Archive for the 'News and Current Events' Category
Normally, traveling 12 miles (19 kilometers) is not a great distance. But if you are a space shuttle, that trip can be a major (big) headache.
A space shuttle is a space ship or vehicle that travels, well, into space. Endeavour* is an American space shuttle that first went into space in 1992 and flew its last mission (journey into space) in May 2011. In those 19 years, it circled (went around) the Earth 4,600 times and spent nearly 300 days in space. After all of those years in service (working), it is now retired (no longer required to work). In September and October of this year, it will travel from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles to its permanent (not to be changed) home at the California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles.
To get to the California Science Center, Endeavour will fly from Florida to California on the back of an airplane, a Boeing 747. From the Los Angeles International Airport, it will travel on land 12 miles to the museum. Endeavour is 57 feet (about 17 meters) long and has a wingspan (from one end of the wing to the other) of 78 feet (nearly 24 meters).
Recently, I was at a birthday party for one of my friends and I met a man who works at the California Science Center. I knew nothing about this upcoming (soon to happen) move of the Endeavour, but he told me all about it. He said that the museum has been making arrangements for its arrival for months. The biggest problem is that the space shuttle cannot be dismantled (taken apart) and must travel in one piece. The route (path) that the space shuttle will travel has been very carefully mapped out (planned). It will take four days to get this huge ship across the city. It will also require that power lines (electrical lines bringing power to buildings) and traffic lights (red, yellow, and green lights used to control cars and traffic) be moved, and trees be pruned (cut back; made smaller). The space shuttle will travel at a speed no more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) per hour, and at some points on its journey, it will have less than one foot (.3 meters) of clearance (space) on each side. This will be a major undertaking (project; task).
Once at the museum, it will be place on display (for people to see it), and eventually (sometime in the future), the museum will build an addition (add a building) where it will be placed permanently for visitors to see.
The path that Endeavour will be taking is actually not far from where I live. I hope to catch a glimpse (brief look) of it as it makes its way through L.A. streets. With luck, it will arrive without incident (with no problems). It would be ironic (happening in the opposite way that one would expect) if the space shuttle made it through 19 years of space travel unscathed (unharmed; safely) only to meet with problems on its final and most dangerous journey — through Los Angeles streets!
* The word “endeavour/endeavor” means to try hard to do something or to try to achieve something. The space shuttle is named “Endeavour” spelled with an “OUR.” In American English, we use the spelling “endeavor” with a “OR.” I have no idea why it was named using the British spelling.
Photo Credit: STS-130 Endeavour Rollout6.jpg from Wikipedia
If you’re like me, you’re at least a little cynical (not trusting; believing people are acting for their own good, not yours) about politics and politicians. A few weeks ago, I saw this photo and it put a smile on my face. That’s hard to do when I’m reading about politicians.
Here’s the story behind the photo: The little boy touching President Obama’s hair is named Jacob, and Jacob’s father worked at the White House, but was leaving his job. As is tradition (normally done), he asked for a photo of his family with the President. As the family was leaving the room, Jacob’s father told President Obama that each of his sons had a question for him. Neither of the boys’ parents knew what they would ask.
Jacob, the younger son and only 5-years-old at the time, asked his question first: ”I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”
The President responded, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?,” and proceeded to (continued to) bend down (lowered himself from the waist) so that his head was within Jacob’s reach (near Jacob’s hand). Jacob hesitated and the President said, “Touch it, dude!” Jacob touch the President’s hair and Obama asked, “So, what do you think?” And Jacob responded, “Yes, it does feel the same.”
Even for cynical people like me, this was a very poignant (strongly emotional or meaningful) moment. For the little boy to meet someone who looked like him in this position of authority was not only meaningful for him, but perhaps for a lot of children like him. This photo is displayed in the White House and it is a favorite among White House staffers (employees). I can see why.
* “A picture is worth a thousand words” is an old saying meaning that a complex or complicated idea can be communicated in just one simple picture or image.
Photo Credit: White House Photo
If you have been following (paying attention to) American sports at all in the past two months, you have probably heard of a 23-year-old basketball player for the New York Nicks named Jeremy Lin. Lin has become what we might call a household name (someone that everyone knows about) practically (almost) overnight (in a single day; very quickly). Who is Jeremy Lin, and why has he become so famous?
