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Archive for the 'News and Current Events' Category

Tuesday - September 10, 2013

Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

Peaceful_ResolutionLet’s talk about a business headline today. This one comes from a recent issue of Bloomberg Magazine, one of the largest business magazines in the United States. Here’s the headline:

A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

The news story is about the president of the United States trying to negotiate (work out; come to an agreement over) a deal (agreement) with Congress. In the U.S. political system, as you probably know, Congress is a group of elected representatives in charge of (responsible for) passing or approving laws. After Congress approves a new law, the president has to sign or agree to the law. (It doesn’t always work exactly that way, but that’s the normal process.)

Now, one of the problems that we have in our modern American economy is the same as in many economies: how much should people pay in taxes? That is, how much money should businesses and individuals have to pay the government for the government to do its job?

The headline is about negotiations between the president and Congress. It begins with the words “a modest step.” The adjective modest usually refers to a person who is humble, a person who doesn’t brag, a person who doesn’t like to talk about himself or herself. If someone compliments (says something nice about) a modest person, that person might say, “Oh no, that’s not really true. I’m not very good at that.”

In the headline, “modest” is used to mean something slightly different. It means a very small amount of something. In this case, we’re talking about how much progress is being made toward a certain goal. A step is normally a movement of your feet, moving one leg in front of the other to walk. You have to take steps in order to walk, but we also use that expression, “to take steps,” to mean to make progress, to do things.

So, a modest step is a small amount of progress toward some destination, some goal. The goal in this case is a grand bargain. The word bargain can have a couple of different meanings. One meaning for bargain is a good deal, a cheap price for something that you’re buying. But a bargain can also be an agreement. To make a bargain is to agree to do something. That’s the meaning that is used in the headline.

Finally, we come to the word grand. “Grand,” like modest and bargain, has a couple of different meanings. Here, it means something important, something large, something that is very complex and complicated that is going to solve a lot of different problems at once.

This phrase, “a grand bargain,” is actually quite common in American politics. You will see it in reading about American history, usually to describe how different political groups come to some agreement that solves a lot of  important problems.

In our story, the president and Congress are trying to come to a grand bargain about how much people should pay in taxes. I’m not sure how exactly it will all work out (what the specific result will be), but I’m guessing that whatever they agree to, it won’t be a bargain (good deal) for American taxpayers.

~Jeff

Photo credit: Peaceful Resolution by Nomadic Lass, Flickr CC

Thursday - July 18, 2013

Twinkies are Back!

Hostess_twinkies_tweakedThere are few American foods more beloved (loved very much) than the Twinkie. This modest (not fancy) snack cake with a white filling (a type of food that is found inside other foods) is over 80 years old and is part of the childhoods of many Americans, at least the unhealthy ones like mine.

Since their invention (creation) in 1930, they had been made by the large snack food company Hostess. However, in May of 2012, Hostess filed for bankruptcy (officially stated that they had no money to continue) because sales were down, since many people had switched to (changed to; were selecting other) healthier snack foods. The costs of labor (worker salaries) and production (making the product) were now just too high.

The news that Hostess would stop production of Twinkies was shocking (very surprising) for many Americans. People who grew up with Twinkies had a hard time imagining the demise (death; end) of such an iconic (representing some idea, period, or experience) American food. In fact, there was a run on (selling very quickly until all are sold) the remaining Twinkies in stores.

But for those who can’t imagine life without Twinkies, there is good news. Another company purchased part of the Hostess company that makes Twinkies earlier this year. Twinkies returned to American stores this week.

To be honest, I have not had a Twinkie in over 25 years. The list of ingredients (things combined to make a food) is a parent’s or doctor’s nightmare (bad dream). However, I can’t deny (say it isn’t true) that Twinkies hold a special place in my heart and I’m glad they’re back. To mark the occasion (celebrate an event), I might go out and buy a package of Twinkies, open it, and take one bite. Eating any more might kill me.

Is there a snack food where you live that is beloved, but that is also very bad for you?

~ Lucy

 Photo Credit:  Hostess Twinkies from Wikipedia

Thursday - July 11, 2013

Where’s the Exit*?

