Sunday, June 30, 2013

Finnish Baby-Care Boxes

In Finland there is a 75 year old tradition in which the government provides expectant mothers with 'baby-boxes.' These boxes and the contents of the boxes are used to provide essential early care to the new baby.

Please read the article on Finnish baby-boxes.

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

expectant mothers - women expecting to have a baby

the infant mortality rate - the number of babies who die per year.  If a country has a low infant mortality rate, it means the country is pretty well-developed - medical care is good etc.  A high infant mortality rate could be due to poverty, improper medical care or a number of other factors.

maternity - motherhood

to opt for - to choose

the scheme - here it means 'the plan'

municipal - city

pre-natal - pre-birth

to steer - to guide, to gently push

a nascent welfare state - beginning welfare state.  A welfare state is a state or country in which the taxes are high but there are lots of free services.  Usually education and medical care are free in a  welfare state.

to be spared the effort - to be spared something means that you don't have to do it

gender neutral - the colors can be used for boys and girls.  Gender specific colors might be blue for boys and pink for girls.

Multiple choice questions:

1.  According to the article, the baby-box is a symbol of:   a) falling infant mortality rates  b) the equality of all Finns  c)  the need for better baby care  d)  the concern of the government for its people

2.  The baby box is available to: a) expectant moms who earn less than the average income in Finland  b)  all Finnish women  c)  first-time Finnish mothers  d)  Finnish women between the ages of 18 and 35

3.  Women seem to choose the baby box over the amount of money because: a)  they want to be a part of the tradition  b)  they do not feel comfortable accepting money from the government  c)  the box and its contents are worth more than the amount of money offered  d)  they intend to use the box over and over again.

4.  A law was passed requiring expectant moms to visit a doctor before their 4th month of pregnancy if they wanted the free box. The best explanation for this is:  a) The Finnish government wanted to help encourage expectant moms to be more aware of the health needs of themselves and their babies.  b) The government wanted to promote the health care industry in Finland  c)  The Finnish government wanted to keep track of  health care data.  d)  The boxes could only be used properly after receiving the doctors advice on how to use them.

5.  Which was not listed as a factor in decreasing infant mortality rates:  a) the baby boxes  b) a centralized hospital system  c) a national health insurance system  d)  better high school education concerning hygiene and fitness.

6.  A big danger mentioned in the article which the baby-boxes help parents to avoid is:  a)  parents potentially rolling over onto the baby in a shared bed  b)  a lack of safe clothing   c)  dangers from sudden temperature changes in the house  d)   the danger of an improperly constructed crib

Answers are below:


1.  b
2.  b
3.  c
4.  a
5.  d
6.  a

Saturday, June 29, 2013

There is a MoMA exhibit about Le Corbusier

There is an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City about a controversial architect and urban planner: Le Corbusier.

The central problem he was concerned about was how cities could adapt to rising population trends. (To adapt to something means to change in order to be able to survive under new circumstances.)

His solution was to build giant towers in parks.  Huge numbers of people would live in these towers surrounded by grass and trees.

Indeed, many cities in America tried to do this.  They built 'housing projects' for poor people in cities like New York and Chicago.  These housing projects were, however, a disaster.  They became places of extreme poverty and violence and most cities have been tearing these housing projects down over the years.

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to pay tribute to - to show appreciation for; to present an exhibit of work to show how important or amazing this architect was.

terrifying beauty - this is an example of an 'oxymoron,' when you have two words that seem to contradict each other.  We don't often think of beauty as being terrifying, but the plans and buildings of Le Corbusier are both beautiful and scary.  They are scary because they often seem so impersonal.

a thorough revisiting - a complete re-looking at; when you take a close look at someone's work after many years, you revisit the work.

his reputation was rehabilitated - people began to think badly of him, but they began to think more positively about him.  A reputation is how people generally think of you.

a sweeping multimedia exhibit - sweeping means it covers many topics over a long span of time; multimedia means many media - photos, recordings, videos, models, sculptures etc.