Lin was born in Los Angeles to Taiwanese immigrant parents, but was raised (grew up) in Palo Alto, California, near San Francisco. He was a star basketball player in high school, and led (was the leader of) his team to the California state championship. But while he was an excellent student and a very good player, he was not considered by most college basketball scouts (people who look for and evaluate athletes) to be a great player. He was recruited by (asked to come to) Harvard, which is not exactly (not at all) known for great athletes. Even at Harvard, he was not very successful as a basketball player. But he got good grades, and became the leader of a Christian group on campus (at the college). He kept (continued) working, kept learning, kept improving.
After graduating from college in 2010, he was (again) not very successful in his attempt to be a basketball player. He failed several times over the next two years with different NBA (National Basketball Association) teams, each time being told he just wasn’t good enough. It looked like he would not be able to make it (be successful) in basketball, despite all of his hard work. Finally, he was given a chance to play in the starting lineup (the players who begin the game, usually the team’s best players) for the New York Knicks team in early last month.
Then it happened: Lin became a star.
Lin scored more than 20 points and had more than seven assists (when a player helps another player score a point) in this first five games, the first player in the history of the NBA to do that. He scored more than 130 points in his first five games, more than any player in the past 35 years. Suddenly, he was being talked about by every basketball fan in the country. Sports Illustrated, America’s most popular sports magazine, put him on their cover (front page) two weeks in a row (consecutively; one after the other). Every newspaper, news magazine, and television station has had stories about his amazing success. And Lin continues to win.
Part of the reason for Lin’s popularity is his underdog story. An underdog is someone who is not expected to win, who doesn’t appear likely to win. There have been very few Asian American professional athletes in the U.S. Plus (in addition), Lin had failed so often in the past, no one thought he would succeed. But through hard work and, he says, his prayers, he did succeed.
In some ways, Lin has shattered (broken) the false stereotype (popular or typical beliefs about a group of people) that one’s race or ethnicity is important in athletic success. And he has shown that hard work and persistence (not quitting) can pay off (bring you success).
His name also contributed somewhat to his success, in an odd (strange) way. Because there are so many words in English that begin with an “in” sound, and Jeremy’s last name is “Lin,” American reporters have put his name in front of these words to form puns, which are words that have two different meanings, or that sound like other words, and are used to make a joke. For example, his success has been called “Lin-sanity” (from insanity, meaning craziness). He is a “Lin-credible” (incredible = amazing) player. His success was not “Lin-stant” (instant = immediate; right away). And so on.
What does the future hold for (what will happen to) Jeremy Lin? It’s impossible to say. In interviews, he says he would like to devote his life (spend his time) after his basketball career to being a pastor (a Christian religious leader) and helping those in need (who need help). But for now, he will shoot hoops (play basketball), win games, and continue to be “Lin-sanely” (insanely = amazingly) popular.
Photo credit: Jeremy Lin, Wikepedia CC
Is the economy getting better or worse? Many Americans are still trying to figure out (determine) the answer to that question. We don’t know if our economy is recovering (getting better) yet from one of the worst economic downturns (recessions; declines) in the past 50 years. What happens in the next few months could help determine who our next president will be (a good economy favors (is a good thing for) President Obama, a bad economy is good for his opponent (person running against him)).
An indicator is a measure of change, whether something is getting bigger or smaller, better or worse. A leading indicator is usually something that changes before the larger thing you’re interested in changes. For example, if you are interested in whether it will rain or not today, a leading indicator might be a lot of dark clouds in the morning. (The opposite of a leading indicator is a lagging indicator, which changes after the main thing has changed.) For the economy, there are also leading indicators, such as the price of stocks (partial ownership in a company). Stock prices typically go up before the rest of the economy improves.
Some people have come up with (invented) other indicators of the health of the economy which are less scientific but still may be true. I wrote about some of these a few years ago here, but I found a few more recently I thought I would mention to you. The classic (the best or most typical) example of this is the length of women’s skirts, sometimes called the Hemline Index (a hemline is the bottom of the dress), invented by economist George Taylor back in 1926. When the economy is bad, Taylor observed (reported; said), women wear longer dresses, and when it is good, shorter ones. The reason may be that when the economy is about to get worse, people are anxious and fearful, causing them to dress more conservatively.
