Monday, November 28, 2011

7/8 Listening Test Two

"Bonjour, Monsieur" by painter Gustave Courbet

The teacher will supply the test booklet and the Scantron card for this test. Please, don't write on the test booklet. Write on the Scantron card only. Choose one answer, marking a, b, c, or d, whichever you think is correct. If you want to change an answer, erase the first one completely. When you're finished, return the test booklet and the Scantron card to the teacher. The teacher will correct your Scantron card and give you your results.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"The Fall of New York" by John Robinson

I'm pleased to present here the first installment of my historical novel about the battle between revolutionary forces under George Washington and General William Howe's overwhelmingly superior military forces. It's June of 1776. New Yorkers will recognize street and place names. Many quotes from the actual correspondence of the principals are used.


New York City. New Years Day. Seventeen Seventy Six. The cobblestones are wet from the rain and the sleet. Horse drawn carts loaded with trunks and furniture click to the wharves. The social observances of New Year's Day are canceled. Even the bells of Trinity Church, the Dutch Reformed, and Saint Paul's are silent. Instead, a slow but steady evacuation of women and children is underway. The British men of war are anchored a stone's throw off the East River slips: the Asia, the Phoenix, and The Duchess of Gordon, each with forty to fifty twenty pound cannon aimed at the town. Huge cakes of ice in the river slap their hulls and force them to hug the shore. The Liberty Boys, armed with muskets stolen from Fort George, eye the cannons on the battery that extends from White Hall Slip as far as Beaver Street. Captain Parker, senior naval officer of the Phoenix Man of War, has warned the rebels that if they attempt to remove the cannons from the battery, he'll order his gunners to fire on the city.

Evening. Light fall of snow. White gauze covers the shoulders of the equestrian statue of King George in the bowling green. Little dots of white fill the small gilded crowns that top the wrought iron fence posts surrounding the regal monument. The streets are deserted, except for the piles of baggage and huddled forms of women and children. They're waiting for the Long Island Ferry at the foot of Wall Street to carry them to safety. Ominous clouds close in about the very roofs and chimneys. The peoples' minds are strained and apprehensive. Should the men of war commence cannonading, there will be no defenses against them. Nothing will prevent the British troops landing and overrunning the island.

The landed, wealthy Tories fear the rebels much more than the British troops. To men like Delancy, the low class dubbing itself The Sons of Liberty has been spreading terror through the town since the Stamp Act. Demagogues like that pirate Isaac Sears whipped the leather aproned joiners, carpenters, and chimney sweeps into frenzies. Deluding the mob with promises of liberty, Sears sought only to feather his own political nest. The Tories are loyal to his majesty King George the Third and his minister Lord North. Yes, the taxation policies of the Ministry are somewhat unreasonable, but the colonies have friends in Parliament. No need to sever ties. Why exchange the most benevolent government in the world for this wildly anarchic, tyrannical Congress in Philadelphia? New York City is evenly divided between those loyal to the king and those swept up in the fever of revolution. Then, there are the moderates. The fence sitters. They just want to avoid trouble. They have the majority in the city Committee of Safety. After the Committee ousted the incendiary Isaac Sears, he journeys to Cambridge and wins the ear of Charles Lee. "New York is a hot bed of Toryism!" he confides in the Major-General. Lee concurs with Sears and promises to take the matter up with the commander of the Revolutionary forces, now based in Boston. He writes George Washington, on January fifth.

General Charles Lee with Spada
"The consequences of the enemy's possessing themselves of New York appear to me so terrible, that I have scarcely slept. If the enemy gains control of the North River, they achieve communication with the Lakes, Canada. They cut the colonies in half. They have a base from which to strike anywhere in America within days."

Lee thought the commander leaned on Congress far too much. He added;

"Do not refer every decision you make to Congress. To so is to drown in indecision. It is to you they look up to for direction. Your effectiveness depends on your striking, at certain crises, vigorous strokes without communicating your intention. New York must be protected. But it will never, I'm afraid, be secured by direct order of Congress. I know that no man can be spared from Boston at this time as General Howe's entire force directly threatens that place. But I propose you should detain me in Connecticut and lend your name for collecting a body of volunteers. I shall find no difficulty in assembling a sufficient number for the purposes wanted. This body will effect the security of New York and the suppression of that dangerous banditti of Tories."

Washington wavers. If he immediately adopts Charles Lee's plan, and directs Lee to New York, would it be within his authority? He might exceed his powers and then Congress would disapprove. He was to act only as Congress directed, not otherwise. But New York is vital. He asks top Revolutionary leader John Adam's opinion.

Adams replies, "Yes. As the city and North River are the nexus of the Northern and Southern colonies, no effort to secure it ought to be omitted."

Washington learned that Howe's army planned soon to embark from the port of Boston. They must be destined for the south. To Charles Lee he writes, "You will with the volunteers from Connecticut repair to New York and put that city in the best posture of defense which the season will admit of, disarming all such persons upon Long Island and elsewhere whose conduct and declarations have rendered them justly suspected of designs unfriendly to the views of Congress."

Major General Charles Lee, second in command. Military genius. Charles Lee had been a Major General in the British Army. Led the Russians against the dreaded Turk. Then, on his return to England, he wrote radical pamphlets and insulted King George to his face. Settled in America. Tall, emaciated, soiled clothes, messy hair, dirty fingernails. Had to swallow his pride to serve under that Virginian amateur, Washington. Lee leaves Cambridge for New Haven. By him in his horse drawn chair his dogs. His favorite, Spada, rests his head on Lee's shoulder. Spada a large Pomeranian resembles a tiny bear. The other hounds battle for a position closest to their beloved master. He arrives in Hartford in the evening and calls upon the people of the neighborhood to join his colors to suppress the Tories and secure the town against the ministerial troops. "Not to crush these serpents before their rattles are grown would be ruinous." He is received with enthusiasm. If the bad news of defeats in Canada served to inspire rather than depress, it is because Lee's zeal spurs them. He reaches Stamford, Connecticut the following day. The New Englanders crowd around him. They love Lee's cursing of all authority, his unshaven face. The slovenly fit of an old faded, threadbare scarlet coat on his stretched, thin frame. His ever present dogs join him at the dinner table.

"I must have some object to embrace. When I can be convinced that men are as worthy as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence to them." And his angry manner earns for him cheers among the growing throng. The Committee of Safety in New York is nervous about the coming of the temperamental Charles Lee. They just finished getting rid of Isaac Sears, now they dread a worse and more dangerous influence is coming to replace him. They write:

"Sir, since our gunpowder quantity is less than three tons, we haven't got a sufficiency to enable you to act hostilely against the ships of war now in port. Since we are unprepared, we cannot provoke the ships of war until at least the month of March when we might be fortunate enough to obtain more powder. So please, sir, stay on the western confines of Connecticut until you can assure us that the entrance of a large body of troops into this city will not involve us in hostilities."

Lee scoffs. "The timid ones are against my plan, merely from the spirit of procrastination, which is the essence of timidity."

As he writes, cursing the New Yorkers, a nagging pain in his fingers nearly stops him. Gout. The gout come back. The pain spreads to his knees, ankles, toes. Wide eyed, unable to sleep, he twists and turns in agony. He could nowhere find comfort. He stays eight more days in hopes the gout attack will pass, but it doesn't. He has to go to New York, gout or not. So, finally, carried on a litter, he is carefully placed on his carriage. Spada tries to soothe his pain by sliding a long consoling tongue across his cheek. But each bump in the road sends burning jolts into his swollen joints. The following day, he crosses Kings Bridge and enters the island. The Post Road leads him by the stately mansions and lovely rolling farm lands, orchards, and graceful stone walls. South, jutting up behind the hills, the spires of the churches rise. Now, descending the hills, Bowery Road becomes Broadway, newly set with cobblestones.