VoyagerThe Voyager I spacecraft was launched (to send a spacecraft into the sky) into space almost 36 years ago, in September, 1977. That was the year Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the U.S. The year the Apple II, Atari, and Commodore personal computers first went on sale. The year Elizabeth II celebrated her 25th year as Queen of England. The year Elvis Presley died. And the year the first Star Wars movie was released.

Since its launch, Voyager has traveled more than 11.5 billion miles (about 18.5 billion kilometers). It flew by Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980 and collected important information and photos of both planets. But it didn’t stop there. It has continued to fly toward interstellar (among the stars) space. But to the surprise of many scientists, Voyager still hasn’t reached interstellar space. Rather, it’s “entered a region (area) that no one expected and no one can yet explain,” according to a New York Times article.

What has happened to Voyager is like walking out of your house to go into the backyard to play. But when you step out of the house, you enter a porch (an entrance at the front or back of a house with a floor and roof but no walls) you didn’t know was there. And the porch turns out to be much larger than anyone would have expected. In other words, the exit wasn’t where scientists expected it to be.

Voyager’s experience tells us that our solar system (our sun and its planets) is much larger than anyone imagined. Voyager has traveled more than 36,000 miles per hour (about 58,000 kph) for almost 36 years – more than 11.5 billion miles – and it’s only gotten to the back porch of our solar system, not yet into the backyard of interstellar space. Rebecca Rosen, writing in The Atlantic, says that “the hardest thing to wrap one’s mind around (think about and understand) in astronomy … is scale: just how big … objects are, how far away they lie, and how long ago they formed (started to exist).”

While the Voyager story tells us something about the absolute (total; not compared to anything else) size of our solar system, Rosen’s story illustrates (shows us) something about the relative (one thing compared to another) size of the planets that make up our solar system.

Rosen tells the story of Ron Miller, a space artist. While looking at a photo of the moon over Death Valley, a part of the Mojave Desert in eastern California, he wondered what would happen if he replaced (removed one thing and put in another) the moon in the photo with each of the planets. He calculated (used numbers to find out) how large each planet would be in the photo if it were the same distance from earth as the moon. Then he scaled (made larger or smaller) each planet to the correct size and put them in the photo in place of the moon. You can see the results here.

Imagine sitting in your backyard watching Jupiter or Saturn rise after the sun goes down. Or imagine the blue glow (soft light) of Neptune or Uranus while driving through the countryside (rural area) at night. How would you feel if one of the planets appeared on the horizon (the line where the earth meets the sky) rather than the moon?

*exit = the way out of a room, building, airplane, etc.; the place where vehicles can leave a freeway (high-speed road) and connect with another road

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - June 25, 2013

The Toilet Paper Wedding Dresses

800px-Bride_with_bouquetWe are in the month of June, a very popular month for weddings here in the U.S. According to an annual (yearly) survey conducted by a popular wedding website, The Knot*, December is the most popular month to get engaged (officially promised to marry), and June is the most common month for weddings.

A June wedding makes sense for several reasons. The most obvious reason is weather; you are most likely to avoid the rains in spring and the dogs days of summer (hottest days of summer). In June, you’ll also find many types of flowers in bloom (open and showing color) and there are many options for outdoor venues (locations for an event). Having a wedding in June also makes it easier for guests to attend, since many schools and universities are on summer vacation by the first week of the month. Lastly, finding an attractive honeymoon (wedding trip) destination (place to go) is also easier in June.

So you’re ready for a June wedding, but what is a bride (women getting married) to wear? If you’re very creative and unconventional (unusual; not following traditions) , you might want to opt for (choose) this recent creation. A fashion website and a popular toilet paper company teamed up (worked together) to have a contest (competition) to see who could create the best wedding dress out of toilet paper, and this was the winner. I personally think that it is a masterpiece (very fine work made with skill and an artist’s eye).

Seeing this creation got me thinking about the most creative things that could be made out mundane (dull; not exciting) things such as toilet paper. I have nothing against toilet paper, mind you (just so you know; for your information). I appreciate its existing many times each day, but it made me wonder what else can be made with everyday things.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve made or created out of unconventional materials?