Here are a couple of other odd (unusual; strange) economic indicators people have invented:
- Second Street Tunnel Index – If you travel down Second Street in downtown Los Angeles, you will go through a tunnel (long hole in a hill or mountain for cars or trains) that is very popular for making television commercials (ads) for cars. When there are a lot of production (movie- or commercial-making) companies that want to use the tunnel for filming (making the commercial), the economy is getting better. (This index or indicator was invented by the Los Angeles Times newspaper.)
- Hot Waitress Index – One writer claims (says is true) that when the economy is getting worse, there are more beautiful, “hot” (sexually attractive) women working as waitresses in restaurants and bars. His theory (of course, it’s a man!) is that when the economy is doing well, attractive women who may not have a lot of other skills or education can more easily get jobs in sales, since companies that sell things like to have attractive women working for them. This may including selling houses or condos, beer, cars, even drugs to doctors (some say drug companies often hire attractive young women to sell to doctors, who are still mostly men). When the economy is poor, these beautiful but perhaps untalented (without other skills or abilities) women work in more demanding (diffiult) jobs like waitressing, where their beauty is still a benefit.
- Big Mac Index – The Economist magazine tracks (follows; watches) the price of McDonald’s Big Mac hamburgers (available in 120 countries) to compare the relative purchasing (buying) power of different currencies (types of money, like the dollar, the euro, the yen, the yuan, etc.).
Do you know of any economic indicators like these? Do you think the world’s economy is getting better or worse?
Photo credit: Pencil skirt, Wikipedia CC
In today’s post, I’ll look at a newspaper story from today’s New York Times, explaining what the words in the headline mean, and what the story is all about.
N.H. Vote Seen as Gauge as Rivals Try to Slow Romney
N.H. is an abbreviation for “New Hampshire,” a state located in the northeastern part of the U.S. New Hampshire is in the news today because there is an election there to help decide who the Republican candidate for president will be this year, the person who will try to defeat Barack Obama in our presidential election in November. (For an explanation of our presidential election system, see here.)
You probably know there are two main political groups or parties in the U.S.: the Democrats (generally more liberal) and the Republicans (typically more conservative). The Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2012 will be President Obama. The Republicans are choosing their candidate from among several people. The person with the most popularity right now is the former businessman and governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
The New Hampshire vote (election) is seen as or is being interpreted as a gauge. A gauge is a tool or instrument you use to measure something. Here it means an indicator, a sign of something. The election is a sign of whether Romney’s rivals will be able to slow him down. A rival is a person who is competing with you for some prize or in some competition, a person who wants to defeat you. To slow someone or to slow someone down means to make him go less fast. In this headline, “to slow Romney” means to prevent him from winning the Republican nomination (the right to represent the Republican party in the presidential election) too quickly, before any of his rivals have a chance to win it themselves.
If Romney wins the first several state elections for the Republican nomination (he won the first one last week in the state of Iowa), it is likely that he will be able to beat (defeat) all of his rivals and become the Republican candidate. Of course, getting the nomination is just the first step. To become president, Romney will have to defeat President Obama in the November election. Right now it is too early to tell (to know) if he will be able to do that.
Photo credit: Mitt Romeny, Wikipedia PD
The year 2011 is almost over, and so it is a good time to think back on the good things that have happened this year in our lives, as well as to make some New Year’s resolutions. As we bring to a close (end) the second year of this century’s “teens,” here are some of my favorite things that have happened in my life, or that I have enjoyed about this year:
5. The Sunday Paper – Americans love reading an extra-large newspaper on Sundays. This isn’t really something special for 2011, but it is something I look forward to (wait for happily) each week. I am fortunate (lucky) enough to subscribe to two papers – the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. I always put aside (reserve; save) an hour on Sunday morning’s for reading the newspaper at our large dinner table.
4. Visiting Minnesota – I go back to my home state of Minnesota about twice a year to visit my family, especially my mother in St. Paul. (My father passed away (died) three years ago.) Coming from such a large family, there are always parties and celebrations to go to. This fall I went to my niece’s wedding. I always go in the spring, summer, or fall, never in the wintertime, when it’s just too cold!
3. My House – I am very thankful to live in a house I enjoy being in. That hasn’t always been the case (been true) in the past, but this past year I got to move to a house with a nice room for my home office and a comfortable living area. Most importantly, I got to use my new lawn mower to cut the grass.
