Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Television and Movie Productions Threatened by Screenwriters Strike

November 5, 2007 began the strike of the 12,000 members of Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of American West. Screenwriters for movies and television programs went on strike demanding a greater cut of the profits for downloadables and DVD sales.

It is expected the strike will last as long as nine months. If so, popular television shows will run out of scripts. With movie productions running two years out, a stockpile of scripts exist for the time being. But for shows that depend on writers to crank out material daily or weekly, or even sets, without the writers at work, the stakes are high.

Among shows shut down are CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” “Rules of the Engagement,” “The Adventures of the Old Christine," “Two and a Half Men,” and Fox’s “Til’ Death.” Fox’s “Lost,” “24,” and Prison Break” continue production, but a prolonged strike means a shorter spring season. Standing in picket lines this past Monday were Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, creators of “Lost,” and Greg Berlanti of “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Brothers and Sisters.” In Hollywood, actors refused to cross picket lines, delaying productions. Most prime-time shows have at least six shows filmed, but the number of scripts ready to go into production varies, and a long strike means a shortened spring season for favorite prime-time shows.

For late-night viewers, the pickings will be slim, if at all. Hosts like David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel need their scriptwriters. Jay Leno, in a show of support said of the writers “…without them I am not funny. I am dead man.” Day-time soaps like “The Young and Restless” face a real crisis; without a continuous script, viewers have no reason to tune in.

In today’s climate of changing media, the negotiations are not easy. The movie and television industry faces a new era of technologies that threatens the livelihood of screenwriters who don’t see the profits of their labors.

Although celebrities like Tina Fey, the creator of “30 Rock,” are on strike, not all strikers, enjoy celebrity status, and many live in obscurity as working-class folks supporting a family. As the working class, they suffer at the hands of corporate greed.

What are your thoughts on screenwriters’ strike? How should profits from downloadable and DVD sales affect screenwriters? What have you heard about the strike?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Computer Glitch Leads to Capital Execution

Recently, a hold on executions by lethal injection was put in place until the US Supreme Court rules on whether this form of capital punishment is illegal based on the federal law against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

That did not stop an execution on Sept. 25, 2007, in Texas, of Michael Richard, held since 1986 on murder and sexual assault charges. If a computer problem had not delayed an electronic communication, Richard might be alive today.

Richard's lawyers sent a message that was delayed 20 minutes, thus arriving at the state court in Austin after its official closing at 5 pm. The message was a request for an appeal for the case to go the US Supreme Court.

This past Wednesday, Oct. 25th, the 13,000-member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a complaint against the presiding judge in the case, Sharon Keller, and 150 Texan lawyers filed additional complaints.

Ironically, Richard's execution transpired on the same day the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case requesting suspension of lethal injection based on the “cruel and unusual punishment" clause. Richard’s life hung on 20-minute computer delay compounded by the fact electronic communications were yet to be considered a legitimate means to file an appeal. Since his execution, electronic communications have been ruled permissible.

What is your response to this case?

The source for information in this post is a New York Times article, on 10/25/07. Photos of Judge Keller and Michael Richard are credited to Bena Grothe/American Statesman, and appeared in the Times accompanying its story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Young Lifers

Did you know the United States stood alone recently in a United Nations vote to abolish life in prison without parole for children and young teens? We were the only nation out of 185 to vote against the resolution.

Two of our Supreme Court Justices, John Roberts, Jr. and Samuel Alito, Jr., contend that laws in other countries should not affect our constitutional law. Yet, in 2005, we were influenced by other countries when we banned the death penalty for those under the age of 18.

The human rights organization Equal Justice Initiative, situated in Montgomery, Alabama, wants the United States to review its policy on not paroling young lifers. Yet, victims’ rights advocates argue that the offenders' crimes were so horrific that we are all at risk if they are set free.

In most cases in the US today where the young are serving life sentences the crime was murder and the offender was tried as an adult.

Do you believe life in prison without parole is justifiable for those who commit violent murders as children or young adults?

Information from this post was obtained from Adam Liptak’s column that appears in The New York Times. See the 10/16/07 edition of the paper for the story. The photo, by Richard Patterson, appeared in The New York Times October 3, 2005, and is of Rebecca Falcon, a lifer, convicted of murder, when she was 15.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Thou Shall Kill in Church

Maybe not literally, but gun-shooting videos like "Hallo 3" are packing in the congregation at churches across the country. Ministers show children as young as 12 video games heaped with violence. If you have seen the Hallo series, you know killing with guns is glorified.

"Hallo 3" with an M-rating, for mature audiences only, is now shown at churches behind parents' backs. Pastors and minister alike rationalize that once the youth show up for the violent games, they’ll stick around for the sermon.

If the young people cannot legally buy the videos on their own, what are church leaders doing making them available? "Hallo 3" is already on track to become the Number 1 selling video game of all times, according to Microsoft, its producers. Already hundreds of churches across the country have joined the bandwagon, luring youth.

The popularity of Hallo nights has led ministers and pastor to rent extra video players. Will R-rated movies at the Sunday service be the next bait? Given the mounting pressure to attract the young to the congregation, are violent videos like "Hallo 3" the answer?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hollywood Up in Smoke

First it was media ads, and then it was restaurants. Now, it is movies. A campaign is afoot to ban smoking in films. Apparently, just as violence in films turns young adults into gangsters, smoking in movies condemns them to a life of health woes.

