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Archive for August, 2009

Thursday - August 27, 2009

Meet My Friend, Mr. Grant

usdnotesIn my previous post, I talked about how common it is in the US to find traces (small amounts) of cocaine on US paper bills.  At the end of the post, I noted that the New York Times headline for a story about this issue was “Those Hamiltons and Jacksons Carry Some Cocaine.”  What exactly does this mean?

Money in the US has the picture of famous Americans on it (usually a president, but not always).  You need to know this to understand this headline.  For example, the $10 bill has a picture of Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury.  So (informally) $10 bills are sometimes called “Hamiltons.”  Similarly, the $20 has a picture of President Andrew Jackson, a famous 19th century president and general – hence (for that reason), they are sometimes called “Jacksons.”

Here are the rest of the people who appear on US banknotes:

$1 – George Washington, first US president
$2 – Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president*
$5 – Abraham Lincoln, 16th president
$10 – Alexander Hamilton, first Treasury Secretary
$20 – Andrew Jackson, 7th president and general
$50 – Ulyssus Grant, 18th president and general
$100 – Benjamin Franklin, founding father and diplomat
* = Not commonly used

Although you will hear and read these terms, they are I think less popular now than they were 50 years ago, even though the pictures haven’t changed.  It is also not common to refer, for example, to the $1 bill as a “Washington,” although I suppose you could.  The $100 bill can be called either a Franklin or a Benjamin (or even “Benjie”).  It can also be called a C-note (C is the Roman numeral for 100).

The US no longer prints bills higher than $100.  They were last printed back in 1934, and are now rarely seen.


Tuesday - August 25, 2009

Drug Money

cocainehydrochloridepowderCocaine is a very addictive (something that you can’t stop doing or consuming once you start because it is so pleasurable) drug that became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and still is used by many today (I am told).  It is usually ingested (taken into the body) via (through) the nose in an action called snorting.  Sometimes (I’ve seen in the movies, at least) people take dollar bills (US paper money) and roll them up into a small circle, then place one end of the roll in their nose and the other to snort up (to draw into your nose by breathing in) the cocaine, much like a vacuum cleaner.   (A type of cocaine, called crack cocaine, or simply “crack,” is smoked instead of snorted.  Cocaine can also be injected with a needle, like other drugs, directly into your blood.)

The US is a major importer (a country that buys a product from another country) of this illegal drug, which has been the cause of so many problems in Latin American and the US.  A recent study reported in the New York Times found that 90% of all US banknotes (paper money) contains small amounts of cocaine.   The amount is very small, which we would call trace amounts.   Two years ago, a study found that 67% of banknotes in the US had traces of cocaine, so the amount has increased.

The researchers collected 230 bills from 17 different cities.  Washington, D.C. had the highest percentage of bills with cocaine among the cities surveyed.  For some reason, $5, $10, and $50 bills had more cocaine on average than $1 and $100 bills.

The US is not unique when it comes to (concerning) cocaine on banknotes.  Eighty percent of Brazilian bills have traces of cocaine, and about 20% of Chinese bills.

The researchers noted that there was not enough cocaine to cause any health concerns, and certainly not enough to get high (intoxicated, affected by the drug).   Nor does it mean that 9 out of every 10 bills in the US is being used to snort cocaine!  Cocaine is snorted as a fine powder (very small particles or pieces, like flour), and spreads easily from bill to bill in bill counting machines (machines banks used to count the number of bills quickly).

The New York Times headline for the article online was “Those Hamiltons and Jacksons Carry Some Cocaine.”   What is this all about?  More on that in my next blog post.


Thursday - August 20, 2009

“As Time Goes By” from Casablanca

In this week’s English Cafe 203, Jeff talked about the classic movie Casablanca. The main hit (very popular) song from this movie was “As Time Goes By.”

The video below has a montage (collection of short videos edited together) from the movie.  There are spoilers (information that will tell you what happens in the story), so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to see it, you may only want to listen, and not watch the montage.

~ Lucy

“As Time Goes By”

(music and words by Herman Hupfeld; sung by Frank Sinatra)

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental (basic) things apply (is applicable; is relevant),
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo (try to gain each others’ love)
They still say, “I love you.”
On that you can rely (depend)
No matter what the future brings,
As time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date (old-fashioned).
Hearts full of passion (strong emotion of love)
Jealousy (the emotion of wanting what others have) and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate (partner; lover; wife),
That no one can deny.

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory (recognition for achieving something great)
A case of do or die (something that must be done, even though it is difficult and/or dangerous)
The world will always welcome lovers,
As time goes by.

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers,
As time goes by.

Tuesday - August 11, 2009

Giving In to Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures are things that we enjoy, but that we are embarrassed or ashamed that we like.  There can be guilty pleasures in all categories: food, TV shows, music, sports, and more.

In terms of food, one of my guilty pleasures is cake.  Other people like ice cream, chocolate, or candy.  I like cake–not the fancy kind at fancy bakeries, though I don’t mind those either.  I am perfectly happy with a plain white (vanilla) cake with frosting (a layer of sweet icing used to decorate the top and sides of cakes).  Chocolate cake is fine, too, but I don’t need fancy fruit, cream, or other fillings (food put inside of other food).  My favorite part of birthday parties, mine and other people’s, is having cake.  It’s something that I can never turn down (refuse), and I give in to (allow myself to do something I shouldn’t) my cravings (the wanting something very badly) all too often.