Dutch Reformed Church, NY, 1776
Even in his anguish, Charles Lee can admire the bright, brick houses of the town, topped with curtained dormer windows and graceful balustrades encircling the roofs. Wrought iron fence, lush Dutch gardens, and the Dutch houses with their glazed yellow bricks and stair step gables. Tree lined sidewalks, and the river, sound, and the flight of gulls. The Major General's chair halts at the common where the upper barracks stand and the Montaigne Public House. His litter bearers bring him to his room and he immediately receives the news that the British General Clinton aboard the war ship Mercury has entered the harbor.

"Let the fireworks begin!" Roared Lee." Send word on board the men of war that if they set a single house on fire in consequence of my coming, I will chain one hundred of their friends together and make that house their funeral pile."

"A dangerous provocation!" Protests the Committee of Safety.

"Hysteria!" Returned Lee. "Bring my litter to survey lower Broadway. That fort must go!"

"Fort George? But it is the King's Fort."

"Exactly. Tear down the bastions; north, west and east and the connecting curtain too. The fort can do us no good, but if the enemy gets it, they can use it to subject the town. Tear it down. Take their stores. And take the guns from the battery and move them to the common. Leave three thirty-two pounders in lower Broadway. Those guns will prevent them from rebuilding the fort."

All available carts are pressed to the Major General's service. He barks commands from his litter. The carts squeak and the wheels buckle under the half ton weight of the old cannon.
Seeing the guns roll by, the inhabitants are struck with panic. Quickly trunks are packed and loaded on horse drawn chairs. The Boston Post Road fills with refugees bound for Kings Bridge and beyond. The ferries too. And soon the din of clopping horses and the creak of wheel ceases. Vesey Street and Dey, Cherry Street and Barclay are silent. Houses vacated and boarded up. Inside a week a town of 28,000, down to 5,000. The Committee of Safety pulls its collective hair while Lee laughs off the mass flight.

"Let them go. Their houses shall be barracks for the Continental troops. And as to the threats of ships, I consider their menaces to fire upon the town as idle gasconades."

New York. It's a desert now, is the common lament. But Charles Lee is pleased. Feeding Spada one of Mrs. Montaigne's muffins, he begins to ponder strategy.

"What to do with the city, I confess, puzzles me. It is so encircled with deep, navigable water, that whoever commands the sea must command the town. And they have the world's greatest navy, with the French a close second best. The British will have no problems landing their forces here. But it is possible to make New York a costly battleground for them. They had to pay a lot to bring troops over 3000 miles of ocean. We must entrench ourselves in the Broadway, making our position so heavily defended that for every inch of progress, they will lose expensive lives."

So the eighteen hundred Connecticut volunteers build barricades at every street leading to the Broadway. Using mahogany logs taken from West India cargoes, and the shade trees of Broad and Wall and Nassau that enclose City Hall Park. Barriers rise at the head of Vesey Street, and one at Murray. Another stretches across Beekman Street at the Brick Church. Bulwark at the entrance to Center Street, another crosses Frankfort, and near that one, yet another facing Chatham. Sweat pours, dirt flies, the sound of hammer on wood, the chunk of shovel, the slap of cobblestone on mounting piles. But mostly the dirt. Soap is in short supply. The soap makers left in the panic. So the men on fatigue are constantly grimy. Barracked in the elegant houses, their mud boots streak hard wood floors, white tiled staircases; their hands soil wainscots, walls. The men burn fine European imported furniture for their heat. Cellars reek with their filth. Oh, when the owners return, they will spend years cleaning up after these motley, ragamuffin, vagabond, poor excuse for soldiers.

Back out the next morning, littered Lee drives them on as Spada pants. Horne's Hook battery goes up, and one opposite it at Hallet's point, to keep British ships out of Hell's Gate and
access to the sound. But we are low, grumbles Lee, on entrenching tools: hoes, shovels, axes, picks.

"We need engineers, carpenters. Can't expect to hold these forts with eighteen hundred. We need more men. We need nine thousand on Long Island alone. And we need soap! The Congress neglects this place. They make proclamations from afar. The appoint a mere amateur, George Washington, to command our troops, and don't even consider me! The only experienced officer they've got! Don't they realize the loss of New York is the death of the cause? We need soap!"

But Congress, instead, sends flattery. Good job Charles Lee. They need you in Canada. Canada?? Lee writes the chief: "New York must be secured. But your Congress is miserly, sir. I have torn down Fort George and begun redoubts in the Broadway and Horne's Hook. More than that I could not do as the Congress has not furnished the force which I was told to expect from Philadelphia!"

Lee shocks the lady innkeeper at dinner by quipping:

"If the British Commander, William Howe, and his brother the admiral were caught in bed with the wives of these congressmen, they would look the other way."

As ice blocks melt, The Asia, the Phoenix, and the Duchess of Gordon move out of the harbor taking the immediate threat of cannonade away with them. Charles Lee's attention shifts to
the Long Island Tory problem. Isaac Sears is dispatched to Long Island with orders to force the Tories to take a strong oath. It should be as follows:

"I will take arms in defense of my country if called upon by the voice of the Congress."

The true Tory, he who we shall imprison, will refuse to sign the oath. To promise to take arms against their sovereign would be too impious. Sears confronts them one by one and reports the results of the oath taking to Charles Lee as follows:

"They swallowed the oath hard as if it was a four pound shot they were trying to get down. But many of them, rather than being forced to sign an oath, escaped to the woods and are hiding out there."

Tories hiding in the woods! They're simply waiting for the King's troops to arrive. Then they'll join up against us. "I must confess", Lee says, "I leave this place in its present state with no small anxiety of mind. As there are no measures taken for its security, I tremble lest the enemy should take possession of it."

Lee's original orders state he must go to Canada. But he receives another letter from Congress, a change of assignment. He is to leave for South Carolina instead. Congress had wanted him in Canada, but Charles Lee is the only general South Carolina will accept. From Congress's point of view, it doesn't really matter where Lee is sent. Just get him out of New York where his inflammatory words and actions could cause the British not just to take over the town, but cruelly punish whoever is there left defending it.

Mrs. Montaigne issues Charles Lee the bill for his lodgement. His gout is calmed and he doesn't scream as much at night, but still she isn't sorry to see him go. She won't miss his foul mouth, unwashed person, and the furniture chewing and the rug shedding of his many dogs. She forces a gracious smile, respectfully requesting payment, but he slaps the bill out of her hand. "Why should I pay you, you damned Tory?" he hisses. The animals bare their teeth at her, growl, and follow their master to his horse and chair.

A stream of men, the newly arrived Continentals line Dey Street to watch Charles Lee ride to the Powle's Hook Ferry. They are motley dressed. Some in blue coats and buckskin breeches, white stockings and half boots, others in green short coats with brass buttons and black velvet jackets and breeches, and still others with blue coats and small castor hats set off by a black band and a silver buckle. They cheer their hero, and each dreads abandonment in this dangerous place with a less competent command. Lee is the best they could have.

The British under Howe leave Boston's Port and head for Halifax, Nova Scotia. But, that's only a ruse. New York will be their next object. Washington sends Lord Stirling to take Lee's place in New York and finish the job Lee started according to Lee's plan. Washington himself slips into town on April fifth and takes residence in the mansion of Richmond Hill.