Advocates for a ban on showing scenes of smoking in movies believe the action will abate teen smoking. Universal Studios is ready to go ahead, Time Warner is interested, and Disney Production already has a policy. Yet, other studios, like Dreamworks, claim the ban distorts reality.

Basically, the antismoking lobbies want cigarettes out of films rated G, PG, or PG-13. The Simpson Movie released this summer showed enough cigarette smoking to garner a “Black Lung” rating from scenesmoking.org.

One study found a connection between cigarette smoking in movies and adolescent addiction to tobacco. Another study claimed this link was strongest when a predisposition to smoking already existed.

Is Hollywood going too far in banning cigarette smoking scenes? What about a ban on junk food? Where do we draw the line? What's your view?
Photo of Andy Garcia puffing away in "Ocean's Twelve." The Smoke Free Movies project (www.smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu) says the film deserves an R-rating for glamorizing smoking.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brockovich Still Fighting for Justice

Erin Brockovich is now taking on one of the largest corporations in the world, ExxonMobil. She is now fighting for residents in Brooklyn, New York, who are suffering from kidney and other health problems, attributed to an oil plume in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn that developed over 50 years ago.

Brockovich claims ExxonMobil carried out a coverup of the spill and could have cleaned it up years ago. Last week, a federal report uncovered the spill, one of the largest in the country. The report found that as much as 30 million gallons might have spilled. The famous Exxon Valdez oil spill back in 189 was 11 million gallons. The report further noted that the leaking toxic vapors might well be leaking into homes, harming people further.

Since 2005, Brockovich has traveled to Brooklyn twice to meet with affected residents. So far, 415 plaintiffs have signed on with one law firm and another 300 have signed with another firm to fight ExxonMobil. Sufferers are facing respiratory problems, asthma, and chronic headaches, in addition to the kidney issues. A cancer cluster also has residents worried, and Brockovich plans to be back this month to continue conversations with residents.

ExxonMobil has admitted just recently that the spill exists but claims several companies are responsible and the problem dates back more than 140 years. Putting blame on others, the company, though, has started some clean up efforts. Like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), ExxonMobil also claims the spill does not pose risks. The company retorts the plume is 30 feet below ground and "does not represent health concerns and hazards." Brockovich says time will tell if this the truth, but in the meantime, the company faces four major lawsuits. "They are going to have to do the right thing. This is a big spill," Brockovich claims.

So, we see that Brockovich's efforts as a crusader continue. Learning more about the multitude of cases Brockovich has fought on, what is your evolving impressions of this woman?

Information for this blog comes from the New York Daily News, Sept. 19, 2007. The photo is also from the Daily News and shows Erin meeting with local Greenpoint residents.

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

How to become a billionaire? Become a millionaire first. That is Chuck Feeney’s motto. Feeney, the second largest giver to charity, followed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is virtually unknown, but he has given more than $4 billion to charities and plans to give away another $4 billion. As for himself, he lives modestly on less than $5 million, buying his clothes off the rack, taking buses and subways, and living in apartments rather than homes.

Among the charities that Fenney has given to are ones that are fighting for human rights, environmental clean up, peace, and educating the poor. In 2003, he participated in a protest march against the invasion of Iraq in defense of world peace. He has given generously to end the strife in Northern Ireland.

Feeney’s charitable foundation has made contributions to AIDS clinics in South Africa, to educating children in Vietnam, for wastewater treatment in Vietnam, for plastic surgery for children with facial deformities in the Philippines, and to cancer research foundations and groups that get home health care workers into the homes of the needy and poor. He has given more than $1 billion to improve schools in Ireland.

One of his daughters, Leslie Feeney Baily, recalls when a teenager, she ran up an astronomical long-distance phone bill calling friends in Europe. To teach her a lesson about wasting money, her father disconnected the phone and posted a map of local phone booths (back in the days when those were still around). Feeney always understood the value of money and never squandered it, a principle he instilled in his five children at a young age. Today, his children have followed in his footsteps, living modestly and giving graciously.

What would you do with a billion dollars? Would you contribute to charities and live humbly? Would you advocate for causes you believe in? If so, what would they be?
Photo and information from this blog was taken from a New York Times article, Sept. 26, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Movies Fall Upon Us

As the leaves tumble to the ground and Labor Day passes, Hollywood begins its dawn of big hits. Due out are Jodie Foster in The Brave One, Emile Hirsh in Into the Wild (directed by Sean Penn), In the Valley of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon, directed by Paul Haggis (winner of the Academy Award for Crash), Lions of Lamb (directed by Robert Redford and starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep).

Across the Universe, inspired by Beatles' songs, King of California (a quasi One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood), The Jane Austen Book Club, and Mr. Woodcock (with Billy Bob Thornton, Sean William Scott, and Susan Sarandon) promise lighter fare. The Darjeerling Limited, in the spirit of Little Miss Sunshine and Sideways, is the black sheep contender in the Academy Award's Best Movie category.