~ Lucy

* “To tie the knot” = to get married

Photo Credit: Bride with bouquet from Wikipedia

Tuesday - June 4, 2013

Fat Cats

noun_project_1836_256x256x32When I was growing up, a fat cat was a very rich and powerful businessman who gave money to politicians and tried to influence the political process (and, yes, the term typically referred to a businessman, not a businesswoman). Today, the expression has taken on (been used to indicate) a much more literal meaning.

American cats really are overweight (weight too much). In fact, most American pets (animals that people keep in their houses but that they don’t eat), like most American humans, are fat.

According to the 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey (obesity is the condition of being very overweight), 52.5% of all dogs weigh too much, and 58.3% of cats are similarly chubby (fat).

Dr. Earnie Ward of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) feeds us the bad news: “Pet obesity remains the leading (most important; most common) health threat (danger) to our nation’s pets.” Fat animals can develop the same problems as overweight humans, including diabetes and the inability to say “no” to chocolate cake.

The folks (people) at APOP, perhaps fearing that pet owners and doctors will become as lazy as the animals in question (that we’re talking about), consider this problem to be a very serious one. And I mean very serious. Says one doggie doctor: “This is a war veterinarians (animal doctors), pet owners, and parents much win.”

So how do you avoid having a fat pet?

Consider getting a German shepherd. German shepherds are among the skinniest (opposite of fat) pets on average, with an obesity rate of only 2.1%. Sure, they may kill you or eat your neighbor’s children, but at least you won’t have to worry about people laughing at your fat cat anymore! And if they do still laugh, you can always sic your new dog on them (tell the dog to attack them).

Stay away from (avoid; don’t get) golden retrievers, though. An amazingly large number of them (62%) are overweight. These dogs used to be used for retrieving (bringing back to you; returning to you) ducks and other animals shot (killed with a gun) while hunting. Now I guess they are more like your typical college student, retrieving McDonald hamburgers and cold beer.

I’m not sure what is more depressing (sad) about this news: that American pets are just like their owners in eating too much and not exercising enough, or that there exists something called the National Pet Obesity Survey.

~Jeff

P.S. If you live in Europe, don’t laugh at us fat Americans. Your pets are fat, too!

Image credit: Cat by Lucie Parker, PD

Tuesday - May 28, 2013

Your One-Way Trip to Mars

534px-Mars_atmosphereA few weeks ago, a private Dutch company announced a plan to send people to the planet Mars. The plan, called Mars One, will send a group of people to travel to and live on Mars, but this is a one-way (without a return) trip. The people who go there will live the rest of their lives in an inflatable (able to be filled with air) habitat (place to live). Who are these “lucky” astronauts (people who travel into space)? People like you and me.

While this is not the first initiative (plan) to place people on Mars, it is the first that hopes to be completely financed (paid for) by sponsors, people and companies that give money to make something happen.

These sponsors are investing in a very unique (not like any other) reality show. On TV in recent years, we have had reality shows (television programs where “regular” people try to win some prize for their talent or abilities) that select the best singers (such as American Idol and The Voice), the best survivalist (able to stay alive under difficult physical conditions) like Survivor, and the best dancers (like So You Think You Can Dance). Why not select the best astronaut?

The organizers of Mars One plan to build reality shows around the selection of the people who will travel to Mars, the launch (sending into space of the spacecraft), and the landing (arrival of an spacecraft on the surface). The price tag (cost) is estimated to be $6 billion dollars ($6,000,000,000,000).

If you’re the adventurous (liking excitement and new activities) type, you can apply for this one-way mission (travel into space) by going to the Mars One website. You can upload (put on the website) a picture and a profile (set of information about you), and people who visit the website can rate (show their approval or disapproval of) you.

As I skimmed (looked quickly through) the profiles, I saw that applicants so far are from many different countries, but nearly all of them have something in common: they list English as their language. Why? Because although the project accepts people from any country, who can apply in 11 languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Russian, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Indonesian, and Japanese, the official language of the project is English. So if you hope to be one of these “lucky” astronauts, you are already one step ahead of the game (have an advantage).

Would you ever consider traveling and living on another planet, with no hope of returning to Earth?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Mars atmosphere from Wikipedia

Tuesday - April 16, 2013

Lawyers Suing Law Schools

599px-CourtGavelIf there is one group of people you don’t want to anger, it’s lawyers.