Washington remains aloof, brooding on the losses of Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, shuddering as regards the future of this uneven contest. The men never see him except at Trinity Church. And they wonder at his excellency's emotionless expression as the Anglican minister, Charles Inglis, prays for the well being of the King and sermonizes that changes of government should be left in God's hands alone.

But the fort building picks up. All during April and May the pick and shovel, hammer and saw are busy. In addition to the barricades on the Broadway, redoubts appear on Lispenard's Hill to strike war ships trying to embark on the Hudson side. Freshwater Hill redoubt faces the town, protects the hospital. Verplank's Hill behind Trinity Church aims cannon to the south. Bayard's Hill and Jones Hill have good works and at the ship yard, a strong battery backed by a fort higher up on the hill where the Jewish burial ground sits. Works at Colear's Hook and Rutger's Hill behind it protect the East River and more cannon are placed at Peck's and Beekman's slips, Rodman's Slip, Burnett's Key, Hunter's Key, Kruger's Wharf. Murray's Slip, and Whitehall.

General William Howe, commander in chief of the British, Hessian, and Highlander forces arrives on June 26th in the Greyhound frigate, a man of war sporting forty, twenty pounders. June 29th, forty-five more ships. And by now there are eighty-two. Rumour has it there are around 10,000 professionals out there battle ready. And more on the way. The commander's brother is at sea. Admiral Richard Howe with one hundred and fifty ships and some 22,000 more soldiers. The biggest military build up the British have ever mounted. The much delayed conquest of New York is finally about to happen. Perhaps, when the rebels see they must lose their city, they will abandon their "revolution" altogether. Then the British would be done with this idiocy. They want to finish this thing fast and go back home.

Sketch of Lispenard's Meadows
From his window at Richmond Hill, Abraham Mortier's residence at Varick and Charleston Streets, his excellency is treated to the view of the trees and grasses of Lispenard's Meadow
where all seems at peace. But he's thinking now of the growing forest of ships masts off Sandy Hook.

"The situation calls for the most vigorous exertions. Nothing less will be sufficient to avert the impending blow," writes General Washington to his adjutant, Colonel Joseph

Reed reads. "Exertions?" and thinks: "It will take more than words to whip these amateur, motley, ragamuffin soldiers into any kind of shape."

The British General has a certain respect for the rebels. He remembers the The Bunker Hill fiasco. Howe had ordered his soldiers straight at the rebel batteries. A ridiculous frontal attack. He vows he will not repeat that mistake. Fortunate for him the rebels were largely bereft of ammunition, hence searched for "the whites of their eyes" before firing rationed shots. And those eye whites were spotted usually as rebels' chests got skewered. Too few ended up that way. Alas, Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill were largely abandoned before the redcoats got there.

The British regulars are in high spirits and talk of success in New York with some confidence. When the admiral arrives, with a few swift moves New York will be ours.

Washington stands. The sun throws the shadow of his six foot two frame across the length of the room. "I trust", he says, by God's favor and our own best efforts, they will be
disappointed, like they were at Bunker Hill. It is as Charles Lee says, they'll have to wade through much blood and slaughter before they carry our works.

But we need soldiers to defend them. Many of the militia terms are up and farmers are anxious to get home, angry over having missed the spring planting. The city's defenses are built and the men have nothing to do but wait. Increased cases of small pox from bad water lower morale. Two thousand sick men crowd the new hospital on Freshwater Hill.

Marked increase in rum consumption, madeira. Consorting with the whores of "The holy ground" so named because this vicinity of the women of the night surrounds Trinity Church, New York's largest Episcopal church. One soldier, given thirty-nine lashes in punishment for drunkenness, requests another thirty-nine if he can use them as payment for a pint of rum.

Washington broods. This army has problems. Given to gloomy thoughts, always, this large man with deep set eyes and a heavy brow. His father died when he was eleven and his beloved older brother Lawrence, too, in his prime.

These early tragedies never go away. They remain, a subliminal background hum at the center of his busy life. They rise in pitch and volume under stress. But his mood lifts when he receives the news that Congress has passed the Declaration of Independence, an instrument that severs all ties with the mother country. Just the thing to restore morale and discipline to the army.

He calls the troops to parade at six. Before each battalion the famous words are recited:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

The soldiers give the declaration their approval with loud cheers and hats thrown skyward. Loyalists are afraid and shrink into the shadows of buildings. Many try to leave the city, knowing their lives are in jeopardy.

George the Third Statue Attack
The rebels are surrounding the equestrian statue of George the Third. You can imagine the lead horse rearing up in fear. Under the Roman armor, the king modeled upon Marcus Aurelius, shivers. His laurel leafed brow sweats. Rebels mount the marble platform, circle appendages of man and horse with rough, thick rope. Toss the ends into the crowd. With cries of heave, the soldiers pull, the leaden forms hold, but crack. Then, man and horse fall. Hammers undo the thin gold leaf that coats the statue. Entrenching tools and picks attack the grounded sovereign. He's pieces now. One blow cuts his head off neck and shoulder. They chip off the laurel leaves and ax his nose off and pound a musket ball into the left temple.

"Send the lead to Litchfield Connecticut", orders his excellency. "The ladies of Litchfield will mold our former king into bullets, cannon shot, canister, and grape shot. New York is without bullet molds."

The motley rebel soldiers gleefully obey. They collect the lead in wagons. Pieces of George Rex to serve our cause. Shoot his toes into his representatives. Kill the Hessian with his greedy fingertips. Bleed Scotsmen with fragments from his spleen. But they fix the head on a spike and plant it in front of Moore's tavern just south of Kings Bridge. Gold from the veneer buys many a round. And they drink toasts to the lead head of fallen Lucifer deep into the night.

Three days later, they're still celebrating. Tearing King's coats of arms off of buildings, rioting. Only now, the enemy is stirring. The oak masts of the Phoenix and Rose are visible in the East River.

Man the batteries. Forty eight Phoenix cannons are spitting at Powle's Hook. We have no reply to their brisk cannonade. They commence investing the Hudson. Where are the defenders of Bayard's Mount? They're far from the works. They're in their cups. They're at the holy ground with the less than holy ladies. New England Puritans murmur against this devil's town, this Babylon. God's wrath will burn it down.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Three Books About The Human Brain" from VOA

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we discuss three books that tell about ways the human brain works. One book considers the power of the brain in controlling why some people care about how someone else feels and why others do not. Another book describes how the limitations of the brain can affect our lives. The third book is about how the brain develops in a baby.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Psychology professor and researcher Simon Baron-Cohen wrote a book called “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty.” His book asks why it is that human beings are capable of evil behavior towards each other. He says the word “evil” is less helpful in offering a scientific explanation. Instead, he chooses to use the word empathy. We spoke with Professor Baron-Cohen about his book using Skype.

SIMON BARON-COHEN: “If we are trying to do science, we should move away from the concept of evil as an explanation of cruelty and instead use the framework of empathy. Because empathy is something you can measure scientifically. And you can measure it at the psychological level using questionnaires or psychological tests. You can also measure it using the new brain scanning technology, MRI. In that respect, you can also move forward and move deeper.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Simon Baron-Cohen defines empathy as the ability of a person to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to react with an appropriate emotion. He says people who do evil acts are showing a lack of empathy. This can be temporary, or part of a more permanent condition.

STEVE EMBER: Professor Baron-Cohen and his research team developed a way to measure individual differences in empathy. They found that most people have average levels of empathy, but some people have extremely low or high levels.

SIMON BARON-COHEN: “In my book I call this the empathy bell curve. And part of what I’m exploring in the book is what determines where an individual scores on this empathy bell curve. Why do some people score much lower or much higher than other people.”