For the western fans, there is 3:10 to Yuma (featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale), a remake of the original film with the same title. For Brad Pitt fans, look for The Assassination of Jesse James.

The full line-up films include the Academy Awards nominees in top categories: directing, acting, and screenplay. As Hollywood gears up for the awards seasons, the run of films is worth the trip to the movie theater.

So, get out there, see the flicks, and post your comments. (No spoilers, please!)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Box Office Hits

If you have seen any of these top-money-making, box-office hits, let us know what you think, and what you recommend and why:

The Bourne Ultimatum
Rush Hour 3
The Nanny Diaries
The Simpsons Movie
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Resurrecting the Champ
Pirates of the Caribbean, World's End

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More About Erin Brockovich

After seeing the film Erin Brockovich and discussing it in class, I thought you might enjoy some moments online to learn more about the real Erin Brockovich. Last May, Brockovich gave the commencement speech at Marymount Loyola College. The event was recorded on five short YouTubes videos. If you want to see Brockovich giving the speech, start with Reel 4 to hear her discuss the movie. Reel 5 continues the speech, and she pleads with the graduates to go out into the world and make a difference. Reel 2 show Brockovich receiving an honorary degree.

Brockovich also spoke at Penn State University's Distinguished Speakers series in Sept. 2000. The school's newspaper The Collegian covered the event. A popular speaker, she made another speech in 2001 at Penn State for Academic Integrity Week; the event recevied coverage in Daily Pennsylvannian, the local newspaper.

Brockovich has a blog, where you can learn about her current interests. Check her bio to learn about her life.

The Saint Joseph College Library has Brokvich's book Take it From Me, Life's a Struggle But You Can Win on reserve for our class. We will read a chapter in class, but get the book to explore this amazing person. Learn about her triumph over dyslexia and other life hardships, and her path as a true David (underdog) fighting Goliath, the corporate establishment.

A People magazine article that appeared shortly after the release of the movie provides additional insights into the life of Erin Brockovich.

So, after learning about the real Erin Brockovich, what is your opinion of her? Is she a rebel? Does she fight for social justice? Does she inspire you to make a difference in this world? Do you think we should invite her to speak at a SJC commencement?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

WordGirl Conquers Literacy

About a week ago, I posted a blog about television dummying down America. That blog claimed that viewing television at an early age had a detrimental effect on children's vocabulary. Can the new PBS television series WordGirl help reverse that slide?

Imagine the heroine, a fifth-grader Becky Botsford from Planet Literacy, metamorphosing into her alter-ego, WordGirl, and flying to the rescue donning her red-cape and flinging words at her enemies. Her monkey friend, Captain HuggyFace, sure to appeal to the young set, accompanies her on escapades challenging evil counterparts, tongue-tied Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy and word-mangling Butcher. Words like "preposterous" and "cumbersome" flummox them, baffling and distracting them, while she wins another conquest.

The show is aimed at children 4 to 9 years in age. The actors voicing the characters come from improv comedy and shows like Saturday Night Live. Chris Parnell of SNL does the voice of the narrator, Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development does Mr. Big, and Fred Stoller of Everybody Loves Raymond voices for the Sandwich-Making Guy. The program's goal is to be upbeat while reinforcing vocabulary in comic scenarios in the standard cartoon-format that appeals to both tikes and children midway through the elementary grades.

The program's creator, Dorothea Gillim, envisions parents sitting to watch the show with their children and reinforcing the vocabulary lessons. The show originates from a curriculum explained in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, a book authored by two University of Pittsburgh researchers. Its premise is that vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy.

Scholastic, the media mega-star in children's literacy, has plans underway for a book series complementing the show. WordGirl's producers have also explored options like sending a new word a day to children via the Internet or cell phones.

For a preview of the show's companion websites, check out: http://pbskids.org/wordgirl/ , http://www.scholastic.com/wordgirl/, http://www.pbs.org/parents/tvprograms/program-wordgirl.html

View this YouTube Jim Lehrer interview with WordGirl, , or this YouTube preview for the show to be broadcast in mid-September: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLw3ExL18r8

What creative ideas do you have for promoting literacy among young children? Do you agree vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy? Do you think we are facing a literacy crisis in the US? Do you believe a program like WordGirl will bolster children's verbal skills?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hollywood Hits the Local Scene

Looking to find Connecticut in a movie, the newly released A New Wave will pique your interest. Shot in New Britain, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury, you will find local scenes.

A New Wave is crime film about a Hartford insurance worker turned bank robber by night. The director-writer of the film, Jason Carvey, and the producer, Bruce Seymour, are Connecticut natives. The film stars Andrew Keegan and John Krasinski (of The Office). Lacey Chabert of Mean Girls plays the lead female role. William Sadler (who you will see in Shawshank Redemption playing the role of the mean-spirited prison guard) is one of the bigger names in the film.

Carvey wrote the script in 2004 while working in the insurance industry. The movie is a mix of drama and comedy. Post-production took three years, with the director and editor working weekends to complete the project. Not a big budget film, it has its flaws, which the critics have already identified. Still, watch the film to catch the shots of familiar Connecticut locales.

