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Archive for February, 2009

Thursday - February 26, 2009

Did I mention I’m reading Shakespeare to my friend, Nelson Mandela?

MandelaI saw a report recently on the BBC about a survey of 1,500 adults and teenagers on their reading habits, and it had a very interesting finding (result): Almost half of all the men and about one-third of the women said they had lied at one time or another (at some time in the past) about the books they were reading in order to impress friends or potential romantic interests.

Among the men, it was most likely that they were trying to seem more intellectual or romantic, according to the survey.

Just in case you’re interested, the men said that they would be most impressed by a woman who reads news websites, Shakespeare, and song lyrics.

The women said they would be most impressed by a man who was reading Shakespeare or Nelson Mandela’s biography.

Finally, the survey found that both men and women would instantly fall in love with anyone who said they listened regularly to ESL Podcast.  So now you know what to say the next time you meet a beautiful man or woman of your dreams.

~Jeff

Tuesday - February 24, 2009

The Hokey Pokey

The Hokey Pokey is a song and a dance that first become popular in the U.S. in the 1950′s as a novelty (for fun; not serious) dance for adults. Since then, it’s become a song and dance that children are taught at home or at school for fun.

There are many versions of this song and dance. You can use or add almost any body part. The most popular body parts to use are foot/leg, hand/arm, elbow (the part of your arm that joins the bottom and top of your arm together), hip (the part of your body between your legs and your waist), head, and whole self (entire person).

You can hear the song here. (That version uses backside, a polite and and old-fashioned term for the part of your body that you sit on.) Or, you can watch a group of children sing and dance it with their teachers below or here.

~ Lucy

Thursday - February 19, 2009

Shoveling Money

ShovelThis week, President Obama signed (approved) a law that will spend $787,000,000,000.00 ($787 billion) to help the US economy.   The new law is being called a stimulus package.  A stimulus increases activity or causes a reaction or response in something (the plural is stimuli, which comes from the original Latin plural).   A package is a collection of things that are related, in this case, different ways of trying to boost (make stronger, increase) the economy.

Part of the money will be used to build roads, bridges, and other parts of the infrastructure of the country.  Infrastructure refers to the physical things that a society needs to operate – roads, bridges, power plants, harbors, and so forth.  The federal (national) government will give most of this money to the individual 50 states to spend on what are supposed to be “shovel-ready” projects.  To shovel means to take a tool (see the picture at right) and make a hole in the ground or build something.  Shovel-ready means that the project is all planned and ready to begin as soon as there is enough money for it.  The idea is that the government wants to spend the money quickly to help the economy right away, so it is asking states to spend the money as soon as possible on projects that are ready to begin.

Will the president’s plan work? I don’t know, but $787 billion will buy a lot of shovels.

~Jeff

Thursday - February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Abe!

LincolnToday is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the United States’ 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln is perhaps the most famous president in US history, and certainly someone who has received an extraordinary amount of attention.  One person estimated that there have been more than 17,000 books written about Lincoln, more than about almost any leader in world history.

Why is Lincoln so popular, especially today?  Americans see Lincoln as a great hero who ended slavery by winning the terrible civil war that was fought in the middle of the 19th century.  He was also assasinated (killed) during his second four-year term in office, which adds to the sense of sacrifice he went through to help his country.

But there is another reason why Lincoln is so popular this year: Barack Obama.  Lincoln freed the black slaves, and has always been a special hero to the African American (black) community in the US.  President Obama, of course, is the first black president, in some ways completing the process Lincoln started of giving blacks equal rights.

There are other parallels (similarities, things that are alike or identical) as well.  Both Lincoln and Obama were products of (came from) Illinois politics before they became president.  (Illinois is the home state of Chicago, located in the midwestern part of the US.) Obama has spoken often of Lincoln and his admiration (like, respect) of him.  In fact, when Obama was sworn in (took the official oath or promise) as president on January 20th, he used the same Bible as Lincoln used at his first inauguration.

So, happy birthday, Abe (short version of Abraham)!

~Jeff

Thursday - February 5, 2009

Signs of the Times

HemlinesThere’s an old idea among American economists that the stock market and hemlines are correlated.  The hemline refers to the length of a woman’s skirt (technically, the hemline is at the very bottom of the skirt, were the fabric or material is folded over and sewn).  A low hemline is a skirt that is very long, that covers up most of a woman’s legs.  The opposite is a high hemline, which is something like a miniskirt or a skirt that shows more of a woman’s legs.  To be correlated means to be related, so that when one thing goes up, the other thing goes up.  The traditional wisdom is that hemlines follow the stock market: When the stock market goes up and times are good, women tend to wear shorter skirts.

