An Inclusive Litany


Amy Alexander in the Boston Globe's Living/Arts section, January 30, 1998:
Following comedian Jerry Seinfeld's announcement that he will end his top-rated NBC sitcom this spring, we have seen a frenzy of coverage about the "loss" of the Thursday night comedy. At the risk of spoiling the pity party, it's worth pointing out that the reverential media coverage of "Seinfeld" has overlooked an intriguing fact: Comparatively few black Americans watched the show. I don't think I'm alone among black Americans when I say that "Seinfeld" was never a "must-see" proposition for me.

As we see it, "Seinfeld" perhaps best represents a troubling trend in recent programming, the proliferation of high-profile network sitcoms depicting a World Without Blacks....

Ms. Alexander notes that "Seinfeld" consistently failed to address social issues, no doubt one of the main reasons for its success. In the same paper, Ms. Alexander writes an op-ed piece on the Texas cattlemen's defamation suit against Oprah Winfrey—perhaps the most beloved and successful broadcaster ever—following her speculative comments about the possibility of contracting mad cow disease from eating beef:
[T]he crux of the Oprah trial lies in the American obsession with power—who has it, how they got it, and whether they think they deserve it. Whatever beefs one may have with Oprah, the truth is that she is a black woman, and she is one of the most powerful people in America. She is a woman many love to hate, even as they tune in to her show, buy books she recommends, and lust after her empire. We might respect the cattlemen more if they said what they really mean: Here we've let this black gal get rich and famous, and this is the thanks we get.


Robert Joiner, an electrician in Thomasville, Georgia, sued the city's water and light department, claiming that trace amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, caused him to contract lung cancer. Joiner, a smoker, was 37 when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991.

Peter Jennings on ABC's "World News Tonight," January 14, 1998:
Finally from us this evening, the Governor who gets it. We've known for a long time that the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, is committed to a better education for kids.... This was part of his budget message to the Georgia legislature this week. The Governor was playing a bit of Beethoven there by way of convincing legislators to pay for a music CD for every Georgia baby so that babies could hear classical music from the very beginning.... He is so right and every study confirms it.... Give a child music and you get a better, brighter child.

The editors of Lingua Franca offer a summary of academic goings-on in Slate, January 20, 1997:
Tired of being attacked by other leftists for, among other things, obscurantism, pointlessness, and a lack of political commitment, academia's postmodern leftists have decided to fight back. On Jan. 31, heavy-hitting literary theorists, including Judith Butler of the University of California at Berkeley and Jonathan Arac and Paul Bové of the University of Pittsburgh, will convene to explore the previously unrecognized right-wing affinities of such thinkers as Nation political columnist Katha Pollitt, feminist Time columnist Barbara Ehrenreich, and New York University physicist Alan Sokal. (Sokal is the author of a parody of science-studies scholarship that was unwittingly published as serious scholarship by the postmodernist journal Social Text.) "A specter is haunting U.S. intellectual life: the specter of Left Conservatism," explains the flyer advertising the workshop, which is to be held at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "We can see, in the work of some of the writers listed above, ... claims for a certain kind of empiricism, for common sense, for linguistic transparency." "Left Conservatives" are also guilty of "an attempt at consensus-building ... that is founded on notions of the real." None of the writers to be discussed was invited to the workshop.

Richard Thomas is suing his wife, to whom he has been married for 43 years. He claims the Clean Air Act's prohibitions on public smoking also should bar his wife from privately smoking a half dozen cigarettes a day.

In a bid to create jobs and reduce unemployment, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced a plan to shorten the work week to 35 hours from the current 39, with workers receiving the same pay as before.

The Ministry of Employment and Solidarity later conducted raids to determine current compliance with the 39-hour rule. Engineers and executives trying to conclude a key contract at the telecommunications firm Alcatel were surprised by ministry police who demanded to know why they were still working at 7 pm. Inspectors were also reported to have photographed license plates in company car parks and monitored personal computers to make sure that no work was being sneaked home.

