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Archive for February, 2008

Thursday - February 28, 2008

And The Winner Is…Not an American!

OscarsLast Sunday the annual awards for the best movies were given out (awarded, given to the winners) in Los Angeles. The awards are popularly called the Oscars, because the statue you win is called “Oscar.”  But no one is exactly sure why is it called Oscar.  (Why the Jeff or Lucy?)   The Oscars are presented by the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences (hence (therefore), the ceremony is often called the Academy Awards). There is a separate category for the Best Foreign (non-American) Film, but actors and actresses from any movie, foreign or U.S.-made, can be nominated (named as a finalist) for the acting awards. The top or highest awards for acting are Best Actor (a man) and Best Actress (a woman). There are also awards for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, meaning the actors who weren’t the lead or most important actors in the movie, but were still important.

Many times in the past, actors from other countries have won acting Oscars, but this year, for the first time in more than 40 years, all of the top acting prizes – Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress – were won by non-Americans.

Best Actor was given to an Irish actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, for the movie There Will Be Blood. Best Actress went to the young French actor, Marion Cotillard, for the movie La Vie en Rose. Best Supporting Actor went to the Spaniard, Javier Bardem, for the movie No Country for Old Men. Best Supporting Actress went to a British actress, Tilda Swinton, for her work in the movie Michael Clayton.

Movies are an international art form, so although Hollywood makes many of the most popular movies, I think it is a good thing that we recognize the great acting talents from all countries.

The Best Picture award went to No Country for Old Men, which was made by two people from my home state, Minnesota! So I guess Hollywood was the loser this year.

~Jeff

Wednesday - February 27, 2008

Grandma Moses and Her Paintings (English Cafe 126)

In today’s English Cafe 126, Jeff talked about the famous American painter Grandma Moses. Jeff talked about her style of “folk art” and it’s depiction (representation) of rural life, or life in the countryside. By looking at her paintings, we can get a sense (have an idea) of what life was like in rural American at the beginning of the 20th century.

These are pictures of Grandma Moses, who, as Jeff mentioned, began to paint in her 70’s and lived until the age of 101.

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Here are a few of her paintings:

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Monday - February 25, 2008

Salutations for Letters or Emails – Part 1

The salutation in a letter or email is the greeting at the very beginning.
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For formal or business letters and emails, you can use these types of salutations:

  • Dear Dr. McQuillan:
  • Dear Drs. McQuillan and Tse:
  • Dear President McQuillan and Ambassador Tse:

Tips (advice):
1. Notice that we use a colon ” : ” after the name or names when it is a formal business letter. If this is a less formal and more social letter or message, we use a comma ” , ” after the name instead: For example, “Dear Dr. McQuillan,” or “Dear Ms. Rodriguez,”
2. Use the title Ms. for a woman, unless she tells you that she prefers Miss or Mrs.
3. Never spell out the titles Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr.
4. Do spell out these titles and similar ones: Professor, Dean, Senator, Governor, Captain, Judge
5. If you are writing to a company or department rather than any specific individual, use the company or department name:

  • Dear Northwest Airlines:
  • Dear Googlepleasebuyour Company:
  • Dear Customer Service:

If your message is informal or if you already know the person you are writing fairly well, you can use these salutations, with or without a comma before the name:

  • Dear Jeff,
  • Hi Jeff, (or Hi, Jeff,)
  • Hello Lucy, (or Hello, Lucy,)
  • Jeff,
  • Good morning Lucy, (or Good morning, Lucy,)

Next week, I’ll talk about which salutations to use if you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing, and/or don’t know the gender (male or female; man or woman) of the person who will read your letter or note.

~ Lucy

Thursday - February 21, 2008

Theme from the TV Show “Friends”: “I’ll Be There For You”

From your blog comments, it looks like we have a lot of listeners/readers who are fans of the TV show Friends. We also recently had a question about some of the lyrics to the theme song (song that a show or person is known by), so I thought I would post them here with some explanations. For those of you who are not fans of the show, this is still a well-known song in the U.S. and I hope you enjoy it.

~ Lucy

“I’ll Be There For You”
by The Rembrandts

So no one told you life was gonna (going to) be this way
Your job’s a joke (not good; not adequate), you’re broke (have no money), your love life’s D.O.A (dead on arrival; not lively).