The film is out in DVD this week and will be on video on demand soon, with a television release planned. Although you won't pay big bucks to watch the movie, its producers went into debt making it and hope to make a profit. They remain frustrated by bootleg copies downloadable off the Internet but intrigued the film has even generated that kind of response. Will the Internet, though, threaten the careers of filmmakers just starting out?

Indiana Jones flick shot in New Haven this summer.

With Connecticut granting a 30 percent tax credit to film companies, Hollywood producers are finding the state an attractive place to work. Just this summer, Steven Spielberg shot the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series in New Haven. Starring Harrison Ford, Uma Thurman, and Leonardo DiCaprio, gawkers filled the streets. Familiar New Haven storefronts were torn down and turned into film sets. Locals and tourists from afar flocked to downtown New Haven to see the Indiana Jones movie in the making and catch a glimpse of Ford decked out for his classic role. This is not to say DiCarpio and Thurman did not draw crowds. Thanks to police security, onlookers did not see much, but area restaurants reported brisk business. The film is due out May 2008.

Have you seen a film shot on location? Do you know anyone who played a part in a movie or television production? If so, what did the person say of the experience? Do you plan to see the next Indiana Jones movie when it is released? How do you feel about the practice of bootlegging movies off the Internet?

Photos obtained from Internet Movie Database

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Death Penalty Reprieve Granted Last Minute

Today, it was announced that Kenneth Foster, due for execution within a few hours, had his sentence reprieved. Foster was scheduled to face the death penalty for his role as an accomplice in a murder case. Foster was the driver in a getaway car in a string of robberies that hit the San Antonio area in 1996. If Foster were executed today, his execution would have been the third capital punishment execution this week in Texas.

Texas law allows the execution of accomplices in capital felony cases. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, granted the reprieve and accepted a parole board's recommendation for Foster to face life in prison. Perry recommended the Texas law for accomplices be re-examined. Mauriceo Brown, the gunman in the case, was executed last year.

The mother of the victim, who was a 25-year old law student at the time, viewed Foster’s reprieve as a relief. Norma Hood, the student's mother, commented: “I’m filled with peace. I will mourn my son till I die, but I’m not forced any more to relive his death.” For more information on the story, see the front page story in The New York Times, August 30, 2007.

The photo shows Foster with his girlfriend, Nicole Johnson, and their daughter, Nydesha, during a 2001 visit to Texas death row. The photo was provided courtesy of Foster's family and appeared in The Austin Chronicle, Feb. 11, 2005.

Despite Governor Perry's willingness to dismiss the death penalty in the Foster case, in May of this year, he approved a law for the use of the death penalty for second-time offenders who rape children under the age of 14 years.

What is your position on the Foster reprieve? What about the death sentence for second time offenders in rape cases involving young children? Do you think this law is fair? Should Foster's death sentence have been overturned?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Champ Hits Movie Theaters

Samuel L. Jackson, one of the leading actors in Time to Kill, stars in Resurrecting the Champ, opening in theaters nation-wide this week. The film tells the story of a down-and-out ex-boxer, now a homeless man roaming the streets of downtown Denver, Colorado.

Boasting of his past feats as a boxer, Jackson’s character, known in the film as The Champ, is beat to a pulp by a bunch of street thuds. A journalist (played by Josh Harnett), also down on his luck, covets a front-page story, and befriends The Champ, taking him to a match. The Champ gives the journalist, Erik, an insider’s run-down on the match, leading to the front-page story that jumpstarts his career.

Erik soon discovers that The Champ is a once-famous boxer, believed to be long deceased. In resurrecting The Champ, Erik also aims to resurrect his own life of a broken marriage (his wife, played by Kathryn Morris, of Cold Case fame)

and a difficult relationship with his young son (played by Dakota Goya). Erik is further spurred on by competition from a newsroom reporter (played by Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewife).

Directed by Rod Lurie, who hails from Greenwich, Connecticut, the film continues to move his career beyond television as the director of the series Commander in Chief and Line of Fire. He directed the 2000 film The Contender, starring Gary Oldman (of Harry Potter fame), Joan Allan, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater.

With an all-star cast, including Academy Award winner Samuel L. Jackson, who won the award for his role in Pulp Fiction, Lurie’s newest release Resurrecting the Champ is worth a trip to the local theater to check out the acting and the plot of this contemporary morality tale.

If you see the film, or want to comment on any of the actors, please post a comment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vioxx: Drug Maker's Win is Plaintiffs’ Loss

The once-popular painkiller, Vioxx, now off the market, has been implicated in deaths of millions. As court cases mount against Merck, the manufacturer, verdicts have NOT favored the sufferers. A recent $253.5 million reward on behalf of a plaintiff whose husband died after taking Vioxx has been appealed to a higher court.

To date, of the 45,000 people attempting to sue Merck, none has received compensation. In the meantime, the lawyers defending the company have profited. Merck has spent over one billion dollars in legal fees.The company has refused reaching settlements, believing doing so will acknowledge culprability in victims' suffering. The stock of the company has soared, and Merck remains one the most lucrative pharmeutical company in the US.

Kenneth Frazier, chief executive and legal counsel for Merck, has prospered. He was promoted to president of the global human health division and oversess marketing and 60,000 employees.