Right now, there is a class-action lawsuit (many people working together to sue) of recent law school graduates (people who have completed their degree) against their own law schools. They say that law schools falsely claim (say something that isn’t true) high employment rates (percentage of people working) of over 90% within a short period of time after graduation. In reality (in truth), they say, graduates aren’t working as lawyers and many not even in full-time jobs. They are working as salespeople, in restaurants, and not in their chosen field (area; type of) of work.

The litigants (people suing) not only claim that law schools inflate (make larger than something really is) employment rates to lure (attract) new students. Schools also do it to improve their rankings (positions among others) in lists of the best law schools in the country. They claim that law schools routinely (done all the time) misrepresent (show something to be different than what it really is) information, including starting salaries (money earned when you first get a job).

This is a difficult time for new college graduates in the U.S. With the economy in poor shape (condition), many are finding it hard to get jobs. Making it more difficult are the student loans the graduates took out (obtained; got) to pay their tuition (money charged by schools to attend).

Five of the law schools being sued are in California. Each of these five law schools charges about $40,000 a year for tuition, and it normally takes three years to complete a law degree if you’re a full-time student. After graduation, students only have a short time before they have to begin paying back their student loans.  With over $100,000 of debt (money owed), these law school graduates are particularly angry that they can’t get jobs as easily as the law school’s promotional materials (materials used to get someone to buy or to be interested in something) suggest. Now they’re taking their case to court.

In many ways, the law profession is changing. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, more and more tasks traditionally (normally; usually) done by lawyers are now being done by, or are made easier with, computers. It used to be that lawyers spent many hours in the law library looking up previous cases and getting other legal information. With the online services and electronic databases now available, these long hours spent — and those who worked them — are no longer necessary.

Online companies have also made it possible for people like you and me to file (to send or submit to some authority) routine legal documents ourselves, without the help of a lawyer.  Experts (people with a lot of knowledge about a subject) say that even when the economy improves, there will still be a glut of (too many) lawyers working in all 50 states.

What is the state of the legal profession (jobs related to the law) where you live? Are there professions (types of jobs) where things are changing quickly, leaving many out of work?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit:  Court Gavel from Wikipedia

Thursday - January 24, 2013

Will Too Much Energy Send You To The Hospital?

Energy_drinks180 gallons (681.5 liters) a year. That’s how much The Atlantic says the typical (average) American drinks every year. That’s five small cups (or three large cups) of Starbucks coffee a day. Or it’s five cans of soda, like Coca Cola, or five glasses of milk. Does that sound like a lot? Maybe, but maybe not.

To me, the interesting part of The Atlantic article wasn’t how much Americans drink. It’s what they drink and how that’s been changing. The Atlantic tells us that “American drinking habits have undergone a major shift (change) in the last decade (ten years).” The consumption (to eat or drink something) of soda is down (has decreased) more than 15%. Bottled water is up (has increased) 50%. Energy drinks, like Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy, are up 100%. Cheap light beer is down, but craft beers are up. And wine and spirits – strong alcoholic drinks like brandy, whiskey, bourbon, and gin – are up.

The energy drink statistic (a number that represents a fact) caught my attention (made me stop and think). I’m not surprised that energy drink consumption has doubled in the last ten years. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had tripled (increased three times) or even more. Energy drinks seem to be everywhere, including in the news.

Many people believe that energy drinks give them more energy and help them think better. Or, as the manufacturers say, they “provide consumers (people who use them) with a physical and mental edge (advantage).” However, there may be a problem.

According to a recent government study, reported by The New York Times, more than 20,000 people went to the hospital emergency room (ER) because of problems related to using energy drinks in 2011. The problems included anxiety (the feeling of being very worried), headaches, irregular (not regular) heartbeats, and heart attacks. In 2007, the number of ER visits was only 10,000.

The problem isn’t only with the energy drinks. The study also shows that nearly half of those who went to the ER “for problems related to energy drinks had consumed the drinks along with alcohol or other substances (drugs)….” Many of these are 18-to-25-year-old young men.