More recently, there have been several studies by economists that have tried to look at what else changes during good versus bad economic times.  Here are some of the things they have found, according to a recent article in the New York Times:

  • During a recession or bad economic times, more people buy laxatives.  A laxative is a type of drug that makes you go to the bathroom more.  The reason is probably that people are under more stress, which causes changes to their body’s digestive system (the part of the body that gets energy from the food you eat).
  • During an economic boom (good economic times), deodorant sales go up.  Deodorant is something you put usually underneath your armpits (the part underneath your shoulder) in order to make you smell better.  One theory is that people are more active and go out dancing more when economic times are good.
  • In a recession, people buy food that is not perishable, such as rice, beans, and other grains.  When we say that food is perishable, we mean that it spoils or goes bad quickly.
  • Not surprisingly, certain kinds of crime increase during a recession.  Although there is no direct connection with the murder rate (the number of people who are killed by criminals), there is definitely an increase in what are called property crimes, when someone steals or damages something that you own.  This includes burglary, which usually involves someone coming into your house and stealing things from you.   It also includes motor vehicle theft, when someone steals your car.
  • More young people decide to go to college during a recession, since there are fewer jobs for them when they graduate from high school.  Unfortunately, the government usually has less money during a recession, so universities are often not able to accept everyone who wants to go.  This is happening now here in California.
  • Many (but not all) people are actually a little bit healthier during a recession.  This is because they smoke less (because they can’t afford expensive cigarettes), they drink less alcohol (again, because it is expensive), and they exercise more.  However, someone who loses their job or loses a lot of money during the recession is often under a great deal of more stress, and those people are not necessarily healthier (especially the ones who are buying all of those laxatives).
  • According to one study, songs that are popular during a recession are usually longer, slower, and more serious or meaningful.  This is perhaps because people are looking for reassurance (someone telling them that things are not that bad, that things will get better).

Of course, these are all general trends and don’t necessarily work in every situation or for every person.  But they do indicate that our national and international economy affects our everyday behaviors in ways that we perhaps did not realize.  They are indeed “signs of the times,” indications of what life is like in this period of time.

~Jeff

Tuesday - February 3, 2009

Historical Fiction About the American Frontier

Fiction refers to stories not based on true events.  Historical fiction is made-up (not real) stories that are set (located) in the past and may be based on real events, real situations, or real people from the past.

In this week’s English Cafe 175, Jeff talks about Appalachia, a region (area) of the eastern United States.  There is a lot of historical fiction about Appalachia and other parts of the American frontier, the areas in the United States before very many people went there or lived there. Here are four books about the frontier that I would recommend.

christy.jpgThe first book is called Christy by Catherine Marshall. The book is actually inspired by (influenced by) the author’s own mother who as a young woman, went to the Appalachian Mountains to teach in a missionary (religious) school in 1912. The people who lived in these mountains were very poor but strong, and the book does a very good job of showing the everyday lives of these Appalachian people and the struggles they went through. Christy, the teacher, herself is a strong, smart woman who is able to achieve a lot while teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. This book was later made into an American television series, but I haven’t seen that yet.

tisha.jpg

Another novel (fiction book) about a teacher on the frontier is a book called Tisha written by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy. Like Christy, this novel is based on true events. Anne Purdy, one of the authors, went to teach in a very small town in Alaska at the age of 19 in 1927. This is a story about her experience, but also one about the gold miners and Native Americans who lived there and the fate (one’s life events or outcome) of mixed-race children (children of white and Native American parents) at that time. This is a very interesting story.

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The book Giants in the Earth was written by the Norwegian American author Ole Edvart Rolvaag. The author, a writer and professor, was born in Norway and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 20. He wrote this book based in part on his own experience, when he and his family settled (moved to live) in South Dakota, which was at that time–around 1900–mainly unsettled prairie (flat grassland). The U.S. government, wanting more people to move to these areas and to develop them, gave land to anyone who asked for it, and many people from Europe (including Scandinavia) moved there to farm. This book is about a family who moves there with three other families to start a new town and a new life. As you can imagine, life was not easy for these early pioneers (people who are the first to do something).

theseismywords_1910.jpgFinally, the book These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner is a book about Sarah Prine who, with her family, moves to the outskirts (the outer parts of a town or city) of Tucson around 1880 to live and to farm.  If the title sounds strange to you, it’s because it should read “These are My Words.”  When the story begins, Sarah is not highly literate (cannot read and write well), and the title reflects (shows) this, since the book is written as a diary (daily or regular writing you do about yourself).  However, her literacy improves quickly and the book is not difficult to read, even in the early chapters. Like the pioneers in the other three books, life for Sarah and her family is difficult and precarious (not secure; dangerous).  This novel is engrossing (difficult to stop reading), with well-drawn characters (characters that seem real), and for those with a tender (soft) heart, there is also a nice love story.

I recommend all four books. Not only did I think they were well-written and entertaining stories, I learned a lot about the American frontier. Check them out if you’re interested in the American frontier or just like a good story.

~ Lucy