STEVE EMBER: Empathy is linked to physical areas of the brain. Medical imaging technology has identified at least ten parts of the brain that are active when people empathize. And, these areas are less active in people with little or no empathy.

Why would someone lack empathy? Professor Baron-Cohen offers evidence suggesting that zero empathy can be the result of environmental, social and genetic conditions.

The question of empathy is a meaningful one in the field of psychology. Lack of empathy has an influence on borderline personality disorder, narcissism and psychopathy and the developmental disorder autism.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Professor Baron-Cohen says borderline personality disorder, narcissism and psychopathy are described as personality disorders. But he says psychiatric experts could instead define them as empathy disorders. This could open up new ways of studying and treating these disorders. Recognizing the importance of empathy could also change the way legal and psychiatric experts consider and treat people who commit acts of cruelty. But this recognition goes far beyond psychiatry. The writer says empathy is one of the most valuable resources in our world.

SIMON BARON COHEN: “One thing that I think may have been neglected in the past is just recognizing that empathy also has the power to resolve conflicts between people. So if we think about conflicts, it could be a conflict between two people, like two neighbors. It could be a conflict between two nations. For example, nations that go to war.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That was Professor Baron-Cohen speaking to us with Skype. He says it is important to recognize the value of empathy in areas like politics, education and law, as well as psychiatry.


STEVE EMBER: Dean Buonomano is a brain specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He works in the Departments of Neurobiology and Psychology and the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.

His book “Brain Bugs” explores how the human brain is one of the best pieces of technology ever created. But at the same time, he shows how a normal, healthy brain is also built with weaknesses and limitations. Professor Buonomano borrows the word “bug” from computer programming to describe the errors which the brain can make.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: One reason for these ‘bugs’ is evolution. Human brains developed over hundreds of thousands of years to be skilled at finding food, shelter and protection from threats. Yet evolution did not fully prepare the brain for the many demands of the modern world.

So, our brains are very good at doing some things. But our brains sometimes fail us when we attempt to remember long lists of information, or compute large numbers in our head. Our brains are also not always very good at making long-term decisions.

STEVE EMBER: Professor Buonomano discusses how and why the brain can play tricks on us in decisions involving memory, time and judging threats. Sometimes these mistakes can have serious effects, like a victim who wrongly identifies her attacker to police.

At other times, the mistakes are harmless. For example, one study found that most people choose to receive one hundred dollars immediately over receiving one hundred twenty dollars in a month. While waiting could lead to more money, most people would want the payment now. Dean Buonomano says that, for human ancestors, the immediate need for food was more important than the future need. So, our brains often want an immediate action instead of having to wait for a reward.

Professor Buonomano explains the causes of many kinds of brain bugs and gives examples of their everyday results. And, he offers ideas for how understanding our brain bugs can become a tool for improving our mental powers.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist in Seattle, Washington. His book is called “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.” The book gives scientific information about how a brain develops from its creation to the age of five years.

Professor Medina says parenting is all about brain development. He says what science tells us about the brain gives parents good information for raising smart, happy children.

STEVE EMBER: Many parents ask the professor what they can do to improve brain function before birth. A mother’s actions have a big effect on how her baby develops. He says one of the most important things is for the mother to avoid severe levels of stress.

JOHN MEDINA: “The maternal stress that is felt, that stress hormone -- one of them is called cortisol -- can actually leach into the womb. And, at certain stages of development can actually go into the brain of the baby and rewire the brain of that baby in such fashion that it now becomes stressed.”

STEVE EMBER: John Medina says it is important for a pregnant woman to gain the right amount of weight and eat healthful foods so that her baby will develop normally.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: His book also discusses the science behind a child’s intelligence after birth. He says one of the best things parents can do for their baby has to do with their own relationship. Studies show marriage conflict increases greatly after a baby is born. This can result from new pressures on the parents and lack of sleep. Professor Medina says what conflict the baby witnesses can be important.

JOHN MEDINA: “If you make up in public, by that I mean in front of your child, with the same frequency that you fight in front of your child, the child’s nervous system develops beautifully. It doesn’t matter how much fighting you guys do. In fact, I would argue that if kids could actually see real live conflict going on that is both frank but also resolvable, it teaches the child to begin to have better conflict resolution.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Parents can do other things to help support the mental development of their baby. These include breast feeding and talking and playing with the child. [John Medina says it is wise to avoid television at an early age and not to pressure children to learn.]

STEVE EMBER: As for happiness, Professor Medina says it is important for parents to help children develop language skills to express their emotions.

JOHN MEDINA: “What a parent does when their child’s emotions run hot profoundly influences how that child’s emotional regulation occurs decades later, no kidding.”

STEVE EMBER: He also says parents can help create a healthy emotional life for small children by being watchful and responsive to their needs. He adds that parents need to recognize and not judge the child’s emotions.

Finally, John Medina tells about research that shows the single best predictor of happiness is having friends. He says parents should help children learn to control and understand their emotions because this leads to deeper friendships.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3s at And you can find us at Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Diamond Trade - from VOA

I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we tell about the trade in diamonds, a worldwide business worth billions of dollars.

(MUSIC: "Diamonds Are Forever")

The use of valuable stones like diamonds goes back thousands of years. Rulers of many ancient cultures used gemstones to show wealth and importance. Diamonds still represent power and fame. Rich and famous people around the world wear diamonds. And, most women in the United States receive a diamond ring when they agree to a marriage proposal.

Diamonds are mined from the Earth. They are cut, made to shine and then sold at high prices. The nation of South Africa is famous for its supply of diamonds. For generations, men have gone deep down into the Earth to bring out the rough stones. It is very difficult and dangerous work. But recently, technology has helped.

Diamonds were formed millions of years ago from carbon under extreme heat and pressure more than one hundred kilometers below the Earth's surface. They are found in volcanic "pipes" called kimberlite. The name comes from Kimberley, the place in South Africa were diamonds were found in the nineteenth century.

The DeBeers company bought the Kimberley mine and soon became the biggest mining company in South Africa. DeBeers employed thousands of workers there. In the late twentieth century, it improved working conditions and offered miners a share of the company's profits.


All over the world, valuable stones are mined from deep in the ground, from areas near rivers or coasts and in open gravel pits. Botswana is now the largest diamond producer in Africa. The stones are also mined in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Sierra Leone. Other major diamond-producing nations include Australia, Canada and Russia.

DeBeers still controls half of the world's diamond production. Most of their rough stones are sent to the company's headquarters in London to be sold to a few dealers. But independent buyers are also part of the process.

One million people work in the diamond industry in India. Shrenuj and Company is one of the main diamond factories in the city of Mumbai. Workers cut and shine, or polish, gemstones there.

Most of the world's diamonds, mostly small stones, are polished in India. The diamonds are examined and sorted by color. The most valued color has really no color. Experts make the rough diamonds appear larger with the help of computers, so they can see how best to cut them.

Diamonds are the hardest natural material. Only a diamond can cut another diamond. So diamond cutters use diamond dust on a device called a polisher's wheel. It is difficult work. One wrong move and a stone can break. Sanjay Kambne has been performing this work for years. He says he has to be very careful while working with the stones.

The history of valuable gems in India goes back many centuries. Sanjay Kothari heads India's Gem and Jewelry Export Promotion Council. He says India has valued diamonds, jewelry and gold since the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Gems became big business in India in the nineteen fifties and sixties. Mr. Kothari says diamond exports from India last year were worth twenty billion dollars.