2. Good Books – I have always liked reading, but this year I have had the pleasure of reading books both in the traditional paper format and on my iPad. Some of the books I have enjoyed include Moonwalking with Einstein, The Upside of Irrationality, and, of course, The Dummies Guide to Lawn Care. I’ve also done a lot more reading on the web (blogs, articles), including lots of things I find via (through) Twitter.
1. My Job – I love my work and the people I get to work with – you! I can’t think of a better place to work than (virtually, via the Internet) in the 220+ countries where you all live, and with the thousands of listeners who download our episodes each week.
What are 5 things that you are thankful for this year, or you think have made 2011 a good year?
Photo credit: Ocean View at Santa Monica, 1927, Los Angeles Public Library
(NB: This photo used to be our “logo” on our MP3 files a few years ago.)
By now, we have all heard about the so-called (what most people know it as, but may not be the official name) Occupy movement. Occupy, in this sense, means for people to take control of and to stay in a place, usually illegally or with force, so people have been occupying streets and other public places to protest (act in some way to show their disapproval of) social and economic inequality (where people are not treated fairly or in the same way). The protests began on September 17 in New York City and San Francisco. Since then, similar protests have taken place in over 95 cities in 82 countries.
Many different groups of people are airing their grievances (telling others why they are unhappy). Some of the protestors taking part in the protests, at least in the U.S., are young people who are either in college or who have recently graduated. With unemployment rates (the percentage of people without jobs) high, recent graduates are finding it difficult to start their careers and to start paying back student loans (money borrowed from banks and other institutions to pay for school). According to Time Magazine, in 1990, the unemployment rate for college graduates was around 5%. Now it is approaching (getting close to) 10%.
In the U.S., the price of higher education (study at a college or university) has soared (gone up very much). In 1992-1993, the average student loan amount was about $15,000 (adjusted or changed to 2010 dollars). In 2010-2011, it is over $34,000. Most student loan programs give students a six-month grace period (time when someone does not need to pay back money yet). After that, they must begin repayment (paying money back), whether they have a job or not. Of those students who began repayment in 2005, 41% became delinquent (behind in their payment) or defaulted (could not repay a loan at all) within five years. If you consider that as a country, the U.S. has more student loan debt (money owed) than credit card debt, this may very well (very likely) be the next big credit crisis (a time of big problems because of money people have borrowed and can’t pay back).
Students are certainly not the only ones protesting in the Occupy movement and suffering in this economy, but are recent graduates facing these types of problems where you live? Who are the people participating in the Occupy protests in other countries?
Photo Credit: Day 14 Occupy Wall Street September 30 2001 from Wikipedia
The Nobel Prizes are among the most prestigious (highly respected or honored) awards given to people who have accomplished something great in their field (area of work or study). Yesterday the Nobel Committee awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Economics to two American professors, Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims. Both are 68 years old, both studied at Harvard University, and both helped me decide not to study economics thirty years ago.
In 1981, I was a freshman (first-year college student) at the University of Minnesota. My declared (official or stated) major (main area of study) was economics. I had read several books on economics in high school, and had hoped to study at the University of Chicago, famous for its economics department. But I didn’t have enough money to attend (study) there, so I went to what everyone in Minnesota simply calls “the U” (the University of Minnesota). The U also had a very good economics department, headed by (led by) one of the chief economists for President John F. Kennedy (who is the topic of this week’s English Cafe), Walter Heller. But there were also a pair of young professors in the department who had some new ideas about economics, and especially the role (function; use) of statistics (mathematical approach to studying information or data) in studying economic behavior (the way people act). Their names were Sargent and Sims.
Sims in particular wrote a famous paper (scientific article) the year before I arrived at the U on something called “vector autoregression,” an advanced statistical tool he thought would help economists better understand the way people reacted to economic policy in the “real world.” (Don’t ask me to explain it, because I can’t!) One of the teaching assistants (graduate students who help the professor grade papers and lead discussions) for my class explained to me that these complex statistical approaches were the future of economics. Well, I didn’t know much about statistics, didn’t really like math very much, and believed that the human behavior that economics is supposed to explain could not be reduced to (simplified to) a few numbers. So I quickly decided I would change my major (major in something else). There ended my brief career as an economist.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered I liked statistical analysis, and began using it in my own research. By then, however, I was already in the area of second language acquisition, and Professors Sargent and Sims had left the U for other places (Sargent is currently at New York University and Sims at Harvard). Now they have both won a Nobel Prize for their work. I congratulate them on their achievement, and thank them for changing my mind about studying economics. If they had not done so, I wouldn’t be working here at ESL Podcast, which I love more than any job I’ve ever had.