Merck claims it is not legally responsible and says patients and their doctors were forewarned of heart risks associated with the drug.

Aware of the escalating pattern of unsuccessful cases and drawn out appeals, lawyers for plaintiffs have withdrawn cases right before scheduled trial dates. Peter Schuck, a law professor at Yale, claims that Merck deliberately complicates cases, discouraging plaintiffs through long-drawn out litigating.

Attempts to file class action cases have failed. Judges have argued that class action are not appropriate because each case is unique and the cause for illness must be examined separately. (The class action tactic used by Erin Brockovich's law firm was what made her fight against the mega utility PG & E successful. A individual plaintiff could not have fought and won!) At present, the backlog of cases against Merck grows. Fewer than 20 cases have reached court in the last two years, when filings began. In the interim, sufferers have died. Should a client win, Merck has until 2010 to begin payments.

Merck knew two years before Vioxx went on the market in 1999 that the drug posed serious side effects. By 2000, Merck’s top scientists confirmed based on clinical trial that Vioxx caused heart complications. Regardless, the company tried to halt the efforts of the Food and Drug Administration to put warning labels on the medication.

In court, Merck blamed victims, claiming their obesity, risk-taking behavior, and genetic predisposition led to heart failures. The company claimed cause and effect was not apparent, and a heart attack was imminent despite drug use.

Mr. Lanier, the lawyer who pleaded the case on behalf of the Texas woman awarded $253.5 million in the death of her husband, says, “Merck’s goal is to manipulate the legal system to deprive justice to tens of thousands of people whose cases can never be heard….Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Despite Merck’s victories, lawyers remain interested in pursuing class action suits. In New Jersey, with a stockpile of 16,000 cases pending, the State Supreme Court is considering a class action case to reduce the caseload. The state attorney general office has already sued Merck, and federal prosecutors are initiating further investigations.

Carol Ernst, the woman in the $253.5 million award case, states of Merck: “they can have all of their money and everything I own if they would just give [my husband] back to me. But they can’t do that.”

Where is the justice? Are class action cases against Merck warranted? Are drug companies responsible for complications associated with their medications? Weigh in on the issue. Post your comments.

For more information on the Vioox case, see the front page story in The New York Times, August 21, 2007.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Television Viewing Dummy Downs America

Do you believe that watching television shrinks your brain? Researchers at the University of Washington have found that watching television, even educational programs like “Sesame Street,” reduces a child’s vocabulary by six to eight words per every hour of viewing.
The Journal of Pediatrics claims that for every hour spent watching a DVD, there is parallel decline in cognitive development. A comparison between babies watching educational DVDs like Baby Einstein found that those who watched the programs fell behind peers who spent time engaged in age-appropriate literature activities, for instance, being read to by a parent. Apparently, if you believe this finding, young children learn better hearing their own parents say words than a stranger, no matter what the words are.

Heavy television viewing by young children has also been associated with attention deficit disorder and behavioral delays later in life, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy recommends children under age two not watch any television. So, as for yourself, did you watch television at a young age? If so, do you believe it impaired your cognitive and behavioral development?

In a study using the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI), a test used to determine the linguistic development of infants, it was found eight-month olds easily recognize the words mommy, daddy, bye, peekaboo, bottle, no, and hi. If the research findings on language decline are accurate, an eight-month old who has learned only these seven words should not know any of them after viewing television for one hour. Does this seem plausible? Do you see a problem with research studies jumping to conclusions?

The Kaiser Foundation claims that 68% of infants under age two “watch television on any given day.” By age sixteen months, the average baby should recognize 170 words on the CDI list according to researchers. But if the statistics reported by the Kaiser Foundation and CDI researchers are both correct, the average child from age eight to sixteen months will have watched 240 hours of television and dropped 1,440 words from its vocabulary. Yet, how many16-month olds know 1,440 words!

Lesson to be learned is don't accept researcher findings on face value. Compare studies, and look for contradictions. Check for illogical findings and faulty reasoning. Don’t cite a study without analyzing the implications of the data or questioning the research methodology.

For more information on claims about the abysmal effects of television viewing on children’s brain power, check linguistic expert, Dennis Baron’s blog posting at:
Much of the information in this posting is based on this Baron blog post.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Erin Brockovich Small Scale

Okay, so you are not about to fight a big corporation to arrest or reduce environmental pollutants hurting the health of others. So, how can you help? Did you know that the manicure that you, your friends, and others get is hurting the health of the manicurist? The chemicals used at nail salons have negative effects on the workers. One major study done by researchers at Wayne State University found that salon workers' mental and physical health have been harmed by chemicals. Mentally, the workers have shown a decline in attention span, processing speed, memory, and verbal reasoning. Children born to salon workers have faced poor performance on tests of cognitive and language processing and behavior. A salon worker's exposure to the chemicals is 1,200 times higher than that of the average citizen, which is not to say that those who have manicures regularly are also not at high risk.

Three of the chemicals used in nail salons have been associated with cancer. These are toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phtalate. In Springfield, MA, a hospital found that nail salon workers suffered from miscarriages as well as from rashes, fungal infections, and asthma. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that salon workers are not only exposed to toxic chemicals, but work long hours and might be of childbearing age and bring children into the workplace.