Halfway across the world, Antwerp, Belgium is the world's largest diamond trading center. Philip Claes is secretary-general of the Antwerp World Diamond Center.

PHILIP CLAES: "Eighty percent of all the rough diamonds are traded in Antwerp and fifty percent of all polished diamonds worldwide are traded in Antwerp. In figures, it means that we have a turnover here in Antwerp of more than forty billion dollars each year."

Antwerp has more than one thousand eight hundred diamond companies. That is why George Read comes to the city. He is a senior vice present with Shoregold, a diamond mining company in Canada. He goes to Antwerp to have his diamonds revalued.

Diamonds are weighed and valued in carats. One carat equals two hundred milligrams. In addition to carat weight and color, a gemstone's value is based on its clearness and cut -- the shape of the polished stone.

Antwerp once had about twenty-five thousand people working as diamond cutters and polishers. Now only a few hundred remain. Belgian cutters lost their jobs to workers in India because they are paid less.


The international trade in diamonds is worth an estimated eighty billion dollars a year. This has helped some countries develop economically. It has provided jobs for workers in some of the world's poorest countries. However, the diamond trade has also been used to support wars, frighten civilians and keep dictators in power.

The diamond mines in South Africa are clean. Machines are used to help the workers. But this is not true in other parts of Africa. More than one million people search for diamonds in Africa. They dig in pits and near rivers by hand. They earn less than one dollar a day.

In recent years, armed militias and rebels in some countries used diamonds to pay for civil wars. Thousands of civilians were killed and injured in conflicts in places like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. So these gems are called "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds."

Global Witness was one of the first non-governmental organizations to call attention to the issue. Annie Dunnebacke says the group's goal was to show the tragedy of conflict diamonds. She says Sierra Leone was one of the worst cases. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of the country's civil war in the nineteen nineties. Rebels cut off the arms and legs of innocent people and forced children to fight. The Revolutionary United Front controlled the eastern part of Sierra Leone. This is where the diamond fields are.

The diamonds were an economic reason for the war to continue. Efforts to report the link between the war and the diamonds were successful.

Two years ago, the movie "Blood Diamond" helped bring more attention to the situation. The movie takes place during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Leonardo di Caprio plays a man who sells arms to the rebels in exchange for diamonds. He is involved in a chase for a rare and valuable pink diamond. But in the end, he gives up the diamond, fights off the rebels and helps others learn about the illegal trade.

Global Witness was an adviser on the film. Annie Dunnebacke says it influenced public opinion.

ANNIE DUNNEBACKE: "I think that bringing the message in sort of Hollywood terms to a much wider audience than possibly our reports get to -- it does have value."

International pressure made the diamond industry take action in an effort to prevent the trade in blood diamonds. In two thousand three, the Kimberley Process was established. It requires member governments to prove that exports and imports do not include blood diamonds.

Tom Tweedy is a spokesman for DeBeers, the world's largest producer of rough diamonds. He says the Kimberley Process is a good step forward.

TOM TWEEDY: "We have a system and however imperfect it may be it is probably the only comprehensive system of its type in the world."

Philip Claes of the World Diamond Center says conflict diamonds represented four to fifteen percent of rough diamonds traded worldwide before the Kimberley Process.

Today, he says conflict diamonds represent only two-tenths of one percent of rough diamonds traded worldwide. However, Annie Dunnebacke says some diamonds are being moved illegally between African countries.

Experts say diamonds are not the only valuable gems that are linked to trouble in the world. For example, more than ninety percent of the world's rubies come from Burma. The military government controls the sale of the country's gems. This trade helps keep the government in power.

Human rights activists are working to increase restrictions against Burmese rubies. Activists are hoping that people will start to ask more questions about the jewelry they buy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

7/8 Listening Test One

"Still Life Volutous" by Cubist Painter, Jay Myers
The teacher will supply the test booklet and the Scantron card for this test. Please, don't write on the test booklet. Write on the Scantron card only. Choose one answer, marking a, b, c, or d, whichever you think is correct. If you want to change an answer, erase the first one completely. When you're finished, return the test booklet and the Scantron card to the teacher. The teacher will correct your Scantron card and give you your results.

Structure Practice. Here is a very good practice exam for TOEFL preparation. You have to choose the correct answer in some questions. Or, your ability to spot mistakes in grammar is tested. This is a timed exam, you have 20 mintues to complete the test. Click on the answer you think is correct, then click "next" and "confirm" to go to the next question. Try it.

TOEFL Structure Practice
TOEFL Vocabulary Test
TOEFL iBT Website

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ernest Hemingway - Ex patriot Writer - VOA

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I'm Shirley Griffith.

FRANK OLIVER: And I'm Frank Oliver with People in America, a Special English program about people who were important in the history of the United States. Today, we tell about the life of writer Ernest Hemingway.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: "A writer is always alone, always an outsider," Ernest Hemingway said. Others said that of the many people he created in his books, Hemingway was his own best creation.

Ernest Hemingway was born in eighteen ninety-nine. He grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, near the middle western city of Chicago. He was the second child in a family of six. His father was a doctor. His mother liked to paint and play the piano.

Each summer the family traveled to their holiday home in northern Michigan. Ernest's father taught him how to catch fish, hunt, set up a camp and cook over a fire.

At home in Oak Park, Ernest wrote for his school newspaper. He tried to write like a famous sports writer of that time, Ring Lardner. He developed his writing skills this way.

FRANK OLIVER: In nineteen seventeen, Hemingway decided not to go to a university. The United States had just entered World War One and he wanted to join the army. But the army rejected him because his eyesight was not good enough.

Ernest found a job with the Kansas City Star newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri. He reported news from the hospital, police headquarters, and the railroad station. One reporter remembered: "Hemingway liked to be where the action was."

The Kansas City Star demanded that its reporters write short sentences. It wanted reporters to see the unusual details in an incident. Hemingway quickly learned to do both.

He worked for the newspaper only nine months before he joined the Red Cross to help on the battlefields of Europe. His job was to drive a Red Cross truck carrying wounded away from battle.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The Red Cross sent him to Italy. Soon he saw his first wounded when an arms factory in Milan exploded. Later, he was sent to the battle front. He went as close to the fighting as possible to see how he would act in the face of danger. Before long, he was seriously wounded.

The war ended soon after he healed. Hemingway returned to the United States. Less than a year had passed since he went to Europe. But in that short time he had changed forever. He needed to write about what he had seen.

FRANK OLIVER: Ernest Hemingway left home for Chicago to prove to himself, and to his family, that he could earn a living from his writing.

But, he ran out of money and began to write for a newspaper again. The Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star, liked his reports about life in Chicago and paid him well.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In Chicago, Hemingway met the writer Sherwood Anderson. Anderson was one of the first writers in America to write about the lives of common people. Hemingway saw that Anderson's stories showed life as it really was, the way Hemingway was trying to do.

Anderson gave Hemingway advice about his writing. He told Hemingway to move to Paris, where living was less costly. He said Paris was full of young artists and writers from all over the world.

In return for Anderson's kindness Hemingway wrote a book called "The Torrents of Spring." It makes fun of Anderson and the way he wrote. There was something in Hemingway that could not say "thank you" to anyone. He had to believe he did everything for himself, even when he knew others helped him.


FRANK OLIVER: Hemingway decided to move to Paris. But before he did he married a woman he had recently met. Her name was Hadley Richardson.