Photo credit: Nobel Prize Medal, Wikipedia PD
This past Saturday, the singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment. Although the authorities (police and other government agencies) are still determining how she died, the singer had a long history with drug abuse (being addicted to or reliant on illegal drugs). Amy Winehouse was 27 years old.
It’s tragic (very sad) that such a talented singer has died at this young age. However, she’s not alone. Also dying at 27 were Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain. This has been called “The 27 Club.”
Is there something about the magic number of 27? Probably not, but one writer in the Washington Post suggested one reason we remember these singers:
“Their swirling mythologies congeal around a relatively small body of work. Many of these artists were young visionaries who left bold marks but didn’t live long enough to slide into mediocrity.”
Mythology is a set of stories about a person, place, or event that might explain why things are the way they are. For example, we all know about the Greek and Roman myths or mythology and in every culture there is a mythology about how the world was created.
To congeal means for a liquid to become more solid, often because the temperature has cooled. This is what happens when I leave my dirty dishes in the sink overnight. The next morning, the dishes have a congealed mess on them that I have to clean off.
A body of work is a collection of what an artist, musician, writer, or any person who does something creative produces over a period of time, often over one’s lifetime. ESL Podcast’s body of work now includes over 1000 podcasts.
Many of those who died young and whom we still remember were considered visionaries, or people who have big and important ideas about what to do or what to create. To leave a mark on something means to have a major influence on something or to affect something a lot.
Finally, to slide is to move smoothly over a surface, so to slide into mediocrity means to move without any difficulty or interruption over time into being average, or nothing special.
Amy Winehouse had produced only two albums (CD’s) before she died. Her biggest hit was “Back in Black,” followed by a song called “Rehab,” which talked about her own troubles with drug use. When artists die young, we create our own mythology about who they were, what they represented, and why it happened. Only time will tell (we’ll only know in the future) what type of mythology will develop about her.
Do you like or admire any other musicians, artists, actors, etc. for whom a mythology has developed?
Photo Credit: Newport Cemetery from Wikipedia
Summer is in full swing (in the middle of something, usually with a lot of activity) and the summer blockbusters, or those movies likely to make a lot of money, are out. I recently read an interesting story about Hollywood films becoming popular in countries that have, in the past, not been very interested in them. These new opportunities for new customers (or audiences, in this case) are often called new markets or emerging markets.
I thought I’d take just one paragraph from this article and explain some of the terms:
“Box-office growth in countries such as Russia, Brazil and China (Europe and Japan have long been fertile ground for American movies) comes as theater attendance in the U.S. and Canada has flattened and once-lucrative DVD sales have plummeted.”
A box-office is the place where we buy movie, play, and other performance tickets, so this term is used to refer to how many tickets are sold. If a movie has a big box-office, it has sold a lot of tickets and is a money-making success. When a movie sells very few tickets, we say that the movie has bombed.
If something is fertile, it is easy to grow things there. A woman can be described as fertile if, for example, she gives birth to 11 children. The ground or soil is often described as fertile, meaning that plants and crops (plants used for food) grow easily and well there.
For something to flatten means to for it to not change, not increase or decrease. We usually use this to talk about something that has been growing or increasing, but now, that growth or increase has stopped. This use of “flattened” probably comes from line charts or graphs, showing trends or movement over time.
If something is lucrative, it is likely to make you a lot of money. We use it to talk about business deals or opportunities: “My brother told me about a lucrative new stock, but I’m too unsure about it to buy it.”
To plummet means to fall or decrease very quickly and very much. You can use this word literally to mean that someone or something falls very quickly from a high place: “Jeff dropped the water balloon out of the window, but it plummeted to the ground without hitting me.” More often, we use “plummet” figuratively to talk about things that decrease quickly:
- “Sales of bananas grown in this area plummeted when people got sick from eating them.”
- “The price of our company’s stocks plummeted with news of the scandal.”
These are all common terms we use, not only to talk about the market for movies, but to talk about business in general (with the exception of “box office,” of course). You can read the full article here.
Have you seen any Hollywood blockbusters recently you’d recommend? Are you looking forward to any that you’ve heard about?
Photo Credit: “Movie Premier Setup” from Wikipedia