staging a show - putting on a show

an inspiration - an influence that motivates someone

a visionary - someone who can see what the future of a field will be like, or what the future in general might be like.  Le Corbusier could see that cities were becoming more crowded and that a new method would be necessary to house everyone.

disparaged - criticized, verbally attacked

urban planning - trying to meet the needs of people in a city and then designing new developments in the city to meet those needs

ill-fated - things did not work out well if they were ill-fated

devastating slum-clearance - slum clearance means just removing the houses of poor people.  This was devastating because after the houses and areas were destroyed, nothing better was provided.  If you feel devastated you feel shocked and depressed.

urban renewal - fixing up or making cities better or 'new'

freeways - highways; wide roads where cars and trucks can travel at higher speeds than normal.

dismantled - taken apart

an engaging packaging - an interesting way the show was put together

innovative - new, unique

a puzzle - in this case, social problems

immersed in the bohemian vanguard - he lived among very creative and artistic people who were creating new trends

a bankruptcy - this means a lack of something in this case

to advocate - someone who speaks out in favor of something or recommends something.

wide swaths - a swath is an area.  A wide swath would be a large area of land.

a cluttered, shabby city - cluttered means crowded.  If something is shabby it is not well-made and can fall apart easily.

an interval - a space.

misguided - not properly thought-out; badly considered or judged

windswept plazas - large empty plazas

the pedestrian - someone who walks around in a city

the mantra - the saying.  So the most common saying or phrase or term these days among urban planners is: all architecture should include mixed-use stuff!  Every building should have a bunch of things in it.

dapper - nicely dressed; dressed really fancy

predating - coming before; so this author is saying Le Corbusier had some good ideas before most people realized they were good ideas.

to accommodate - in this case, to help people obtain good housing.

micro-housing - small rooms for single, unmarried people

to clamor for - to demand, to ask for, to desperately want

crafted - built

a skeptic - someone who doesn't believe something easily

prolific - a prolific writer writes a lot. A prolific architect creates many buildings.

elite - among the best.

revered - highly respected.

his star has dimmed - he is not as famous as before.

a retrofit and restoration - they can't change the whole building so they make changes inside to update various important functions that have to happen in a building.

lanky - tall and thin.



Was Le Corbusier more of a positive or negative influence in the field of architecture and urban planning?

Multiple-choice questions:

1.  Robert Moses is mentioned in this article because:
a) he was a friend of Le Corbusier b) he introduced the urban planning of Le Corbusier to the USA c) he was inspired by Le Corbusier d) he helped acquire funding for projects Le Corbusier wanted to develop in New York City

2.  The article points out that Le Corbusier, like Moses, is:
a) widely admired throughout the world  b) emulated currently in many American cities  c)  an artist who has had major exhibits at MoMA d) someone who has been harshly criticized.

3)  New Urbanists feel that Le Corbusier's 'towers in the park' were:
a) a terrible idea  b) an interesting experiment  c)  something architects can be inspired by  d) an important step in the evolution of urban architecture

4)  The author considers Le Corbusier to be:
a) someone who took the ideas of others and further developed them b) someone who created new ideas  c)  someone who looked back to the history of architecture for inspiration  d) someone who liked working with a good team to develop buildings.

5)  Le Corbusier changed his name because:
a)  he thought it was too long  b) he was inspired by his creative environment to be different  c)  he felt he would become more famous with a shorter name  d)  his new name represented the town in which he was born

6)  When Le Corbusier looked around Paris, he saw:
a) people were happy but looking for more  b)  people needed services they were not getting  c)  people were desperately poor  d)  a well organized city where people lived satisfactorily

7)  According to the author, although Le Corbusier could be criticized for a few things, it has to be admitted that:
a)  Le Corbusier's motives were genuine  b) Le Corbusier never gave up  c)  Le Corbusier brought a sense of hard-work to his designs  d)  Le Corbusier helped establish architecture as a true science

8)  The author states the goal of the exhibit was:
a) to resurrect Le Corbusier's reputation  b)  to inform and educate New Yorkers about Le Corbusier's achievements  c)  to further criticize an over-rated architect  d)  to encourage people to take a new look at an architect who was becoming less well-known