Paris was cold and gray when Hemingway and his new wife arrived in nineteen twenty-one. They lived in one of the poorer parts of the city. Their rooms were small and had no running water. But the Toronto Star employed him as its European reporter, so there was enough money for the two of them to live. And the job gave Hemingway time to write his stories.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Hemingway enjoyed exploring Paris, making new friends, learning French customs and sports. Some new friends were artists and writers who had come to Paris in the nineteen twenties. Among them were poet Ezra Pound, and writers Gertrude Stein, John dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. They quickly saw that Hemingway was a good writer. They helped him publish his stories in the United States. He was thankful for their support at the time, but later denied that he had received help.

As a reporter, Hemingway traveled all over Europe. He wrote about politics. He wrote about peace conferences and border disputes. And he wrote about sports, skiing and fishing. Later he would write about bull fighting in Spain. The Toronto Star was pleased with his work, and wanted more of his reports. But Hemingway was busy with his own writing.

He said: "Sometimes, I would start a new story and could not get it going. Then I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think. I would say to myself: 'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.' So finally, I would write a true sentence and go on from there. It was a wonderful feeling when I had worked well. "

FRANK OLIVER: Hemingway's first book of stories was called "In Our Time." It included a story called "Big Two-Hearted River," about the effect of war on a young man.

It tells about the young man taking a long fishing trip in Michigan. Hemingway had learned from his father when he was a boy about living in the wild.

The story is about two kinds of rivers. One is calm and clear. It is where the young man fishes. The other is dark. It is a swamp, a threatening place.

The story shows the young man trying to forget his past. He is also trying to forget the war. Yet he never really speaks about it. The reader learns about the young man, not because Hemingway tells us what the young man thinks, but because he shows the young man learning about himself.

"Big Two-Hearted River" is considered one of the best modern American stories. It is often published in collections of best writing.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: After the book was published in nineteen twenty-five, Hadley and Hemingway returned to the United States for the birth of their son. They quickly returned to Paris.

Hemingway was working on a long story. He wanted to publish a novel so he would be recognized as a serious writer. And he wanted the money a novel would earn.

The novel was called "The Sun Also Rises." It is about young Americans in Europe after World War One. The war had destroyed their dreams. And it had given them nothing to replace those dreams. The writer Gertrude Stein later called these people members of "The Lost Generation. "

FRANK OLIVER: The book was an immediate success. At the age of twenty-five Ernest Hemingway was famous.

Many people, however, could not recognize Hemingway's art because they did not like what he wrote about. Hemingway's sentences were short, the way he had been taught to write at the Kansas City Star newspaper. He wrote about what he knew and felt. He used few descriptive words. His statements were clear and easily understood.

He had learned from earlier writers, like Ring Lardner and Sherwood Anderson. But Hemingway brought something new to his writing. He was able to paint in words what he saw and felt. In later books, sometimes he missed. Sometimes he even looked foolish. But when he was right he was almost perfect.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: With the success of his novel, Hemingway became even more popular in Paris. Many people came to see him. One was an American woman, Pauline Pfeiffer. She became Hadley's friend. Then Pauline fell in love with Hemingway.

Hemingway and Pauline saw each other secretly. One time, they went away together on a short trip. Years later, Hemingway wrote about returning home after that trip: "When I saw Hadley again, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her. She was smiling and the sun was on her lovely face. "

But the marriage was over. Ernest Hemingway and Hadley separated. She kept their son. He agreed to give her money he earned from his books.
In later years, he looked back at his marriage to Hadley as the happiest time of his life.


FRANK OLIVER: This People in America program was written by Richard Thorman and Bill Rogers. I'm Frank Oliver.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for the final part of the story of Ernest Hemingway in Special English on the Voice of America.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

7/8 Final Listening Exam. (Number Three)

"Cubist Dragon" by Rose Peng

The teacher will supply the test booklet and the Scantron card for this test. Please, don't write on the test booklet. Write on the Scantron card only. Choose one answer, marking a, b, c, or d, whichever you think is correct. If you want to change an answer, erase the first one completely. When you're finished, return the test booklet and the Scantron card to the teacher. The teacher will correct your Scantron card and give you your results.

Tag Questions Quiz

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reported Speech: Lessons and Exercises

Max Ernst, "Phases of the Moon", 1946
Reported Speech, Lesson 7: Jennifer explains the difference between direct quotes and reported speech.
Reported Speech, Lesson 8. Jennifer explains how reference words change in reported speech.
Reported Speech, Lesson 9. In this lesson, Jennifer explains that the rule of sequence of tenses (changing tenses in reported speech) doesn't have to be followed if the reported statement is 1. a general truth 2. an immediate reporting 3. informal speech 4. if "say" is in present, present perfect, or future.
Reported Speech, Lesson 10. Jennifer explains how verbs "shift back" when they are used in reported speech. This "shift" is called "The rule of sequence of tenses."
Reported Speech, Lesson 11. Jennifer continues to explain how verbs "shift back" in reported speech. Modals, she will explain, "shift back" to their past forms. (but be careful with "must", it has no past form. So, you have to say, "had to"
Reported Speech, Lesson 12. In this lesson, Jennifer explains that verb tenses change when your report real conditionals, but not when you report unreal conditionals.
Reported Speech, Lesson 13. Jennifer explains how to report yes/no questions. You must use "if" or "whether" and follow the rule for noun clauses as well as the rule of sequence of tenses.
Reported Speech, Lesson 14. Jennifer tells how to report questions that begin with question words.
Reported Speech, Lesson 16. In this lesson, Jennifer explains how to use the infinitive to report imperative statements.
Reported Speech Practice. This is a very complete and challenging grammar exercise for reported speech. It is practice using "the rule of sequence of tenses.

The following is good conversation practice: Try them with a partner dialogues

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Understanding Our Universe" - Albert Einstein



This is Steve Ember.


And this is Sarah Long with the VOA Special English program, Explorations. Today we tell about a scientist who changed the way we understand the universe, Albert Einstein.



In the year nineteen-oh-five, Albert Einstein published some important papers in a German scientific magazine. They included one of the most important scientific documents in history. It was filled with mathematics. It explained what came to be called his “Special Theory of Relativity.” Ten years later he expanded it to a “General Theory of Relativity.”

Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity are about the basic ideas we use to describe natural happenings. They are about time, space, mass, movement, and gravity.


Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, in eighteen seventy-nine. His father owned a factory that made electrical devices. His mother enjoyed music and books. His parents were Jewish but they did not observe many of the religion’s rules.

Albert was a quiet child who spent much of his time alone. He was slow to talk and had difficulty learning to read.

When Albert was five years old, his father gave him a compass. The child was filled with wonder when he discovered that the compass needle always pointed in the same direction -- to the north. He asked his father and his uncle what caused the needle to move.

Their answers about magnetism and gravity were difficult for the boy to understand. Yet he spent a lot of time thinking about them. He said later that he felt something hidden had to be behind things.


Albert did not like school. The German schools of that time were not pleasant. Students could not ask questions. Albert said he felt as if he were in prison.

One story says Albert told his Uncle Jacob how much he hated school, especially mathematics. His uncle told him to solve mathematical problems by pretending to be a policeman. “You are looking for someone,” he said, “but you do not know who. Call him X. Find him by using the mathematical tools of algebra and geometry.”


Albert learned to love mathematics. He was studying the complex mathematics of calculus when all his friends were still studying simple mathematics. Instead of playing with friends he thought about things such as: “What would happen if people could travel at the speed of light?”

Albert decided that he wanted to teach mathematics and physics. He attended the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. He graduated with honors, but could not get a teaching job. So he began working for the Swiss government as an inspector of patents for new inventions. The job was not demanding. He had a lot of time to think about some of his scientific theories.