Animal rights activists are targeting Peter Rombold, who gives free, informal lessons in how to be a matador at his school near San Diego. How informal? Since bullfighting is illegal in the United States, Rombold doesn't actually use bulls in training—he just pretends he's a bull and charges at his students. The approach seems to be successful. Three of his students have actually gone on to become matadors in Mexico. Activists hope to shut down the operation based on a California state law that prohibits advertising or "promoting" bullfights.


In Boston, James Foster sued Healthworks, a female-only health club, claiming that the state's antidiscrimination law requires the club to accommodate him. As a result, Massachusetts is now considering a law that would create an exception to the state's "public accommodations" law for health clubs. Proponents of female-only health clubs claim subtle harassment by men leads them to feel comfortable only when working out in the company of other women. But fearing a concomitant effort to reinstitute male-only facilities of all kinds, the National Organization for Women has come out against the bill, and is aiding Mr. Foster in his efforts to work out at the female gym.

State Senator Linda J. Melconian proposed an alternative amendment that sought to enact regulations so women can exercise in separate rooms from men, or exercise at different times. But, as the Boston Globe reports, men in other states have successfully sued health clubs that set off areas exclusively for women without at least offering men a discount in the absence of a corresponding male-only section. A Los Angeles man successfully won a class action settlement against Bally's for its refusal to abolish rooms with such signs as "Women's Workout Area," "Women's Only," and "Women Preferred." As the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination wrestles with this thorny issue, the Bally Club in Cambridge has retained its section marked for women even though its stated policy is to admit entry to any man who asks.

[Ed.: Enticed by a deal involving several months of free membership, I set up an appointment a few years ago to look at the Bally's in Cambridge. They wound up alienating me considerably by keeping me waiting while they looked around for someone to escort me through the facility. In the meantime I was to fill out a detailed questionnaire for their records and sign in as a guest. Both forms contained a special field for "race," which on the sign-in form was a long column of inscrutable abbreviations that previous guests had filled in as W, W, W, B, W, W, L, N, W, B, X, Q, W, W, etc. The club solicited the racial information as an attempt to comply with an earlier lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. It took just one look at the steroid-infused hulks working out behind the full-length glass partition that separated the waiting room from the main floor to understand the genesis of the lawsuit. To a man, they were all Nazis.]

An ambiguous morality tale that is the subject of a recent feature film produced by Steven Spielberg, from the second volume of Samuel Eliot Morison's The Oxford History of the American People:
The most famous case involving slavery, until eclipsed by Dred Scott's, was that of the Amistad in 1839. She was a Spanish slave ship carrying 53 newly imported Africans who were being moved from Havana to another Cuban port. Under the leadership of an upstanding black named Cinqué, they mutinied and killed captain and crew. Then, ignorant of navigation, they had to rely on a white man whom they spared to sail the ship. He stealthily steered north, the Amistad was picked up off Long Island by a United States warship, taken into New Haven, and with her cargo placed in charge of the federal marshal. Then what a legal hassle! Spain demanded that the slaves be given up to be tried for piracy, and President Van Buren attempted to do so but did not quite dare. Lewis Tappan and Roger Sherman Baldwin, a Connecticut abolitionist, undertook to free them by legal process, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. John Quincy Adams, persuaded to act as their attorney, argued that the Africans be freed, on the ground that the slave trade was illegal both by American and Spanish law, and that mankind had a natural right to freedom. The court, with a majority of Southerners, was so impressed by the old statesman's eloquence that it ordered Cinqué and the other blacks set free, and they were returned to Africa. The ironic epilogue is that Cinqué, once home, set himself up as a slave trader.

Due to protests from animal rights activists, the famed Buckingham Palace guards may have to replace their tall bearskin hats with hats made from synthetic material.