What can you do to help out? Begin by researching the topic, and by learning what companies like OPI, one of the largest producers of nail salon products, is doing. In Springfield, MA., a community group received a $100,000 grant from the EPA to improve ventilation systems in salons. What ideas do you have to help workers in salons protect their physical and mental health as well of that of their children? And, remember it takes far less concentration of chemicals to harm children than it does adults!

Credits: Picture from Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
A manicure at Happy Beauty Salon in Carle Place, on Long Island
Information from STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: August 19, 2007m The New York Times, At Nail Salons, Beauty Treatments Can Have a Distinctly Unglamorous Side

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

History Department Bans Wikipedia as a Reference

The History Department of Middlebury College, Vermont, banned Wikipedia, following an incident in which several students cited inaccurate information for an exam. The students' exams inaccurately reported that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th century Japan based on information found in Wikipedia. However, any Jesuits in Japan at the time were in hiding and not in a position to support a rebellion.

When the History Department faculty asked students why they used Wikipedia, they claimed their high school teachers condoned the practice. As a result of a series of incidents in which students used inaccurate information found in Wikipedia, the department enacted the ban.

The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has publicly stated that students should not cite Wikipedia, or any other general encyclopedia, including Encyclopedia Britainnica. One objection to Wikipedia is the collaborative nature by which articles are composed and the lack of credentials of the authors. As a wiki, just about anyone can enter and edit an entry.

To teach students how to create wikis, some college professors have students author articles for Wikipedia. At Oberlin College, students edited Wikipedia entries for a Middle East and an Ancient Rome course. At Columbia University, graduate students created a bibliograpy project on Japan critiquing library references, newspaper articles, and books, posting the project on Wikipedia.

Whereas professors find fault with citing Wikipedia as a reference, they do not hestitate to have their students author on the site, claiming the practice helps develop consice writing skills. Students posting to the site claim their ability to author and edit entried on the site has contributed to their ambivalence about the veracity of information found on the site. Although steps are taken to monitor submissions, vandalism of the site occurs. The error regarding the Shimabara Rebellion persisted on the site even following publicity about the error.

Do you believe schools should ban Wikipedia as a source students cite in papers?

Information for this posting was gathered from a The New York Times, Feb. 21, 2007, article, found on p. B8, entitled "A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia As a Research Source," author by Noam Cohen.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NCLB Leaves Teachers Behind

The Commission on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) recommends that educators working in high-poverty schools be judged on students' test scores. The implications are that thousands of teachers could lose their jobs as Congress prepares to consider the renewal of NCLB. Teachers' unions are among those attacking the proposal. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Edward McElroy, claims there is no reliable means to connect student achievement to teacher performance. The executive director of the National Center for Fair and Opening Testing says the recommendation will only intensify the teaching-to-the-test mentality. The NCLB Commission has also recommended that national standards, instead of state ones, be enacted. In addition, the Commission calls for consistency across states in reporting test results. Do you believe national standards, national tests, and standardized reporting of test results are in order? Moreover, should educators in low-performing schools be held accountable for students' test performance?
Credit: picture found in Wikiepedia in NCLB entry, 8/19/07

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Teacher May Serve Up to 40 Years for Computer Use

Here is important news that all teachers who use computers in their classroom should know. Julie Amerio of Windham, CT was arrested for accidentally letting pornography sites cycle on the computer where she substitute taught in Kelly Middle School in Norwich, CT. She claims that as a luddite she did not know how to turn off the pop-up pornography sites once they infiltrated the classroom computer. Although she tried to block students from seeing the images by standing in front of the computer, she also left the room to seek help, leaving students behind to view the material.
The case also raises challenges for the school system. First, the school administration acknowledges maintenance fell behind of computers in the school to block inappropriate sites. Amerio's arrest leaves open the question of culprity. During Amerio's trial, Robert Hertz, information services manager for the Norwich school system, said the filters to block the pop-up sites were not operational because needed information was lacking for several weeks. Amerio faces 40 years in prison with sentence.
What if she were called to the school to substitute on another day? What if the school had the computer properly maintained? Is Amerio's sentencing fair?

Follow this link to learn more: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2007/01/substitute_teacher_faces_jail.html One summary offered: "A 40-year-old former substitute teacher from Connecticut is facing prison time following her conviction for endangering students by exposing them to pornographic material displayed on a classroom computer. The graphic images were pop-up ads generated by spyware already present on the computer prior to the teacher's arrival."
Post comments on the case.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Gifted Left Behind

Since passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), gifted programs face demise. In Connecticut, 22 percent of school districts eliminated gifted programs after NCLA passed in 2002. Other districts cut back programs. West Hartford remains one the towns continuing its program, spending over $600,000 this year to pay teachers, allowing 13 percent of students considered intellectually gifted to attend pullout programs. This option means fourth graders such as Ben Harney and Caroline Monnes study math at the sixth-grade level and eight graders Adam Harris builds a robot that plays the piano, Cinzia Alfano hones engineering skills designing a board game, and Mariam Hellalat solves crimes via forensic techniques. Is your town cutting programs for gifted to fund NCLB? What is your opinion on this issue?