9)  The author's attitude toward Le Corbusier could be considered:
a) unmitigated admiration  b)  contempt for his impersonal approach to architecture  c) admiration mixed with an objective assessment of the architect's flaws  d) completely objective

10) The author probably wrote the article to:
a) reassess the work of an important architect  b) provide a useful review for readers to learn about and possibly attend an exhibit  c) try to change a misconception that many people have about this architect  d) provide a necessary negative critique of the architect's work

Answers are below:


1.  c
2.  d
3.  a
4.  b
5.  b
6.  b
7.  a
8.  d
9.  c
10. b

Friday, June 28, 2013

Racial aspects of the Zimmerman trial

Because America is a country of immigrants, and a country which once had the system of slavery, racial and ethnic issues are often very important and controversial here. 

(What is the difference between race and ethnicity?  Let's say a person is from China.  Her race is Asian and her ethnicity is Chinese. I am white and German-American - I was born in America but my ancestors came from Germany.  A controversial issue is an issue that causes people to argue about it.)

Indeed, there are social issues (due to race and ethnicity) present in America that are not present in other countries.

Although differing races and ethnicities often live peacefully together here, there are definitely racial problems.  For instance, most prisoners in US jails are African American men.  It is sometimes said, by those who want to change this problem, that there are more black men in prison than in college in America:

Furthermore, African Americans and Latinos do much worse in American schools than White and Asian students and their income is lower.

So for various reasons it seems safe to say that African American and Latino folks in the USA are not treated "equally" or do not have equal opportunities to share in the wealth of American culture.

Therefore, the Zimmerman case is especially interesting to Americans.  Zimmerman is part white and part Latino and, as you can read in the previous posting, as a volunteer police officer, he killed an African American young person.  Many African Americans have claimed that he was "profiling" Trayvon Martin (the black young man).  If a police officer 'profiles' someone, that means he judges the person based on how he/she looks and assumes the person might be a criminal just because of his/her skin color.

I'm posting an article from a NY newspaper about this case.  In this article, a lawyer who is representing the Martin family suddenly said that this court case is 'not' about racial issues.  This is, of course, ridiculous - the trial is absolutely about racial issues. 

The article:

A video:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

prosecution - the lawyers who work for the state.  So a prosecution witness is a person who is supposed to answer questions that will help the prosecution to win the case and show that Zimmerman attacked and killed Martin.

to be grilled - if you are asked very difficult questions, or questions you don't want to answer, you are grilled about or over something.

a cracker - this is a slang term that (uneducated) African Americans use to refer to white people.  This is a slang term that means 'white person.'  A cracker is a type of hard bread that can be eaten.  It seems that the color of a cracker and the color of a white person seem similar to some African American folks.  The fact that Trayvon Martin used this term to refer to George Zimmerman would suggest that Martin disliked or was prejudiced against white people and was uneducated (in fact, Martin had, apparently, been kicked out of school for drug possession).  But nobody knows for sure whether Martin used the term 'cracker,' because this witness (this person answering questions in court), seems to tell different stories to different people.

prosecutors claimed Zimmerman targeted Martin - prosecutors stated that Zimmerman only stopped Martin because Martin was black.  The lawyers who represent Martin's parents are now saying, for some reason, that Martin's race (his skin color) did not matter.  Why does Martin's family have a lawyer if they are not involved in this case?  If Zimmerman is found guilty, the Martin family will 'sue' Zimmerman - they will take him to another court and try to force him to pay them money.  The Martin family has already sued the city in Florida where this happened and were awarded a large sum of money.

a cop wanna-be - Zimmerman wanted to be a real police officer and not a volunteer police officer.

turmoil - chaos, disorder

“It’s not about racial profiling,” Daryl Parks declared. “He was profiled (criminally). George Zimmerman profiled him.” - this statement didn't make a lot of sense to anyone because the Martin lawyer first said the case is not about profiling, but then said Zimmerman profiled Martin.  So he contradicted himself.