From the time he was a boy, Albert Einstein had performed what he called “thought experiments” to test his ideas. He used his mind as a laboratory. By nineteen oh-five, he had formed his ideas into theories that he published.

In one paper he said that light travels both in waves and in particles, called photons. This idea is an important part of what is called the quantum theory.

Another paper was about the motion of small particles suspended in a liquid or gas. It confirmed the atomic theory of matter.

The most important of Albert Einstein’s theories published that year became known as his “Special Theory of Relativity.” He said the speed of light is always the same -- almost three hundred thousand kilometers a second. Where the light is coming from or who is measuring it does not change the speed. However, he said, time can change. And mass can change. And length can change. They depend on where a person is in relation to an object or an event.


Imagine two space vehicles with a scientist travelling in each one. One spaceship is red. One is blue. Except for color, both spaceships are exactly alike. They pass one another far out in space.

Neither scientist feels that his ship is moving. To each, it seems that the other ship is moving, not his. As they pass at high speed, the scientist in each ship measures how long it takes a beam of light to travel from the floor to the top of his spaceship, hit a mirror and return to the floor. Each spaceship has a window that lets each scientist see the experiment of the other.


They begin their experiments at exactly the same moment. The scientist in the blue ship sees his beam of light go straight up and come straight down. But he sees that the light beam in the red ship does not do this. The red ship is moving so fast that the beam does not appear to go straight up. It forms a path up and down that looks like an upside down “V”.

The scientist in the red ship would see exactly the same thing as he watched the experiment by the other scientist. He could say that time passed more slowly in the other ship. Each scientist would be correct, because the passing of time is linked to the position of the observer.

Each scientist also would see that the other spaceship was shorter than his own. The higher the speeds the spaceships were travelling, the shorter the other ship would appear. And although the other ship would seem shorter, its mass would increase. It would seem to get heavier.

The ideas were difficult to accept. Yet other scientists did experiments to prove that Einstein’s theory was correct.


Ten years after his paper on the special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein finished work on another theory. It described what he called his “General Theory of Relativity.” It expanded his special theory to include the motion of objects that are gaining speed. This theory offered new ideas about gravity and the close relationship between matter and energy. It built on the ideas about mass he had expressed in nineteen oh-five.

Einstein said that an object loses mass when it gives off light, which is a kind of energy. He believed that matter and energy were different forms of the same thing. That was the basis of his famous mathematical statement E equals m-c squared (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). This statement or formula explained that a great amount of energy could come from a small piece of matter. It explained how the sun could give off heat and light for millions of years. This formula also led to the discovery of atomic energy.


In his general theory of relativity, Einstein said that gravity, like time, is not always the same. Gravity changes as observers speed up or slow down. He also said that gravity from very large objects, such as stars, could turn the path of light waves that passed nearby. This seemed unbelievable. But in nineteen nineteen, British scientists confirmed his theory when the sun was completely blocked during a solar eclipse. Albert Einstein immediately became famous around the world.

In nineteen twenty-one, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. It was given to him, not for his theories of relativity, but for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. This scientific law explained how and why some metals give off electrons after light falls on their surfaces. The discovery led to the development of modern electronics, including radio and television.


Albert Einstein taught in Switzerland and Germany. He left Germany when Adolph Hitler came to power in nineteen thirty-three. He moved to the United States to continue his research. He worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Einstein became a citizen of the United States in nineteen forty.


Einstein was a famous man, but you would not have known that by looking at him. His white hair was long and wild. He wore old clothes. He showed an inner joy when he was playing his violin or talking about his work. Students and friends said he had a way of explaining difficult ideas using images that were easy to understand.

Albert Einstein opposed wars. Yet he wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in nineteen thirty-nine to advise him that the United States should develop an atomic bomb before Germany did.

Einstein spent the last twenty-five years of his life working on what he called a “unified field theory.” He hoped to find a common mathematical statement that could tie together all the different parts of physics. He did not succeed.

Albert Einstein died in nineteen fifty-five. He was seventy-six years old.



This Special English program was written by Marilyn Christiano and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Sarah Long.


And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another Explorations program on the Voice of America.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"The Carter Family Gives Birth to Country Music" from VOA

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I’m Shirley Griffith with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the Carter Family, the First Family of country music.

STEVE EMBER: It was August second, nineteen twenty-seven. The news had spread fast. A man named Ralph Peer was coming to the city of Bristol, on the border between Virginia and Tennessee. He wanted to make recordings of local people singing and playing musical instruments. And he said he would pay fifty dollars for each song recorded. That was a lot of money in those days.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Many people came to Bristol that day to play for Mr. Peer. But one group seemed to have just the sound that he was looking for. They were a man named A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and her cousin, Maybelle. They had traveled more than one hundred twenty-five kilometers from their home in the mountains of Virginia. They called themselves the Carter family.


STEVE EMBER: Sara sang lead, the loudest and highest notes. A.P. sang bass, the lowest notes. Maybelle sang harmony, somewhere in between. She also played the guitar in a new and unusual way. It sounded almost like two people were playing at the same time. She played the main part of the songs on the lowest guitar strings. And then she quickly strummed by playing all the strings at once. This kind of playing became known as the “Carter Scratch.” Guitarists around the world would soon begin to copy her style.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Those first recordings were sent to radio stations throughout the United States. Many listeners were surprised at what they heard. Instead of classical or jazz songs that radio stations usually played, a new sound was born.

The Carter Family sounded different. They did not sound like they had taken music lessons. But it did not matter. The people in poor rural areas thought they sounded just like their neighbors, or the people who sang in their churches.

Up until then, they had never heard people like themselves perform on the radio. Soon the Carters were being called country singers, because their music came from rural country areas and not big cities.

STEVE EMBER: The Carters sang songs about living in the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. They sang about the love of a young man for a special girl. They sang about the beauty of nature. They sang about dying and sadness. And they sang religious songs that told of hope for a better life after death.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: A.P. Carter sang in the group and also searched for new songs. He often traveled long distances to small towns in the southeastern United States. He wanted to hear the songs that local people sang in their communities. He wrote down the words but kept the music in his memory. When he returned home, he helped Sarah and Maybelle fit them to the Carter Family musical style.

STEVE EMBER: The Carter Family soon became famous. They recorded more songs. They traveled to many cities and towns in the eastern United States to perform. Thousands of people heard them sing and bought their recordings.

Some people estimate that within three years, the Carter Family sold three hundred thousand recordings.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In the early nineteen thirties many Americans were poor. The Great Depression had begun. Many people had no jobs. But somehow they found enough money to buy the recordings of the music they loved. A.P., Sarah, and Maybelle Carter knew that the economy was very bad. They knew what it was like to be poor. So they always tried to sing a few songs to make people feel happy.


STEVE EMBER: The Carter Family continued to make recordings and perform their music live for several years. In nineteen thirty-eight, they traveled to Texas. A very powerful radio station was a short distance across the border in Mexico. It could broadcast much farther than any radio station in the United States. The Carters performed on the station twice each day. Now people from all over America and in some foreign countries could hear them.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: As a musical group, the Carter Family was a great success. But there were problems that the public did not know about. For years, A.P. and Sarah had not been happy with each other. Finally, their marriage ended in divorce. Three years later, Sarah married A.P.’s cousin. The group continued to perform together, but it was not easy. And then, in nineteen forty-three, it all came to an end. Sarah and her second husband moved to California. A.P. Carter also stopped performing, and moved back home to Clinch Mountain to live out the rest of his life.