In terms of movies, I have a lot of guilty pleasures.  My guilty pleasures fall into two categories:
1) movies that I can watch over and over again (no, I won’t admit how many times I’ve seen them), and
2) bad movies that I enjoy.

Movies like “The Fugitive,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “Roman Holiday” are ones I can watch time and time again (many times).  I usually catch them on lazy weekend afternoons, surfing the channels (using the remote control to move quickly through many TV channels).

Then, there are the bad movies.  There was a movie I saw on television when I was young called “Sooner or Later” about a teenage girl who falls for a handsome 17-year-old guy.  He is (of course!) the leader of a rock band, and she lies to him about her age so he’ll be interested in her.  Okay, everything about this movie is cheesy (embarrassingly bad and of poor quality)–the acting, the script, the music, the premise (basic idea).  Still, I can’t help enjoying myself when I watch the film now.  I’m sure it’s nostalgia (warm feelings for the past), but I’m not joking when I say it’s bad.

All right, now that I’ve confessed (admitted to something I’m not proud of or to something bad I’ve done) some of my guilty pleasures, will you confess some of yours?

~ Lucy

Thursday - August 6, 2009

Charity Begins at Home


"Charity" by Van Dyck

There’s an old saying (proverb, popular expression) in English: “Charity begins at home.” Charity (giving to others, being kind to others) comes from the Latin caritas, meaning “love.”  “Charity begins at home” means that before you give to others, to strangers, you should first take care of your own family.

Here in Los Angeles, it appears we take this saying to the extreme (beyond what is normal or typical), giving all to ourselves and not much to those around us!  A recent report from the U.S. Government ranked (put in order, from top to bottom) the states and cities where people volunteer (give their time to others without being paid) the most and the least.  The number one city for volunteering was my hometown (the city where you were born), Minneapolis-St. Paul (well, technically, two cities – St. Paul is actually my hometown).  More than 40% of Minneapolitans and St. Paulites (people from the Twin Cities, also called Twin Citians) volunteer time to help others.  The second highest-ranking city is Salt Lake City, Utah.

Los Angeles was way down on the bottom of the list: 44th out of 51 large cities included in the report.  Only about 22% of Angelenos (people from Los Angeles) volunteer their time to help others.

Why the big difference? The report doesn’t include a lot of statistical analysis, but it does indicate that cities in the center of the US – neither the West nor East Coasts – have higher volunteer rates.  This may be due in part to at least three factors.  The first is education: Cities with more educated citizens (at least a high school diploma) have more volunteers.  The second is commuting time (how long it takes you to get from home to work and back).  Cities with longer commute times tend to have fewer volunteers.  Finally, cities where more people own their own homes have more volunteers.

Los Angeles is low on the list of all three of these factors.  We have a large number of people without a high school diploma (some immigrants, others born and raised here), long commute times, and relatively fewer people who own their own homes compared to other cities.

Many people believe that volunteering is the right thing to do morally and ethically, but there are also other benefits.  Volunteers tend to live longer and have less depression, even when we take into account (include in our analysis) things such as age, income, education, sex, and ethnicity.


Tuesday - August 4, 2009

What on Earth?!


Andrea in Italy wants to know the meaning of the phrase: “What on Earth…?”

We often use the phrase “What on Earth…?” and a similar phrase, “What in the world…?,” when we want to express surprise, confusion, or anger.  The Earth is the planet that humans live on, but this expression has nothing to do with the planet.  You can use it alone (“What on Earth?”) or as the beginning of a longer sentence (“What on Earth do you mean?”)

Let’s say (let’s use as an example) that your co-worker comes to work wearing shorts and a T-shirt, when he normally wears a business suit.  You may ask him, “What on Earth are you wearing that for?” or “Why in the world are you wearing that?”  You’re expressing your surprise and confusion, and you’re asking for an explanation.

You can use all of the following, depending on what you want to express:
What on Earth…?” Example:  “What on Earth was I thinking when I quit my job?”
Why on Earth…?” Example: “Why on Earth doesn’t Jeff have any hair?”
How on Earth…?” Example:  “How on Earth did you drive from New York to California in three days?”
Who on Earth…?” Example:  “Who on Earth put a boat in the swimming pool?”
Where on Earth…?” Example:  “Where on Earth are you going to buy a doghouse large enough for your dog?”
When on Earth…?” Example:  “When on Earth are you going to have time to learn to play the piano?  You work 80 hours a week!”

Let’s take another example:  It’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re sleeping when your friends knock on your door, laughing and making a lot of noise.  When you open the door, you may say, “What on Earth do you guys want at this hour?”  You’re asking them to explain themselves and at the same time, expressing your displeasure.  Actually, depending on how unhappy you are with your friend, you would probably use the phrase “What the hell…?” instead of “What on Earth…?”  “What the hell…?” is used in the same way, but expresses a much stronger feeling and is more likely to be used to express anger, rather than surprise or confusion.  Hell is the place where Christians and others believe bad people go after they die.  “What the hell…?”  is commonly used today, more so than “What on Earth…?,” which is considered a little old-fashioned.

When people are extremely (very) angry, they may use the phrase, “What the f__k?”  I don’t want to include an offensive word here in the blog, but I think everyone knows the four-letter “f-word” in English that is very offensive.  People use this when they are very upset, or sometimes jokingly with their close friends.  You might say, “Why the f__k did you have a wild party in my apartment when I was out of town?!  As no doubt you know, the four-letter “f-word” is one of the most offensive and insulting words in English and shouldn’t be used unless you are talking to very good friends, or if you want a punch in the nose.

Thanks, Andrea, for this question.

~ Lucy