the defense attorney - the lawyer trying to help George Zimmerman

"That's retarded, Sir." - A 'retarded' person is a person who was born with mental disabilities.  These are people who - because of genetics or environmental problems - are not able to learn as quickly as others.  To say that something is 'retarded' is to say that something is 'stupid.'  To be honest with you, anyone who uses the term 'retarded' is a very low-class, ignorant and uneducated person.  It shows insensitivity to people who are suffering through no fault of their own.  The first witness in this case - brought to court by the prosecution - seems to be a very uneducated, low-class person.

a bombshell - a shocking or surprising event.

changing his tune - changing his story.

a head-scratching statement - a statement hard to understand.  If you scratch your head over something, you show you are having a hard time understanding something.

to spar with someone - to argue with someone.  Boxers spar with each other in order to train themselves to be better boxers.

front and center - the primary focus.

a gated community - there are some neighborhoods in America that are surrounded by gates so that strangers cannot enter.

to charge someone with a crime - to formally state, through the court system, that a person has been accused of committing a crime.

gal-pal - girlfriend

raked over the coals - basically the journalist is saying she was asked questions which caused her to embarrass herself.  Zimmerman's lawyer humiliated her.

was ripped - was verbally attacked. This person seems to be a total liar who tells different stories to different people.

cringe-worthy - to cringe means to show something makes you uncomfortable.  This person's statement made everyone uncomfortable when she did not want to read a letter because she stated that she couldn't read the handwriting on the page.

tough turn on the stand - the stand is where a person answers questions in court.  a tough turn - she had a difficult time on the stand.

the parents were shaking their heads - they couldn't believe what was happening.

dismay - disbelief and shock.

to pen a letter - to write a letter


Do you think this person's testimony helped or harmed the prosecution? Why?

In order for Zimmerman to be found guilty, the prosecution must prove he attacked Martin.  After this testimony, are you more or less convinced that Zimmerman attacked Martin?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial in the USA

George Zimmerman was a volunteer police officer in Florida.

Basically, a volunteer police officer has a limited amount of power or authority.  The volunteer is allowed to drive around or walk around in his/her neighborhood and call up the police if he/she sees anything suspicious.

One night, at 2am, Zimmerman saw a person he considered to be suspicious.  He saw a young black man walking in his neighborhood and this young man was wearing a hood over his head.  Because there had been burglaries recently in that neighborhood, Zimmerman called into the police station and reported this 'suspicious' young man. 

The young man was 17 years old and had only gone to get some candy from a nearby 24 hour grocery store. The young man was not the burglar Zimmerman was looking for.

Zimmerman was told by the police to not do anything.  They told him that they would send police over to check out the situation.

However, Zimmerman disregarded what he had been told and drove up to the young man.

The specific details of the rest of the story are in dispute - there are different versions of what happened next.

Zimmerman apparently confronted the young man and a fight occurred.  Zimmerman claims that the young man hit him, knocked him down and then began smashing Zimmerman's head into the ground.

In Florida, people are allowed to carry guns with them (if they can obtain a license).  Zimmerman had his gun with him.  During the "fight" he pulled out his gun and shot the young man (Trayvon Martin).

At first the police did not arrest Zimmerman.  They seemed to believe that he was just protecting himself.  However, many African Americans were upset and began protesting around the USA.  Indeed, many people of different races protested.  After one month, George Zimmerman was finally arrested and is now standing (facing) trial for murder.

This is now the most-watched criminal trial in the USA. About 50% of Americans think Zimmerman is innocent and about 50% of Americans think he is guilty.

Basically, for the prosecution to convict Zimmerman (to have the jury find him guilty), they have to prove that Zimmerman started the fight with Martin.  If Martin started the fight with Zimmerman, Florida law will allow the jury to find Zimmerman not guilty, because he shot Martin to defend himself.

Here is an article about the beginning of the trial.