STEVE EMBER: So now the Carter Family was down to one. Maybelle Carter was the only one left to perform. She decided it was not yet time to retire to her “Old Clinch Mountain Home.” She continued to play her guitar and sing. She also played the autoharp. She appeared many times on the live radio program “The Grand Ole Opry” in Nashville, Tennessee. She became known as Mother Maybelle, the mother of American country music.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In the nineteen fifties and sixties, her daughters performed and made recordings with Mother Maybelle. They appeared many times with the famous country music singer Johnny Cash. June Carter, one of Maybelle’s daughters, married Johnny Cash in nineteen sixty-eight. They all sang together until Mother Maybelle’s death in nineteen seventy-eight.

STEVE EMBER: The Carter Family is remembered today as the First Family of American country music. Their most famous song is still played today. It is about love that did not last. It is called “Wildwood Flower.”



He told me he loved me and called me his flower

That blossomed for him all the brighter each hour

Though my heart is now breaking, he shall never know

That his name makes me tremble, my pale cheeks to glow

I’ll sing and I’ll dance and my laugh shall be gay

I’ll charm every heart and the crowd I will away

I’ll live you to see him regret the dark hour

When he won and neglected this frail wildwood flower

STEVE EMBER: This program was written by Jim Tedder and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I’m Shirley Griffith. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at And you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Monday, February 28, 2011

"The History of The Video Game" from VOA.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: I’m Christopher Cruise.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Video games have evolved over the past fifty years into one of the most popular forms of modern media entertainment. This week on our program, we explore the history of video games and look at some popular releases from the past year.


CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Early versions of video games were not devices for the average person to play at home. Programmers developed them using what were then huge university computers.

In nineteen sixty-two, a team of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a game called Spacewar! It had a big influence on future games. But it could only be played on a computer at MIT.

BARBARA KLEIN: Ten years later, in nineteen seventy-two, an engineer named Nolan Bushnell and a programmer, Ted Dabney, started the Atari company in California. Atari produced coin-operated video games.

Their first big hit was called Pong. It was an electronic form of ping-pong or table tennis that was easy enough for anyone to play. Atari video games became hugely popular at arcade centers.

Soon, other companies in Japan and the United States started making similar games. Popular games during the late seventies and early eighties included Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender and Pac-Man.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Little by little, gaming technology became more complex.

Back in the nineteen sixties, an engineer named Ralph Baer started work on an idea. He wanted to turn television sets in every home into a gaming device. His work resulted in the development of the Magnavox Odyssey, a video-game console for home use. The system was released in nineteen seventy-two and came with twelve games.

But it was hard to compete against Atari. Atari's video game system became the most successful on the American market. And it stayed that way until the market crashed briefly in nineteen eighty-three.

BARBARA KLEIN: By that point, another company had established itself as a big name in gaming: Nintendo. The Japanese company was not new at making games. It began in the nineteenth century as a producer of traditional playing cards.

The family-owned business later expanded into developing other kinds of toys.

Nintendo also began developing arcade games, and then game systems that could be played at home. One of the most influential programmers in the world works for Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto helped create hits like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Nintendo also found success with the Nintendo Entertainment System for playing video games at home and the handheld Game Boy.

Today the main competitors to Nintendo systems are Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s X-Box 360.

In two thousand six Nintendo released its first Wii system. The Wii was not like a traditional video game. It was the first wireless system that could capture the movements of the player’s body. This way people could play sports against the game or against another person without ever leaving the house.

These days Wii systems can be found in retirement homes and community centers. One of Nintendo's aims with the Wii was to make video gaming more social and more popular with wider audiences.


BARBARA KLEIN: GamePro Media is a publishing company that follows the gaming industry. We asked news editor A. J. Glasser what makes a good video game.

AJ GLASSER: “It’s difficult to say. It will be different, I will say, for each platform.”


For example, games on mobile devices are less technically complex than games played on a system at home and with a high-definition TV. Those games can be enjoyed for hours.

Ms. Glasser says a great game on a mobile phone is a game that can be played for a short time -- even for just a minute on the train.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: We also asked her about some of the best games of the past year. She says the horror game Dead Space 2 has been extremely successful.

AJ GLASSER: “It’s sort of a visceral, very gory sort of horror game but at the same time sort of a psychological thriller.”

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Another popular game is Red Dead Redemption.

AJ GLASSER: “It’s open world in the way that Grand Theft Auto is, so you play a character that can go almost anywhere, and do almost anything. But it’s set in the Wild West, so you are doing it with horses.”

BARBARA KLEIN: A.J. Glasser at GamePro Media says the video game industry recognizes that many gamers today are girls and women.

AJ GLASSER: “It’s no longer just the twelve- to twenty-one-year-old boys that want to shoot up people or just solve puzzles. It’s everyone wants to play a little bit. So they try to make games for everyone, or at least make games that don’t forbid anyone from enjoying them.”


CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Ryota Wada is a ten-year-old boy who recently moved with his family from Tokyo to Herndon, Virginia, outside Washington. Ryota is listed in the twenty eleven Gamer's Edition of Guinness World Records. He received a perfect score on the most difficult level of Dance Dance Revolution.

The game plays music and requires players to move their feet in difficult dance moves. Ryota began playing Dance Dance Revolution when he was three. He spends hours day playing the game he loves.

BARBARA KLEIN: But is it healthy to spend so much time playing video games? The journal Pediatrics recently published a new study. Researchers studied about three thousand students in Singapore for two years. The study found that children who played video games "obsessively" had higher rates of depression, social fears and stress. Of course, that observation alone does not prove that video games cause mental illness.

Other studies have linked violence in video games to aggressive behavior. In nineteen ninety-three American lawmakers pressured the video game industry to develop a rating system. Since then the industry has rated games based on the age group for which they are considered acceptable.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Video games may have their critics, but other experts see them as offering benefits. The Journal of Adolescent Health just published a new study by researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah.

The researchers said girls who played video games with a parent behaved better, felt more connected to their families and had stronger mental health. Said researcher Laura Padilla-Walker: “We’re guessing it’s a daddy-daughter thing, because not a lot of moms said yes when we asked them if they played video games."

For boys, playing video games with a parent made no noticeable difference in their behavior.

Other studies suggest that video games can be useful in teaching, supporting teamwork and improving hand-eye coordination.


BARBARA KLEIN: Mobile phones and other devices have created big competition for the handheld video-game industry. People might wonder why they need to buy a device like Sony’s PlayStation Portable or Nintendo’s DS player. Games that can be downloaded to a phone cost a lot less than games for those handheld players.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: For example, the game Angry Birds is a huge hit on the Apple iPhone and other devices. Players launch birds to try to crush their enemies, the fat green pigs. The game is easy enough for children yet difficult enough to keep adults interested. The game has been downloaded tens of millions of times around the world.

A market research company reported an early estimate of fifteen and a half billion dollars in sales of all games content in the United States last year. The NPD Group said that was about the same as the year before.

BARBARA KLEIN: In March, Nintendo will launch the American release of a new device that might make some people forget about playing games on their phones.

The new handheld game player, the Nintendo 3DS, offers three-dimensional images that do not require special glasses. The 3-D technology is not for everyone, though. The company warns that children six years old and younger should not play its games in 3-D mode. Experts say looking at the images for long periods of time could damage young eyes.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Sony is also working on new handheld game devices. In late January, the company announced its next-generation portable entertainment system. The system does not have a name yet but it will have a touch screen, two cameras and 3G wireless service. The system is expected to be released by the end of the year, offering another example of the continuing evolution of video games.


BARBARA KLEIN: Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I’m Christopher Cruise. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3s at -- where you can also tell us what video games you like and how often you play. You can also post comments on our Facebook wall at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

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