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Archive for October, 2010

Thursday - October 28, 2010

American Television and the Flock

The new television season began recently in the U.S. And two writers – Neal Gabler from the Los Angeles Times and David Brooks from the New York Times – wrote about an interesting feature (something you notice) of many of the new shows – the importance of the flock.

When we use the word flock, we’re usually talking about a group of animals – sheep, goats, or birds. But these writers are using it a little differently to refer to a large group of people that are related to each other as friends, family members, or neighbors.

Both writers say that we’ll be seeing “lots of folks (people) spending the better part (most) of their day surrounded by their friends and family….” They will wander (walk without a specific purpose) “into the unlocked apartments and homes of friends, family, and neighbors, at any time of the day or night.” Gabler and Brooks say that television has become a “friendship machine” that distributes, or provides, “groups of people…sitting around living rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops, sharing everything all the time.”

What is different about this? In the past, many American TV programs have been about individuals, close friends, and the nuclear family (husband, wife, and children). The new shows are expanding the circle (increasing the number and kind) of relationships that people participate in.

This trend (the way something is developing or changing) began about 20 years ago, according to the two writers. It began with Seinfeld and moved on through Friends, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and other shows. Two of this year’s new shows – Raising Hope and Better with You – continue the trend.

This trend is remarkable (unusual or surprising) because scientists tell us that fewer and fewer Americans have close friends. In one recent study, 25% of the people said they had no one to confide in (talk to about personal things). Another study found that the average American has only four close relationships, including family members.

The two writers wonder if the decline (decrease in number or importance) in real friendships may explain why social-networking web sites – like Facebook, where you can be “friended” – have become so popular. But they also worry that virtual (online) friendships are a poor substitute (replacement) for having real people that you can meet, talk to, and share your life with.

At the end of his article, Neal Gabler suggests that “we miss the friendships we no longer have, and we know that Facebook or e-mails cannot possibly compensate for (replace, or take the place of) the loss. So we sit in front of our television sets and enjoy the dream of friendship instead: a dream where we need never be alone, where there is a group of people who would do anything for us, and where everyone seems to understand us….”

I’m curious – do you think these two writers are right? Have these television shows become popular because we have fewer real, close friends? Do we really live in a world where we can only dream about real friendship? How does this compare with what you see in your country? Is it similar, or is it different?

Warren Ediger – ESL tutor and coach; creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo by Hot Rod used under Creative Commons license.

Monday - October 25, 2010

Podcasts This Week (October 25, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 628 – Introducing a New Product

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to roll out” and “to scramble.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about ways that “Technology Companies Test New Products.”
“Companies often want to “test” (see how well something works) their new products before they “release” (make available) them to the “general public” (all people; ordinary people). That way, they can identify and correct problems less expensively and with little or no impact on their “brand image”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 265

Topics:  The Extension Courses System; Famous Americans:  Lizzie Borden; Boston accent/dialect and the Boston Brahmin; to speak out of turn

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the educational requirements for “Teaching College/University Extension Courses.”
“To teach in U.S. colleges and universities, there are “minimum” (the least amount allowed) educational requirements for “instructors” (teachers).  These requirements change depending on the level of education…”  – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 629 – Being Hungry and Full

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “dish” and “to skip.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about how grocery stores and restaurants offer different types of “Customer Portion Sizes.”
“At a restaurant, someone who isn’t very hungry might want to order “light fare,” or smaller “portions” (the amount of food intended for one person to eat at one time). The “senior menu,” for people who are at least 50 years old, and the “kids menu”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Friday - October 22, 2010

“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers

We’ve had a week of wet, cloudy, and windy weather here in (slightly less) beautiful Los Angeles, and it made me think of this classic song by Bill Withers. It’s also in my mind because, as I’ve mentioned before, Jeff likes to sing in his office throughout the day, and he has been singing it all week, which means I’ve been humming it (singing it with my lips closed) all week.  Now, it’s time to get you singing it, too.