Here's a video about the start of the trial.  In the video you see this text: "The trial begins with an F-bomb and a joke."   The 'F-bomb' is a term for the word "fuck." Apparently, the prosecuting attorney (the lawyer for the state) used the word "fuck" when he quoted from (repeated) what George Zimmerman had said when he made his call to the police on the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

In this video we see that Zimmerman's lawyer makes a stupid mistake.  He tries telling a 'knock knock' joke to the jury. 

'Knock knock' jokes often are jokes that take advantage of words that have different meanings but sound similar to each other:

Zimmerman's lawyer says:  "Knock knock. Who is there?  George Zimmerman.  George Zimmerman who?  OK, you get to sit on the jury."

1) It wasn't a funny joke.  2)  It was too difficult for the jury to understand.  Basically the lawyer was saying that the people on the jury were chosen because they are open-minded and willing to listen to facts about who George Zimmerman might really be.

This is a murder trial, however, and nobody in the courtroom seemed to think any type of joke was appropriate (right for the situation).

Vocabulary from the introduction and article:

a volunteer police officer - someone who works for free, as a volunteer, for the police.

suspicious - if someone is suspicious he looks as if he may be ready to do something wrong or commit a crime.

a hood - coats often contain hoods - these can be flipped over a person's head if the person is cold.  Trayvon Martin was wearing a 'hoodie,' a sweatshirt that had a hood attached.

a burglary - when someone breaks into a place and steals something.

disregarded - did not pay attention to it; did not take the advice seriously.

in dispute - in debate, under debate, still being argued about.

to confront - to meet the person face to face.

smashing his head into the ground - repeatedly taking Zimmerman's head and hitting it against the ground.

to protest - to gather with a group of people in order to publicly express anger over some issue.

standing trial for murder - going to trial for murder.  Going into a courtroom to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent.

the jury - 12 people who will determine whether a defendant (a person accused of a crime) is guilty or innocent.

9/11 calls - if there is an emergency in America, you can dial 911 for help.  Apparently Zimmerman had called 911 many, many times in the past 8 years for non-emergency reasons.  The prosecutor wants to make it seem as if Zimmerman is kind of nuts (crazy).

non-emergency 9/11 calls - Zimmerman apparently called 911 for non-emergency reasons.

prosecutors - lawyers for the bstate.

to sketch his character - to explain his character, to describe his personality.

the trial judge - the judge who is in charge of the trial, even though he will not determine whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent.

to shape the impressions of - to influence how the jurors will feel about Zimmerman.  Zimmerman's lawyer wants to do the same thing in regard to Trayvon Martin.  Martin had been  kicked out of his school for having drugs, for instance.

a seething vigilante - an angry vigilante (a vigilante is someone who does not trust the police and who tries to carry out laws by himself or a vigilante group).

a stand-up community organizer - an honest and trustworthy person who organizes things for his community.

drizzly - raining slightly.

loitering - to loiter is to stand around doing nothing publicly.

toting - carrying.

murky - dark, not clear, uncertain.

to loom large - be important.

to tread carefully - to walk carefully, to act acrefully.

to pertain to -to be about.

zealous - overly eager, doing much more than you should do

a mind-set - attitude.  They want to make it seem as if Zimmerman approached or looked at the world as an angry guy who wanted to harm certain types of people.

ill-will - the opposite of good-will.  Bad-will: wanting bad things for others.

profanity-laced - having lots of dirty or vulgar or curse words.

expletive - a dirty word.

conscientious - wanting to do good things.  This word comes from the word 'conscience' which is the little voice in all of us which tells us what is right and what is wrong.  Pronounced: CON schinz.  Don't confuse this word with conscious - to be awake.  Conscience is a noun, conscientious is an adjective, conscious is an adjective.

to aspire to be - to dream of being, to want to be.

relevant - important or pertaining to; significant or meaningful to something.

to corroborate - to show it is true, to verify.

a minor - someone under the age of 18.

wrestling for - struggling for, fighting for.

a hoodie - a sweatshirt with a hood on it.

sparked fervent debate - caused heated or emotional arguments.

racial profiling - when the police believe someone might be a criminal just because he looks like one or because he is black or Latino.

liberalized gun-access laws - laws which make it easy to get a gun.