(Acknowledgement: The New York Times, 2/7/07, Joseph Berger’s Education column, “Federal Law Drains Resources for the Gifted,” bylined, West Hartford, CT. See page B9; Joe’s email is joeberger@nytimes.com.)

National Council of Teachers' Blog

The National Council of Teachers of English Blob is available at: http://ncteinbox.blogspot.com/
Keep up to date on literacy and other issues related to the language arts curriculum by reading this blog and sending in comments.

New Survey Finds Teachers Lag in Media Literacy

Once again, teachers come up short in a survey. A survey commissioned by Cable in the Classroom (CIC) found that 60 percent of educators said schools were not preparing students to be media savvy for the 21st century. Young people turn to the television and the Internet for their news, not the newspaper. Yet, literacy instruction in the schools give little attention to critical analysis of the media. The new generation creates websites, blogs, and podcasts, authoring and publishing for wide audience. Shouldn’t educators assume some responsibility for helping the young use these tools wisely? The survey results also found 80 percent of the educators claimed they were not prepared to teach media literacy.
To read more about the survey, go to this EdNews story:
For the National Council of Teachers of English's "Position Statement on Cmposing with Non-Print Media, follow this link: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/comp/114919.htm

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

History Teacher's Podcasts Cater to Millions

Lars Brownworth, a history teacher from Long Island, New York, is one of the most famous educational podcasters. At "12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of The Byzantine," listeners will discover 12 podcasts, starting with the ruler Diocletian in 284 and concluding with Constantine in 1453. According to The New York Times, Lars' 12-series podcasts is one of the top 5 educational podcasts on iTunes and in the top 50 of all podcasts. Reaching a global audience, this social studies teacher has garnered rock star fame, with listeners tuning in from all over the world. In December 2006, Lars' "12 Byzantine Rulers" drew 140,910 hits. In total, Lars has a million listeners, and demand keeps growing. Quite impressive for a 31-year-old classroom teacher with only a bachelor's degree. (See The New York Times, January 31, 2007 to learn more.) To go directly to the Lars' podcasts, click on http://www.anders.com/lectures/lars_brownworth/12_byzantine_rulers/

Webcasts' Popularity

A webcast transmits audio and video. Most news program now have webcasts available for viewing on the Internet. But, your computer must have a device for playing the webcast. RealPlayer, a free application for playing video and audio files, is readily available from many sites offering webcasts, such as the Library of Congress. Visit http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/ to discover educational webcasts appropriate for the elementary, middle, and high school grades. Increasingly, expect to see webcasts incorporated into the school curriculum.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Podcasting: What is It and Why Do It?

Both Merriam Webster Dictionary and The New Oxford American Dictionary online claim that "podcasting" was the most looked up word last year. So, what exactly is podcasting? It is audio taping a soundtrack for downloading via a MP3 or similar device. Podcasts transmit interviews, news, commentaries, and just about any audio broadcast. The old days when folks sat around listening to radio programs is back but with a new slant. Anywhere an iPod or mobile (laptop or notebook) goes, so goes a podcast. The name derives from the ubiquitous iPod.

Most podcasts run from 30 to 60 minutes. If you have the gift of gab, podcasting might be your salvation. Think of audio-taping all of your lessons. But, is podcasting easy to do? To podcast, audio taping software and a microphone are a must; and, listeners need an audio player, i.e., a MP3 or an iPod to download files. So, with that in mind, does podcasting fit into your future? Listen to some educational podcasts, and ponder the possibilities.

Learning-hand-in education site explains the phenomenon in education at:

Thinking of creating your own podcast? Read this step-by-step guide: http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-11293_7-6246557-1.html?tag=bnav

Here is another beginner’s guide to podcasting: http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/articles/comments/beginners-guide-to-podcast-creation/

“All the World’s a Podcast" clarifies what a podcast is and isn’t: http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/articles/comments/beginners-guide-to-podcast-creation/

BBC article on podcasting explains what it is and why it is profitable:

More to come on podcasting in another blog--stay tuned.

Teens Live by Blogs

In the age of the Internet and blogs, young people think nothing of exposing their inner feelings and daily lives to others. Online diaries supplant old-fashioned, private diaries. Yet, parents, school administrators, and other adults worry that teens are exposing themselves. Teens discount the possibility that college admission personnel and employees will snoop the Internet and eavesdrop on blogs. Teens see blogs as a nifty way to keep in touch with friends and claim that blogs make them care about what they write.

For the young, the power to vent and reach out to others makes blogging attractive. It goes beyond the power of cell phones and instant messaging, but demands more of the speaker. Keeping up a blog is work!

To hear what young bloggers say about the pros of blogging, read this January 8, 2007 Hartford Courant article. http://www.courant.com/technology/hc-sundaywebdiaries.artjan28,0,7329014.story?coll=hc-headlines-technology

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pathways to Technology Magnet School.

