious university diploma and hit them over the head with it to beat some sense in. Go ahead! It would be an honor.

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