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear (wheels in your car moving slowly)
And it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month,
or even your year
*, but…

I’ll be there for you (you can rely on me)
When the rain starts to pour (to fall heavily)
I’ll be there for you
Like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you
‘Cuz (because) you’re there for me too…

You’re still in bed at ten
And work began at eight
You’ve burned (cooked too long) your breakfast
So far…things are going great

Your mother warned (told you something would happen beforehand) you there’d be days like these
Oh, but she didn’t tell you when the world has brought
You down to your knees** that…

I’ll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you
Like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you
‘Cuz you’re there for me too…

No one could ever know me
No one could ever see me
Seems you’re the only one who knows
What it’s like to be me
Someone to face the day with
Make it through (to successfully pass through an event although it is difficult) all the rest with
Someone I’ll always laugh with
Even at my worst I’m best with you, yeah

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
And it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month,
or even your year…

I’ll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you
Like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you
‘Cuz you’re there for me too…

I’ll be there for you
I’ll be there for you
I’ll be there for you
‘Cuz you’re there for me too…

*to be (one’s) day = to have good things happen
**to be down to/on your knees = to feel hopeless or defeated

Wednesday - February 20, 2008

Foreclosures and the U.S. Economy

As many of you probably know, the U.S. economy is doing poorly right now, with some economists saying that we are going into a recession, a period of major economic decline. The major reason for this downslide (decline) is that the number of home foreclosures is way up (increased a lot). A foreclosure happens when a homeowner cannot pay his or her mortgage (the money he or she owes the bank for the purchase of a home).

images.jpegWhy are we in this mess (bad situation)? Beginning six or seven years ago, the U.S. had a housing boom (big increase in activity). Interest rates (the fee a bank charges for people to borrow money) were low, so many people got home loans (money borrowed from a bank) to buy a home. Unfortunately, the banks were too eager (wanting to do something very much) to lend money and gave loans to a lot of people who could not really afford it. In addition, many of those loans had adjustable (able to change; able to go up or down) interest rates which automatically go up after a period of time. Between people who were either unrealistic (not practical or sensible) about their home-buying ability, and banks being too eager to make money, a crisis (big problem; great difficulty) has resulted. Companies are laying off (firing; dismissing) employees. The stock market is generally down and unpredictable (difficult to guess if something will happen).

California was one of the hottest (most active) housing markets in the country. For this reason, it’s not surprising that California is one of the hardest hit (most affected) states in the country: In 2007, there were nearly 85,000 California house and condo foreclosures. That’s six times more than in 2006, which had about 12,500.

Most economists agree: Things will get worse before they get better.

~ Lucy

Thursday - February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day! “Hey There Delilah”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is a holiday to celebrate with your sweetheart and loved ones. It’s not a national holiday, which means that workers don’t get the day off from work. Traditionally, on this day, couples (two people in a romantic relationship) give each other presents, such as flowers, candy, stuffed animals, and jewelry. On the radio, you’ll hear callers make dedications to the one they love, requesting a song that expresses their feelings.

A very popular love song this past year was by the band, the “Plain White T’s” (T = T-shirt). It’s a simple love song sung by a man who is in a long-distance relationship (a relationship where the two people are in different places) with a woman named Delilah. When this song became popular, women would wear shirts that said “I’m Delilah” to nightclubs, perhaps because they wished that the song had been written for them. If you want to impress a woman you love, maybe you can serenade (sing to) her with this song. Just don’t forget to change the name!

~ Lucy

“Hey There Delilah”
by Plain White T’s

Hey there, Delilah
What’s it like in New York City?
I’m a thousand miles away
But girl, tonight you look so pretty
Yes, you do
Times Square (the center and busiest part of New York city) can’t shine (give off light) as bright as you
I swear (promise) it’s true

Hey there, Delilah
Don’t you worry about the distance
I’m right there if you get lonely
Give this song another listen
Close your eyes
Listen to my voice, it’s my disguise (method of hiding)
I’m by your side (near you)

Oh it’s what you do to me (how you affect me)
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
What you do to me

Hey there, Delilah
I know times are getting hard
But just believe me, girl
Someday I’ll pay the bills with this guitar
We’ll have it good
We’ll have the life we knew we would
My word (promise) is good

Hey there, Delilah
I’ve got so much left to say
If every simple song I wrote to you
Would take your breath away (to leave someone feeling surprised and speechless because of the beauty they experienced)
I’d write it all
Even more in love with me you’d fall
We’d have it all

Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me

A thousand miles seems pretty far
But they’ve got planes and trains and cars
I’d walk to you if I had no other way
Our friends would all make fun of us (laugh at us)
and we’ll just laugh along because we know
That none of them have felt this way
Delilah, I can promise you
That by the time we get through (are finished)
The world will never ever be the same
And you’re to blame (responsible)

Hey there, Delilah
You be good and don’t you miss me
Two more years and you’ll be done with school
And I’ll be making history like I do
You’ll know it’s all because of you
We can do whatever we want to
Hey there, Delilah, here’s to you
This one’s for you

Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
Oh it’s what you do to me
What you do to me.