The Sheff versus O'Neill legal case, fought 20 years ago, was controversial from the start. Some argue not much has been done in two decades to turn the tide of segregated schools in the state. In the last several years, magnet schools have popped up. To date, the magnets in Hartford remain predominantly Hispanic and black. The proposed Pathways to Technology Magnet adds to the controversy. Some argue that the site for the school on Broad Street near I-84 is not suitable due to traffic flow and lack of open space. At present, the site is not zoned for a school, and an appeal is pending for a change of status on the land use. As Hartford and surrounding towns consider existing magnet schools, educators and parents alike wonder if magnets address the intent of the Sheff discrimination suit. Read more about the case in The Hartford Courant using the link: http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-magnetmess0126.artjan26,0,2791916.story

Saturday, January 27, 2007

No Child Left Behind and School Vouchers

As part of Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, as you likely know, students in low-performing schools might become eligible to obtain vouchers to attend private schools of their choice. In addition, NCLB advocates for magnet schools and charter schools. In Connecticut, according to a January 25, 20007 article in The Hartford Courant, “The expansion of high-performing charter schools, magnet schools and other small experimental schools is part of a $1.3 billion, six-year plan introduced at the state Capitol Wednesday by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, also known as ConnCAN, an advocacy group with the goal of 'ensuring that every child in our state has access to a great public school.'" What are your responses to this state proposal and Bush's federal proposals, including vouchers for private schools?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Websites to Use in the Classroom

Check out these sites and write your comments about them. For multisubject sites, particularly for K-8, check out Scholastic's Teacher Section at http://teacher.scholastic.com/ Click on the Online Activities for web-based curriculum materials. Explore the rest of the site for standards-based lesson plans and reproducibles. Can Teach at http://www.canteach.ca/ offers lesson plans, links, and other resources for elementary school teachers.

For language arts lessons ideas for grades 5-6, look into The Teacher's Desk at http://www.teachersdesk.org. CyberGuides, http://www.sdcoe.k12.us/score.cyberguide.html, offers web-based units on literature. Guides contain a teacher and student section, a task for students to do, a list of related websites, and an evaluative rubric.

For math, check the SCORES Mathematics Lessons site at http://score.kings.k12.ca.us. The site follows National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards. MathStories at http://www.mathstories.com/ offers math word problems classified by grade level and topic. The site requires a subscription, but check the site for general information about what is available. An all-time favorite in the math area is Math Forum Internet Mathematics Library at http://mathforum.org/library/resource_types/lesson_plans.

If you are looking for sites that provide access to Web Quests, as well as a range of other instructional materials, take a look at TeAch-nology.com at http://www.teach-nology.com/.

Some sites related to the social studies curriculum include Archiving Early America at http://www.earlyamerica.org for primary sources. Shotgun's Home of the Civil War at http://www.civilwarhome.com will appeal to Civil War buffs, and provides a wealth of information for teachers who address this topic in the curriculum. For information in the Revolutionary War, try WPI Military Science at http://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Depts/MilSci/BTSI

In the science area, for information on the 7-12 grade levels, look into CEEE GirlTECH Lesson Plans at http://teachtech.rice.edu/Lessons/index.html. SCORE Science at http://scorescience.humbolt.k12.ca.us/ offers lessons and activities by grade level, K-12. One recommended example is on Newton's Laws. For amusing science site, try I Can Do That! at http://www.eurekascience.com/ICanDoThat/. Rock Hound at http://www.fi.edu/fellows/payton/rocks/index2.html, as the title suggests, focuses on rocks. The parent site, Franklin Institute Online Wired@School, http://fi.edu/fellows/ offers a variety of science lessons. Newton's Apples at http://tpt.org/newtons is another site with an array of science lessons and is stems from the television show of the same name.

AskERIC Lesson Plans at http://www.askeric.org/cgi-bin/lesson.cig/Science/Biology offers a collection of biology lesson plans, and the parent site at just AskERIC is an old-time favorite.

These collection of sites are compiled by Vicki Sharp in Computers Education for Teachers (5th ed.).

If any of the links do not work, email me at jarzt@sjc.edu, and I will get back to you with updates. If you find any of these sites useful, please post a comment with your reactions.

Software in the Classroom

Sometimes it is a struggle to integrate computer software in the classroom for a variety of reasons. First, we cannot always find the software that meets our curricular needs or students' interest. Second, we may not have the technology readily available to us in our schools. However, we should search to find software that supports our curriculum. Once we do, we should be prepared to create rationale for our school administrators to invest in not just the software but the needed technology. Administrators are not looking for another gadget that will be used one year and ignored the next. Except in the case of inexpensive software that will easily run on computers already available to us, we must be prepared to advocate for what we know works. This means examining the software carefully, researching how it has been used in other schools, and considering multiple ways to use the software in our teaching environments. Tool programs, such as desktop publishing programs, and word processing programs, are easy to adapt to fit many areas of the curriculum. Programs like Excel easily fit into middle and high school math and science curriculums. PowerPoint has become pervasive, but we must use a program like this wisely or it will be hackneyed and under utilized in terms of its potential. Some find PowerPoint a mere electronic overhead with neat slides, but the programs does so much more once the user is aware of its many capabilities.

Computers in the Classroom

In Education 570, Computers in the Classroom, we will explore effective ways to integrate computers into your teaching areas. Feel free to send ideas along to me to post for others and to make comments on the blog entries.

Blog Archive