~ Lucy

P.S. Here’s a wonderful cover (another version, originally recorded by someone else) of this song by Eva Cassidy.

“Aint No Sunshine”
by Bill Withers

Ain’t no sunshine (direct light from the sun) when she’s gone.
It’s not warm when she’s away (not here).
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
And she’s always gone too long, anytime she goes away.

Wonder this time where she’s gone,
Wonder if she’s gone to stay (permanently; not to return).
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
And this house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away.

And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
Hey, I ought to (should) leave the young thing alone, but ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,
Only darkness (being without light; unhappiness) everyday.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,
And this house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away.

Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.
Anytime she goes away.

Wednesday - October 20, 2010

The Scarlet Letter Turns Green

Scarlett LetterMost Americans have either read or heard of a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called The Scarlet Letter, which takes place in 17th-century Boston. In the story, a woman has to wear a scarlet (red) letter “A” because she has committed adultery (had sex with someone who is not one’s husband or wife). It’s an example of using shame (embarrassment over having done something wrong) to punish and to influence certain behavior in a way that we are supposed to find cruel and unwarranted (done without a good reason). Nowadays, when we say something is like a “scarlet letter” we mean that it is an unfair punishment, a cruel method of changing behavior.

Well, it appears that shame is back, and now it’s good! According to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, some psychologists are now recommending that the best way to get people to “turn green” (do good things for the environment) is to use peer pressure (the actions and opinions of your friends and family) and shame. For example, you are more likely to reuse (use again) your hotel towels when you are told that everyone else is reusing theirs, rather than because it is “good for the environment.”  People use less energy in their homes when their energy use is published on a website and compared to their neighbors, rather than simply being asked to cut back (use less).

The new, 21st century lesson of The Scarlet Letter appears to be this: Shame is actually a good thing if it is used to change a behavior we don’t like.

~Jeff

Image credit: “The Scarlett Letter” by T.H. Matteson, 1860; Wikepedia CC.

Monday - October 18, 2010

Podcasts This Week (October 18, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 626 – Wiring Money to Another Country

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “wire” and “blank.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Getting the Best Currency Exchange Rates.”
“When traveling “overseas” (to another country), travelers want to get the best possible exchange rate to “make their money go as far as possible” (get the best value for their money). “Fluctuations” (changes) in the exchange rate…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 264

Topics:  On the Waterfront; Famous Songs:  “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; bet versus wager versus gamble; U.S. versus U.S.A.; can’t help (doing something)

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Popular Drinking Games.”
“In the U.S., friends like to get together at bars or at parties to “socialize” (interact with friends or to make friends).  If they are college students or young adults, they sometimes like to play “drinking games,” games that involve drinking alcohol in some way…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 627 – Being Spontaneous or Well-Planned

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to play (something) by ear” and “active.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the famous author “Jack Kerouac and Spontaneous Prose.”
“Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was a well-known American author and poet. Many people call him the “father of” (the man who led) the Beat movement, which describes the work of a group of American writers…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Thursday - October 14, 2010

Down-Home* Wisdom

I’ve always admired people who could look at the stuff (objects and activities) of everyday life and find wisdom. My grandfather was one of those people. So is Seth Godin.

What is wisdom?

Wisdom is an elusive (difficult to describe) idea. It’s more than being smart or knowing a lot. To put it (say it) simply, wisdom is the ability to make good judgments (opinions from careful thinking) and decisions. It’s the ability to make appropriate (correct), practical use of what we know. We can learn wisdom from others, but most probably comes from experience, from the knowledge we gain (get little by little) from life.

Splitting wood

This little bit of wisdom from Seth Godin caught my eye (got my attention) because it reminded me of an earlier time in my life. Until I moved to California, I lived in Kansas and Nebraska – in the center of the U.S. – not too far from Minnesota, where Jeff grew up.

For a couple of years, I owned a piece of property (land) in Nebraska with large oak trees. And I cut dead branches off of the trees to burn in our fireplace. If you’re familiar with oak, you know it’s very hard wood. That’s good because it burns longer and hotter than soft woods. But it’s bad when you’re trying to cut it and split it (break or separate them into smaller parts). It’s a lot of hard work.