The San Francisco Examiner reported that more than 750 of the city's black students had been placed in the city's Spanish and Chinese bilingual education classrooms. More than 300 children who spoke a language other than English at home were put in bilingual classes for languages they didn't speak.

Harley-Davidson has unveiled a new electric-powered motorcycle called the Lectra. Unlike its gasoline-powered cousins, the vehicle can reach a top speed of only 45 mph, sounds much like a golf cart, and can travel all of 30 miles before its battery needs to be recharged for several hours. The Associated Press reports that motorcycle enthusiasts invited for the unveiling weren't that impressed. 66-year-old Helen Weakely of Yakima, Washington, called them "sissy bikes." Tim Ritson, a 44-year-old tattooed and pony-tailed mechanic from West Corvina, California, wondered, "What the hell would I want with an electric bike? You need something that makes noise and vibrates."

California mandates that auto manufacturers bring electric vehicles to market by 2003, regardless of consumer demand. The state offers a $5,000 subsidy for those few consumers who buy electric cars, which, coupled with a ten percent federal tax credit, still makes the vehicles frightfully expensive. What's more, a report by the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies estimates that even if all vehicles in the United States were electric, emissions would be reduced by only 20 percent due to shifting of pollution from tailpipes to electric power plants. "The same improvement could be achieved at far lower cost just by improving the efficiency of gas-burning cars," the report says.


A press release from the National Organization for Women, January 23, 1998:
The information available publicly regarding Kenneth Starr's investigation leaves the National Organization for Women unable to comment responsibly about the validity of the allegations of obstruction of justice or suborning perjury by President Clinton.

Based on public reports, it appears that Monica Lewinsky gave different versions of her relationship with President Clinton in a deposition and on tape to a co-worker. We will watch the evidence closely as it becomes available to ensure that Ms. Lewinsky is not (and has never been) coerced by any involved party, including President Clinton, Vernon Jordan, Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr, among others. If credible evidence of wrongdoing by any party emerges, we will speak out and urge women's rights supporters across the country to make their voices heard.

[Ed.: Perhaps NOW's newfound caution can be traced the group's reaction to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas affair. Ms. Hill, too, gave conflicting accounts of her alleged harassment when initially interviewed by the FBI and when later testifying before Congress. The notorious anecdote about a pubic hair found on a coke can, for example, was not part of Hill's original account.]


The New York Times, January 17, 1998:
"It's about trying to understand different kinds of sexual desires and how the culture defines them," said Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the Newman Ivey White professor of English at Duke University....

Ms. Sedgwick, 47, was sitting in the shadows at a restaurant in Manhattan and trying to explain "queer theory," the academic field she has helped create. Her voice is light and fragile, her message authoritative....

In provocatively titled essays like "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," "How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay," and "Is the Rectum Straight?: Identification and Identity in The Wings of the Dove," Ms. Sedgwick took texts traditionally seen as heterosexual and exposed what she says are their homoerotic themes....

In one essay, "A Poem Is Being Written," she writes about associating the rhythm of being spanked as a child with the rhythms of poetry. The essay, she said, "is about the relationship between art and sex, between poetry and those for whom spanking fantasies, or spanking behavior during sex, are part of their sex life."

The London Daily Telegraph, January 14, 1998:
Employees of the Xerox Corporation of America have been issued with coloured magnets for their office doors and desks to denote their sexual orientation.

Homosexuals are given pink magnets and heterosexuals white ones. Executives say the aim is to create a friendlier workplace and claim that the "coming out" badges have been welcomed by the workers.

"The programme has been a tremendous success and there have been no complaints," said Dan Phelan, a sales manager at the offices in Century City, California. "It is designed to communicate to gay and lesbian workers that 'In my office you are safe; you don't have to hide your sexuality.' "

He said that both gay and heterosexual workers were participating in the Project Safe Space voluntary programme. "If you walk through these offices you will see the magnets all over the place," he said. "It is really nice." Mr. Phelan, who has a photograph of his lover, Jim, by his desk, said: "It means there is no need for secrecy any more ... it has put an end to nasty gossip and hurtful remarks."