Wednesday - February 13, 2008

Is This Really an Emergency? (English Cafe 124)

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In today’s English Cafe 124, Jeff talks about the 9-1-1 emergency telephone system in the U.S. As Jeff mentioned, the emergency number should only be used for life-threatening (very dangerous) emergencies. These are some actual reasons people called 9-1-1. You decide if they are life-threatening emergencies:

  • A man broke up with (ended a romantic relationship with) his girlfriend and wanted police to go over to her house and to tell him the owners of any cars, other than hers, in her driveway in front of her garage or house.
  • A call came into 9-1-1 emergency because two couples were going to share a hotel room and there weren’t enough towels.
  • Someone called 9-1-1 to report that their parrot (talking bird) got out of its cage and is in a tree outside.
  • A drunk (person who had too much alcohol) called 9-1-1 to order a pizza.

_____________

And these are supposed to be actual 9-1-1 calls, but I’m dubious (doubting; not convinced it’s true). A dispatcher is a person who answers emergency calls and who sends the police, fire department, or an ambulance (a truck that takes sick or injured people to the hospital) to help.

Dispatcher: 9-1-1
Caller: Yeah, I’m having trouble breathing. I’m all out of breath. I think I’m going to pass out (to faint; to lose consciousness).
Dispatcher: Sir, where are you calling from?
Caller: I’m at a pay phone (public telephone) at North Avenue and Foster Street.
Dispatcher: Sir, an ambulance is on the way. What were you doing before you started having trouble breathing?
Caller: Running from the police.

Dispatcher: 9-1-1 What’s the nature of your emergency?
Caller: My wife is pregnant and her contractions (pains a woman feels when her baby is about to be born) are only two minutes apart.
Dispatcher: Is this her first child?
Caller: No, you idiot (very stupid or unintelligent person)! This is her husband!

~ Lucy

Monday - February 11, 2008

The Onion Reports: Science is Hard

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The Onion is a well known newspaper published in the U.S., but be careful about getting your news from it. None of the stories are true.

The Onion is a parody (imitation; false) newspaper that publishes satirical (using humor to expose or make fun of other people) articles about local, nation, and international events. This was one of their recent “news stories,” with a few excerpts (short parts or sections):

National Science Foundation: Science Hard

INDIANAPOLIS—The National Science Foundation’s annual symposium (academic or scientific meeting) concluded (ended) Monday, with the 1,500 scientists in attendance reaching the consensus (agreement) that science is hard…

The science-is-hard theorem (scientific explanation) first posited (offered as an explanation) by a team of MIT (Massachusett Institute of Technology; a university in Boston) professors in 1990, was slow to gain acceptance (to be accepted; to be considered true) within the science community…

“We now believe that the theorem is 99.999% likely to be true, after applying these incredibly complex (complicated; with many parts) statistical (analyzing numbers) techniques that gave me a splitting (very painful) headache,” one of the scientists said.

If you like satire, this is the newspaper for you.

~ Lucy

Wednesday - February 6, 2008

Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Lunar New Year

This is not just a big week for American football or the U.S. presidential elections. There are at least three other major world events that happen this week. The first is Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), which marks (celebrates, commemorates) the last day before the 40 days of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days in the Catholic Church where Catholics are supposed to prepare for the greatest celebration of the Christian religion: Easter. Part of the tradition of Lent is to fast (not to eat very much) and abstain from (avoid, not eat) certain kinds of food. This 40-day period always begins on a Wednesday, so the day before Lent begins is a time for celebrating and partying, because you won’t be able to celebrate for another 40 days again! In many places, this is called Carnival, and is a party/celebration that lasts several days before the beginning of Lent. Brazil, for example, has a famous Carnival celebration, with large parades and beautiful women dancing in the streets (I guess there may be some handsome men, too, but I never noticed!). Here in the U.S., the city of New Orleans, with its French Catholic heritage (history), also celebrates Mardi Gras, but it is not celebrated in very many other U.S. cities.

I said that Mardi Gras is on a Tuesday before the beginning of Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (today). Ashes are the black material that is left after you burn something, such as paper or plants. In the Catholic tradition, followed still by many in the U.S. and other countries, you go to church today to have ashes put on your forehead (the part of your head between your eyes and your hair, on top of your face). These ashes are a sign of your participation in this 40-day period of fasting and abstinence (the noun from “to abstain”).

Lunar New YearFinally this week, we have the Lunar New Year, celebrated tomorrow (Thursday) widely in many countries in Asia and cities in the U.S. and elsewhere that have large Asian American and Asian immigrant populations. Lunar refers to the moon, since the actual date of this New Year changes every year to follow the cycles of the moon. (Tonight is a full moon, meaning you can see the entire moon. The opposite would be a new moon.) Lunar New Year (sometimes called in the U.S. Chinese New Year) is also a period of celebration, with parades in the streets. Los Angeles has a Lunar New Year celebration every year, as does San Francisco, since both cities have a large number of Asian Americans. This is the year 4706 in the Lunar calendar, traditionally observed. This lunar calendar has an animal for each year in a 12 year cycle. This year is the Year of the Rat (an small animal that looks like a large mouse).