The government study says that “consumption of energy drinks is a rising (growing) public health problem because medical and behavioral (how someone acts) problems can result from excessive (too much) caffeine intake (consumption)…particularly for children, adolescents (teenagers), and young adults (18-25-year-olds).” The manufacturers, on the other hand, insist that their products are safe.

Probably the safest thing to say is that we need more research about the benefits and the effects of energy drinks. And probably the wisest thing to do until that research is done is to exercise caution (be careful) with them.

Are energy drinks popular where you live? Do you use them?

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo of energy drinks courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Thursday - January 3, 2013

Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding in Medicine

In recent months, I’ve come across (seen without looking for it) several stories about how people are using social media (websites that allow people to contact each other and their friends) to help each other with medical issues.

The first trend is not new, but the use of social media has made it easier: “crowdsourcing.” Crowdsourcing is when you pose (present) a problem to a specific group of people and ask them to come up with possible answers or solutions. When using social media, that specific group can be made up of (consist of; contain) hundreds or thousands of people who put their minds to (think about) the information or question that is posed and then suggest answers and solutions in response. Of course the quality of responses is only as good as the “source” that is being asked, but the beauty of (advantage of) using social media is that you can cast a wide net (reach many people across a great distance) and benefit from the consensus (agreement) of the majority (most people).

Crowdsourcing is now being used by some people to find diagnoses (identification of the causes) of medical conditions that have stumped (puzzled) patients’ own doctors. In one case mentioned in a recent Time magazine article, a woman’s husband posted her medical history, test results, and other health information on social media sites after doctors at Harvard and Stanford — two well-respected medical schools and hospitals — were unable to reach a diagnosis. They received more an 1,000 posts a day from countries all over the world and resulted in the patient being tested again for a rare (not common) condition that might be the cause of her symptoms (indications of illness).

Another trend in medicine that uses social media is “crowdfunding.” As many of you already know, healthcare in the U.S. is not free. Some Americans with full-time jobs have health insurance that pays for some, though not all, health costs. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t have any health insurance at all and must pay for all healthcare out of pocket (out of their own money).

Several new websites now allow people to ask friends and strangers (people we don’t know personally) to help pay for expensive medical procedures and treatments, and even surgical operations (major medical procedure where doctors cut into the body). Normally, family members and close friends are the first to be contacted and are the first donors (givers), but because it is easy on large social media sites such as Facebook to contact strangers in large numbers, strangers who are moved by (have strong feelings about) a patient’s story may also donate. Because it’s easy for just anyone to ask for money on these websites, they have put in some safeguards (protections) against fraud (efforts to cheat people), though false appeals (efforts to ask people for help) are still possible. Despite this, crowdfunding is helping people who would otherwise not get the medical care they need.

Have you come across or used crowdsourcing or crowdfunding where you live? Would you considering using these methods to benefit your own or family members’ health?

~ Lucy

Picture Credit: The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt from Wikipedia

Thursday - December 6, 2012

Season of Giving…Maybe

When November rolls around (arrives as usual), people start talking about “the season of giving,” a time around Thanksgiving (celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November) and Christmas (December 25th). Thanksgiving brings to mind (makes us think) all of the things we are grateful for and about those people and families who are doing without (without the things they need), and December is the time we think about those we care about and of gift-giving.

It’s not surprising, then, that this is also the time of year when organizations send out the most solicitations (notices asking for something) for donations (money to help a cause or organization) and other support. A recent study in the science journal Nature reported in the Los Angeles Times suggests that people are inclined to help (naturally want to help) others, but the longer they wait, the less likely they are to give.

In the study, people were given some money and asked to donate to a group project, and the total amount would be split evenly (divided into equal parts) among the four group members. Those people who were given less time to decide gave more. The researchers concluded that the people in the study were inclined to contribute (give), but time made people less willing to go through with it (finish what they started to do or what they intended to do, especially after a period of being unsure about wanting to do it).

Have you found this to be true based on your experience? Do you, or other people you know, tend to give less when given the time to think it over?

I’m going to test it right now. I feel like giving away $1 million. But first, I’m going to take a nap. We’ll see how I feel about it afterwards.

~ Lucy

Picture Credit: Belisaire demandant l’aumone (Belisaire asking for alms) by Jacque-Louis David from Wikipedia