Project Safe Space involves more than 10,000 employees in Xerox's 38 American branches.

Publisher's Weekly, November 10, 1997:
Gay Fairy & Folk Tales: Traditional Stories Retold for Gay Men
Peter Cashorali. Faber & Faber. $19.95
(160p) ISBN 0-571-19926-7

Los Angeles author and performer Cashorali follows up his Fairy Tales with this collection of 13 fables adapted to speak to contemporary gay men. If the book's premise seems odd (do we really need a "Jack and the Penis"?), Cashorali makes us take a second look. Here are the Princes Charming and Fairy "Godmothers" kept so vigilantly out of the nursery—ready to flesh out, in a "normal" vocabulary, childhood fantasies usually treated as abnormal. Cashorali's tales assume the naturalness of men loving other men, and he treats even the most painful difficulties of gay life with delicacy, tact, humor and empathy. Not everyone will be convinced, however....

In addition to 1997's celebrated coming-out of TV's sitcom character "Ellen," film and theater critic Mark Steyn, writing in the American Spectator, notes another momentous "coming-out"—that of Avery Brown. Back in 1992, the fictional baby Avery was born, amidst intense publicity, to the likewise fictional sitcom character of Murphy Brown, who had been locked in an ideological pitched battle with the ostensibly real Vice President Dan Quayle. In a widely ridiculed speech decrying widespread fatherlessness, Quayle criticized the producers of the "Murphy Brown" show for glamorizing, as a "lifestyle choice," her choice to have her baby out of wedlock. Responding to Quayle on the air, Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergen) addressed her audience directly by presenting a studio full of real inner-city single mothers, all of whom took issue with Quayle's outmoded concept of a two-parent family. Quayle later received considerable intellectual support for his position when the Atlantic Monthly published a lengthy cover story that declared "Dan Quayle Was Right." The article, by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, detailed the tendency of children born from single-parent families to suffer higher levels of social pathologies such as crime, suicide, and poverty—regardless of income level.

It turns out that Quayle was right about more than one thing. Despite howls of indignation at the suggestion that hers was an option available only to successful career women, it turns out the Murphy Brown episode had more to do with fashionable attitudes of the affluent than with real parenthood. For, unlike other sitcoms that detail both the difficulties and rewards of child-rearing (most notably "Mad About You"), soon after his birth Avery seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. Not only was Avery not seen on the show for five years, but his mother made no mention of him, not even the sort of details that parents normally find it hard not to talk about: a child's first steps, first words, sleepless nights from teething, etc. The show instead has focused on Murphy Brown's career and any of a number of "issues" that periodically come up. The latest such issue is breast cancer, which Murphy Brown has contracted.

Murphy's child has now reappeared on the show after a long hiatus, not as a five-year-old, but at the advanced age of seven. His apparent function is to look sad at the thought that his mother is dying.

[Ed.: Ms. Bergen later told the Los Angeles Times that she agreed with all of Quayle's speech except his reference to the show, which he had not seen. Bergen added, "I had a very difficult time playing Murphy the first year after the baby, [who was treated] as a distant second priority. It was very distressing to me, and I couldn't get them to change it.... I didn't think it was a good message to be sending out."]

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, on a visit to the Mars Pathfinder mission control center, asked whether Pathfinder had managed to take any pictures of the American flag planted by Neil Armstrong in 1969. Ms. Jackson is a member of the Science Committee.


Shaheena Ahmad in U.S. News & World Report, December 29, 1997/January 5, 1998, as part of an "Outlook 98" series in which the publication, perhaps in a holiday mood, apparently grants lengthy column space to twelve-year-olds who want to solve the world's problems:
The cure for obesity is no mystery either: better diet, more exercise. The trouble is that no one knows how to get more Americans to follow that regimen. Obesity grows for men and women of all ages and all racial groups despite everything our culture has thrown at it: bran muffins, spinning classes, diet books, diet drugs, liposuction, weight-loss clinics, and Oprah Winfrey. Educators and doctors don't seem to have the answer, either....