So…much to celebrate this week!

~Jeff

Tuesday - February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday

Obama ClintonToday is being called Super Tuesday in the United States. This is not related to the Super Bowl, which was last Sunday. It’s called Super Tuesday because it is the most important day for electing the candidates of the two major political parties (political groups), the people who will represent each party in the next election. The American election system is somewhat complicated, but here is a brief explanation.

We have two large political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. Each party picks (chooses, selects) its own candidates for president. The process for picking the candidates takes approximately seven to eight months, beginning in January and ending in July or August. There are two steps. In Step One, each person who wants to be the candidate for his or her party tries to win delegates (representatives) from each of the 50 states. These delegates are picked by each state, and each state determines how it will pick its own delegates. Each state also determines when it will pick its own delegates. For example, people in Iowa decided to have their election for delegates in January. Other states picked different dates in February, March, April, and May (and sometimes as late as June). This means that each person who wants to be the candidate will travel to these different states and try to win delegates. This also means that if you lose in some of the early states that pick first, you may not be considered a good enough candidate to continue, so it is important to win early and keep winning in the other state elections.

This is one reason why people think this is a crazy system. Both parties usually begin with seven or eight people who want to be the presidential candidate for their party. But if they don’t win some of the early states, they will probably have to drop out (quit) because people will think they are not popular enough to win. So there are really three or four states that effectively (in fact) select the candidates – the states that vote early.

There is no logic as to (related to) which states go first. Historically, New Hampshire was always the first state to pick its delegates, but now it is Iowa. Since each state wants to have an influence on who is the winning candidate, states have an incentive (motivation) to make their elections earlier and earlier. If you are a state that waits until May or June to have your election for delegates, the race (the contest, competition) could be finished already, since the winning candidate only needs a majority (51%) to win the nomination as the candidate for his or her party.

In the past several years, states have moved their elections from the later months to the earlier months in order to have a greater say (influence, voice) in determining who becomes the candidate. Today, there are 24 states that are holding elections to pick delegates, all on the same day! This is the most number for any day of the process, so it is called ‘Super’ Tuesday (elections in the U.S. are usually held (take place) on Tuesdays, not Sundays as in many other countries).

After all the states pick their delegates, we then go to Step Two, the national convention. All the delegates get together in one place and vote for the person they want to be the candidate for their party. This person is called the nominee (the selected or chosen one). These delegates must vote for the person their state told them to vote for, at least on the first ballot (vote) of the convention. If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, then there will be more ballots until the winner is chosen. After the first vote at the convention, delegates are free to vote for whomever they like. However, this has not happened in many years. Usually, the winning candidate has enough delegates to win on the first ballot. These national conventions – one for the Democrats, one for the Republicans – are held in different cities every four years.McCain

We’re not done yet! I said that each state has its own election on the day that it wants to to pick these delegates to the national convention (which is held in July or August). But there are two kinds of elections that a state can use. The first is called a caucus. A caucus is when people from each neighborhood or area come together at a school or other large building and meet to talk about the election and select delegates to their state political convention. Many states still have caucuses, including Iowa, Minnesota, and a few others. I used to go to caucuses when I lived in Minnesota. You see your neighbors there, talk about politics, and then select your delegates for your favorite candidates.

Most states have the other method of picking delegates, called a primary. A primary (meaning “first”) is like a normal election, where people go to a place (called a polling place) and vote for the person they want. There are no meetings, and the ballot is a secret. Big states such as California and New York use a primary system, and both of these states will be selecting their delegates today, on Super Tuesday.

After each party selects its candidates, then there is a general election in November (the first Tuesday in November), held every four years to elect the president. In the general election, the two nominees try to win as many votes as possible, and all 50 states vote at the same time. The winner becomes president. (Actually, it isn’t quite that simple, but I’ll wait until November to explain it all!)

In today’s election, there are just two Democrats who are still left in the race (contest) for the nomination of their party: Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barak Obama. All of the other people lost the early primaries and caucuses and dropped out already (after only four weeks!). For the Republicans, there are three people: Governor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain, and Governor Mike Huckabee. The polls (opinion surveys) say that McCain will probably win the Republican nomination, but no one knows who will win the Democratic nomination because the race is too close to call (too even to know who will win). It is likely that neither Clinton or Obama will win enough delegates today to get the required 51%, so the election for the Democrats will not be decided (determined) today. One thing is certain, however: the Democrats will nominate (name, select) either the first African American (Black) candidate (Obama), or the first woman candidate (Clinton) in the history of the United States.

~Jeff