I would always cut the branches into pieces about two feet long – just right for our fireplace. If the pieces were too big around (the diameter, or distance around, was too large) I also had to split them. There are machines you can use to do this, but I did it by hand (myself), usually with an axe (tool with long handle for cutting trees), just like the man in the picture.

Log-splitting wisdom

Here’s Seth Godin’s log-splitting wisdom, a lesson for life:

When using an axe to split logs, it’s awfully (very) tempting (looks like a good idea) to aim (choose the place to hit) at the top of the log. After all, if you miss the log entirely, it’s dangerous or at the very least, not effective….

The problem with aiming at the top is that the axe loses momentum (energy) before its work is done and you end up with a stuck (impossible to move) axe and half a split log.

No, the best approach (method) is to focus (concentrate) on splitting the bottom of the log. Split the bottom and the top takes care of itself (happens automatically as a result).

I’m not talking about turning the log upside down or some other trick. I’m pointing out (showing or demonstrating) that if you aim at the top – at getting started – then you don’t split the wood. If you aim at the bottom – starting at the top – then you do. Hitting the top of the log isn’t the goal (purpose), it’s only the beginning of the stroke (movement of the axe through the wood). In other words, don’t focus so much on starting something. It’s the follow-through (continued movement) that will get you there, so the beginning must be with the end in mind. And yes, this actually makes wood chopping far (much) easier.

I think Godin is right – about splitting wood and about life.

*down-home – a simple, unpretentious (not trying to impress) way of life; having simple values or customs (ways of doing things).

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo by Ollie Crafoord is used under Creative Commons license.

Monday - October 11, 2010

Podcasts This Week (October 11, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 624 – Advantages and Disadvantages in Life

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to make (someone) sick” and “to get a break.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Servants Working in Wealthy Homes.”
“Most American families do not have “servants” (people who work in their homes on a regular basis), but some “wealthy” (rich) families have “household help” to “maintain” (continue the operations of) their large homes…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 263

Topics:  American Cities: Albuquerque; Survivor Reality TV Show; yet; differentiation versus distinction; so near and yet so far

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Amusement Rides Based on TV Shows.”
“In this English Cafe, we talked about the popular TV show Survivor.  If you are a “fan” (someone who likes something very much), your Survivor experience does not need to end with the TV show.  You can actually go on an amusement ride based on the show…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 625 – Being Famous and Anonymous

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “getup” and “plastered.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the well-known expression “15 Minutes of Fame.”
“Andy Warhol was a very famous American painter, “illustrator” (one who draws pictures to go with text or words), filmmaker, and author. In 1968, he once said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That phrase “inspired”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Wednesday - October 6, 2010

Podcasts This Week (October 4, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 622 – Having Well- and Badly-Behaved Children

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “handful” and “sweet.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the well-known nursery rhyme What Are Little Boys Made Of.
“One popular “nursery rhyme” (a short poem that is often said or sung to babies and young children) “dates back to” (was created in) the early 1800s. It is called What Are Little Boys Made Of…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 262

Topics: Famous authors:  Maya Angelou; Universal Studios; wise versus savvy versus clever; delicatessen; to end up versus to wind up

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about old theaters called “Nickelodeons.”
“Movie theaters today show “feature” (with one main topic or story) films, but that wasn’t always “the case” (the situation).  In the early 1900’s in the U.S., many people went to movie theaters called Nickelodeons for entertainment…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 623 – A Hit-and-Run Accident

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to take off” and “to pull a fast one on (someone).”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Hit-and-Run Laws and Penalties.”
“Hit-and-run laws “vary” (are different) by state, but “in general” (normally), drivers who commit a hit-and-run are punished more “harshly” (more severely or strongly) than drivers who are simply involved in a “collision”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Our listeners make it possible for us to continue producing this podcast.  Please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!