So what's the solution? Tax Twinkies, says Kelly Brownell, Director of Yale University's Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. Hit junk-food junkies where it hurts: in their wallets. Slapping high-fat, low-nutrition foods with a substantial government "sin tax" is the one step society hasn't tried, and while the obstacles to its enactment are enormous, there's a good reason to think it might work. Study after study of price increases on tobacco and alcohol suggests a correlation between cost and consumption. When the tax is high enough to sharply increase the price, fewer of these products are consumed. Brownell argues that a tax on junk food would have a similar effect.

The University of Wyoming Branding Iron, October 24, 1997:
Former hip-hop singer Tupac Shakur is still alive at UW.

The African American Studies department will offer a new upper-division course during the spring semester, 1998. The class will discuss Tupac Shakur's life. Shakur was the leader of the west coast rap movement up until his untimely death in 1996 in Las Vegas, Nev.

The new course, "Tupac Shakur: A seminar," will cover Shakur's life, films, music and poetry. Studying Shakur's life is not only a study of a hip-hop gangsta rap star, but also a look into serious and controversial issues, course instructor Omawale Akintunde said. These issues will include topics such as poverty, institutional racism, the contemporary African American experience and the role of white supremacy in these issues.

The University of California at Berkeley has also introduced a course focusing on Shakur's poetry. A sample, from "Wonda Why They Call U Bytch": "You wonda why they call U bytch / You wonda why they call U bytch, I betcha / You wonda why they call U bytch / You wonda why they call U bytch, I betcha."

The New York Times, December 28, 1997:
At the University of Virginia, undergraduates in a course called Sexuality Today gather in co-educational pairs and sculpture genitals from Play-Doh. At Brown University, the owner of a female-oriented sex shop uses a latex replica of female sex organs to demonstrate new paraphernalia.

The San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 1997:
Newly announced mayoral candidate Jerry Brown is constructing an environmental plan for Oakland in which solar generators quietly hum, eco-farmers grow food and "sustainable fishermen" haul in their bounty.

The intimacies of old-style town democracy would flourish under "Oakland Ecopolis," a draft that Brown has posted on the Web site for his We the People organization. It's the first indication the former governor has given for what he has in mind for Oakland since announcing his candidacy Tuesday and the best glimpse so far of how he would function as mayor.

In Brown's ecological metropolis, the rich and well-connected yield power to individual citizens set free to collaborate on transcendental solutions to such problems as crowded streets, ugly architecture and work that saps the soul.

Schoolchildren, particularly in black and Latino neighborhoods, would build their own simulated cities on Oakland-customized computer software....

The city would lead the way in creating parks, bike paths and in buying vehicles that run on electricity or natural gas.

The Ecopolis, the plan says, is no less than Oaklanders "striving to negotiate a common life of equity, balance and tolerance."

"A baby smiles and a flower grows," the plan says.

In selecting a model for a better Oakland, Brown would contrast not Oakland and a comparatively healthy city such as Pasadena, but Oakland and the Italian hill city of Perugia—an urban community that has sustained its integrity over hundreds of years.

In what may be a new record, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen used a first-person pronoun 88 times in a 51-sentence piece.

Joey Hoeffer, 9, was suspended from Weems Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, for distributing Certs breath mints to his friends. The school's zero-tolerance policy bans not only drugs but any "look-alike" that a reasonable person would believe is a controlled or illegal substance." Said Joey's father, "He's not a breath-mint addict or anything like that."

Hillary Clinton introduced her official holiday greeting by saying, "On this day, when we celebrate the birth of a homeless child who later became the Prince of Peace." At a December 22 press conference with housing secretary Andrew Cuomo, Vice President Gore commented, "speaking from my own religious tradition in this Christmas season, 2,000 years ago a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child in a manger because the inn was full." It should be noted that by all accounts, Mary and Joseph sought refuge in a Bethlehem stable not because they were "homeless," but because they were traveling.

