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: ,,

View this YouTube Jim Lehrer interview with WordGirl, , or this YouTube preview for the show to be broadcast in mid-September:

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

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