[Ed.: By some accounts, they were fleeing tax collectors.]


A Pentagon commission charged with gauging the success of sexual integration in armed forces basic training found, instead, that many male recruits were being taught that looking at a female recruit for more than three seconds constitutes sexual harassment.

Concerns among many climatologists that the recurring Pacific Ocean warming known as El Niño may lead to more catastrophic weather problems have attracted the attention of Vice President Al Gore. Though it is still a little-understood phenomenon of unknown risk, scientists generally agree that El Niño occurs every decade or so and tends to shift volatility of weather patterns from the Atlantic (where hurricanes are common) to the Pacific Ocean basin. This year, the westward ocean current targeting equatorial South America's Pacific coastline is particularly warm, leading to concerns over the magnitude of its effect on the weather.

After Gore warned California residents of potentially severe weather, the area's roofing repair business boomed and flood insurance sold at record rates under a taxpayer-subsidized program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But critics call the FEMA program a Ponzi scheme, saying that the agency must promote it through ever-greater scare tactics to keep ahead of obligations, and charge that the subsidies encourage building in risky areas.

Gore also linked the El Niño phenomenon to global warming, claiming that the severity and frequency of the former has increased dramatically along with carbon dioxide emissions. (The Vice President, however, was compelled to concede there was no evidence for his assertion.) At the Kyoto climate conference, Gore cited insurance payouts as evidence of increased severity of weather events in general. The Vice President announced, "We have had many such [severe storms] in recent years. Our insurance industry encountered an event with losses of more than $1 billion only once prior to 1988. Since that time they have encountered 17 such events."

Actually, there have been only 10 such costly catastrophes since 1988, three of which (two earthquakes, one fire) were not weather-related. Of the remainder, the property-claims service division of the American Services Group, which certifies catastrophic occurrences for the insurance industry, offers a different interpretation: "Despite their economic impact, only Hurricane Andrew (#3) ranks among the top-10 most intense hurricanes during the period 1900-1996. In fact, only two storms since 1980 (Hugo 1989 and Andrew 192) rank among the most intense storms of the century." They add: "The apparent disparity of damage created by recent hurricanes and their intensity is a product of demographic shifts and escalating building values. Since 1940, population density in the 50-mile corridor within the U.S. coastline has increased from 44 people per square mile to over 140. More than half the U.S. population now lives within 50 miles of the coast."

A federal district court permitted the Department of Agriculture to implement the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, which was "specifically designed to artificially raise the price of milk by creating a cartel" in the New England states to increase regional prices above federal levels. The compact boosts the minimum price for milk by 26 cents per gallon, which hurts consumers. It also hurts many farmers, who now must pay a "tariff" to sell their milk across state lines.

The New Canel Independent School District outside Houston banned "gang apparel" such as baggy pants, bandanas, and rosary beads. Concerning the last item, area Catholics who aren't gang members say that they are being discriminated against.

Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss, a confessional memoir alleging a long sexual affair with her father, also later confessed to an audience at Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library that she had once dipped her hand in her grandmother's cremated remains and then licked her fingers. According to the New York Post, "The crowd responded with polite applause."

Seventies nostalgia is going strong, and even Global Cooling has made a comeback. The lead article in the January 1998 issue of the Atlantic Monthly warns that "Global Warming could, paradoxically, cause a sudden and catastrophic cooling," of which there have undoubtedly been many such sudden shifts in the history of the Earth's climate. The author, William H. Calvin, a theoretical neurophysiologist at the University of Washington, believes the successful adaptation of man's evolutionary ancestors to sudden climate changes depended on the ability of their agile minds to form survival strategies. Calvin's own agile mind has produced a history of the Earth's climate with a respectful appreciation for the various component issues, a speculative scenario of future climate change that relies heavily on the ignorance implicit in chaos theory, a peevish call for far greater resources to study the issue, but no actual evidence that there is a warming trend that would trigger a subsequent catastrophic cooling.

[Ed.: In his influential 1976 book, The Cooling, Lowell Ponte asserted that "since the 1940s the northern half of our planet has been cooling rapidly.... Mass global famine in our lifetime, perhaps even within a decade, if current cooling trends continue."]

A study of 1,600 counties across the United States, by physicist Bernard Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh and published in the journal Health Physics, found that counties with higher levels of residential radon gas had lower cancer rates. The study controlled for 54 other variables that might affect cancer rates, such as smoking and socioeconomic status. (Wealthier people can afford energy-efficient houses that readily trap the radon gas that seeps up from the ground.)

From "Preparing for Your Deposition," a 22-page instructional guide given to plaintiffs represented by Baron & Budd, a Dallas law firm that has represented over 20,000 clients in asbestos-injury lawsuits. A client inadvertently revealed the document at his August deposition, and defense attorneys claim the document instructs plaintiffs to give false information at their depositions and to testify according to a prepared script.
Your deposition is probably the single most important part of your lawsuit. It is an opportunity for the lawyers representing the asbestos manufacturers whom you are suing to ask you questions, under oath, about their product. The burden of proof is on you, the plaintiff, to show how you know it was their product you were exposed to. How well you know the name of each product and the details of your exposure to it will determine whether the defendant will want to offer you a settlement.

At the deposition, it might help to pretend that you are a "prisoner of war" in an enemy camp where you must give only your "name, rank, and serial number." The defense attorneys may try to make you lose your temper or feel stupid because you have less education than they do. But answer ONLY the question asked and DO NOT VOLUNTEER any information!


Implications that you are not telling the truth or are mistaken. The questions asked by the defense attorneys are designed to prove that you were NOT exposed to their product. They will try to confuse you and make you think they know something different from what you recall and that what you are saying cannot be true. Keep in mind that those attorneys are very young and WERE NOT PRESENT at the job sites where you worked. They have NO RECORDS to tell them what products were used on a particular job, even if they act as if they do.

Make sure to emphasize that you had no idea that asbestos was dangerous. You will be asked if you ever saw any WARNING labels on containers of asbestos. It is important to maintain that you NEVER saw any labels on asbestos products that had said WARNING or DANGER. You might even be asked to spell "warning" or "danger" to prove that you would know what these words meant if you saw them.

You will be asked if you ever used respiratory equipment to protect you from asbestos. Listen carefully to the question! If you did wear a mask for welding or other fumes, that does NOT mean that you wore it from protection from asbestos! The answer is still "NO!"

You will be asked how much YOU think your lawsuit is worth. Do NOT give an amount. Just say it is up to your attorneys to determine that. Remember, THERE IS NO AMOUNT OF MONEY WORTH YOUR HEALTH! You would rather have your health back than all the money in the world, wouldn't you?

Questions about asbestos products. Do NOT mention product names that are not listed on your Work History Sheets. The defense attorneys will jump at the chance to blame your asbestos exposure on companies that were not sued in your case.

Do NOT say that you saw more of one brand than another, or that one brand was more commonly used than another. At some jobs there may have been more than one brand, and at other jobs there may have been more of another brand, so throughout your career you were probably exposed equally to ALL the brands. Be CONFIDENT that you saw just as much of one brand as the others. All the manufacturers sued in your case should share the blame equally!

Be very careful about using the word "only." The defense attorneys will ask you if the products you have named are the ONLY asbestos products that were at your job sites. Of course they were not! There were lots of other names of pipe covering and insulating cement and gaskets too! You should name all the products YOU RECALL, but be sure to say that there were others too. It is VERY important to say that there were LOTS of other brands and that you just cannot recall ALL the names!

You must be able to pronounce the product names correctly and know WHICH products are pipe covering, WHICH are insulating cements, and WHICH are plastic cements, for instance. Many of the product names sound very similar (Kaylo and Kaytherm, or Raybestos and Unibestos, for instance), but they might be different products entirely! Have a family member quiz you until you know by heart ALL the product names listed on your Work History Sheets.

You may be asked how you were able to recall so many product names. The best answer is to say that you recall having seen the names on the containers or on the product itself, and the more you thought about them, the more you remembered! If the defense attorney asks you if you were shown pictures of the products, wait for your attorney to advise you to answer, then say that a "girl from Baron & Budd" showed you pictures of MANY products and that you picked out the ones you remembered.

If there is a MISTAKE on your Work History Sheets, explain that the "girl from Baron & Budd" must have misunderstood what you told her when she wrote it down. If there has been a CHANGE to your Work History Sheets, explain that you wanted to make the record clear. If you are asked why you certified a first (incorrect) version of your Work History Sheets to be correct and are now saying it is NOT correct, explain that the first Work History Sheet is ALSO correct and that the second version just makes the record MORE CLEAR.

Damages. This part of your deposition is about your health. It is very IMPORTANT that you give concrete examples of how your life has been "damaged" by your exposure to asbestos. Although the answers to questions about your work history and the products you were exposed to should be as SHORT as possible, THIS part of your deposition is YOUR opportunity to state, for the record, why you DESERVE to be compensated for damage to your health caused by asbestos. The defense attorneys will not ask as many questions about your health. It will be up to YOU to give as many examples as you can. For instance:

Do you have trouble sleeping at night because it is difficult to breathe lying down?

Have you lost money by having to refuse overtime, retire early, or take a lower-paying job?

Do you pay someone else to mow your yard? Did you purchase a rider mower because you just couldn't use a push mower any more?

Have you given up or cut down on hunting, fishing, camping, boating, softball, golfing, travel, raising animals, or any other activities you once enjoyed? Name as many as you can think of.

Bring ALL your medications along with you to the deposition so that the court reporter can type the names into the record, even if you don't take the medications regularly.

It is natural to be afraid about how your future will be affected by your health. Your fear is caused in part by health problems you might not have had if you had not been exposed to asbestos. Have you seen or heard about co-workers who have died from asbestos-related disease? Are you afraid that your asbestos disease might develop into cancer?

If you are afraid, YOU MUST SAY SO!

Questions about privileged information. Privileged information includes any and all conversations and written communications you have had with ANYONE at Baron & Budd. The defense attorneys will ask you questions about conversations you have had and documents you have seen. Some examples are:

"Do you have any notes or written material with you today?"

"Has anyone told you what to say or not to say at this deposition?"

DO NOT RESPOND TO THESE QUESTIONS RIGHT AWAY! Your Baron & Budd attorney will object to the question and will probably instruct you not to answer. Make sure that you give your attorney TIME to object before blurting out an answer!

The only documents you should ever refer to in your deposition are your Social Security printout, your Work History Sheets, and photographs of asbestos products you were shown, but ONLY IF YOU ARE ASKED ABOUT THEM AND ONLY IF YOUR BARON & BUDD ATTORNEY INSTRUCTS YOU TO ANSWER! Any other notes, such as what you are reading right now, are "privileged" and should never be mentioned.

[Ed.: In October, 2000, Owens Corning, the top manufacturer of home insulation, filed for bankruptcy under the pressure of numerous asbestos lawsuits, most filed by workers with no significant illness. The previous year, twelve Democratic representatives signed a report declaring that "there is little likelihood that asbestos liability could lead to bankruptcy" for Owens or other big companies, and that "the principal remaining asbestos defendants are not facing any significant threat of bankruptcy." Following Corning's lead, Armstrong World Industries, the largest maker of flooring and another firm in no danger of bankruptcy whatsoever, proceeded to seek protection from creditors in December. And what do you know, W. R. Grace, which fielded 325,000 asbestos injury claims, went out of business in early 2001.]