Based on what you read in my intro and the article, would you, at this time, find Zimmerman to be guilty or innocent? Why?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Can we trust Ed Snowden? I don't think so.

I found an interesting article that provides a basic background on Ed Snowden.

What I found to be especially interesting is the fact that he donated $500 to Ron Paul when Paul ran for the presidency last time.

Please excuse me for saying this, but Ron Paul is kind of a nut.  (A nut means a crazy person.)

Ron Paul keeps running for the presidency and, basically, nobody ever votes for him. He considers himself a 'libertarian.' This apparently means that he thinks a strong central government is a bad thing and that the less government there is, the better everyone will be.

Libertarians often believe that the US government is 'stealing' freedoms from the people. I have always felt that 'libertarians' were kind of nutty and paranoid.  If you are paranoid, you believe that someone is trying to hurt you when, in fact, nobody is trying to hurt you. 

So basically we can assume that as a Ron Paul supporter, Ed Snowden has believed that the US government is trying to steal the freedoms and rights of American citizens.  Obama has denied that US citizens were spied on, however.  And, everybody knows that suspicious foreigners are monitored by the US government.

So, basically, I don't trust what Snowden says.  I think his support of a nutty political candidate compels me (forces me) to doubt anything he might say. I think he is kind of a paranoid guy who is making everyone else paranoid.  He should not be taken seriously.

So here's something about Ed Snowden.  May he enjoy his life in Ecuador.

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

NSA leaker - National Security Agency employee who revealed secret information

a whiz - a genius.  A computer whiz is someone who is really good with computers.

to divulge - to reveal.

his upbringing - his childhood

mounting disillusionment - greater and greater mistrust of the government

intrusion - if the government is intruding in the lives of Americans, it means they are looking into the lives of Americans when they should not be.

"I do not want to live in a society where everything I do and say is being recorded." - everything we do and say is not being recorded. 

bespectacled - wearing glasses

a self-proclaimed spy - he calls himself a spy (nobody else does).

a traitor - someone who betrays his country.

a brainiac - a very smart person.  This brainiac never graduated from high school, however.

a general equivalency degree - if you do not finish high school you can take the GED test and get your high school diploma that way.  The GED is a very easy test.

military service - he dropped out of high school and dropped out of the army.

the fallout - the negative consequences.

a spook - a spy. He likes to think of himself in very dramatic terms as a spy.

Should the reporter who received information from Snowden be thrown in jail?

The US government does not seem interested in arresting the journalist who revealed the secrets that Snowden told him.  In fact, it would probably be against the law for the government to do this.  The journalist is protected by the "1st Amendment" of the US Constitution.

When the Constitution (the laws by which the US government were going to work) was written and approved in 1789, 10 "amendments" (added points) were made to the document.  These 10 amendments were added to protect the basic rights of American citizens.

The 1st Amendment, basically, says that the government may not stop a person from 1) worshipping whatever religion he/she wants to worship,  2) expressing him/herself freely (within reasonable limits) and 3) meeting other people to discuss issues or to protest the government.

Nevertheless, a TV interviewer asked the journalist whether he (the journalist) felt he had helped Snowden to harm the US government by revealing illegally obtained secrets.

The article:

Here is a video of the verbal exchange:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to be charged with a crime - to be formally accused of a crime and forced to come to court to face justice.

Meet the Press - a famous Sunday morning TV show in the USA.

to aid and abet - to help someone commit a crime. Notice: 'commit' is the verb you use with any type of crime: he committed suicide, he committed murder, he committed arson (burning a building down)

to muse about - to think about.

a felony - a major crime.  a misdemeanor - a minor crime.

to disclose - to reveal, to expose, to show

surveillance - to watch someone

anti - against, pro - for

asylum - an innocent person who can be harmed by his own government can seek asylum (safety) in another country.

to decline to do something - to refuse; he would not discuss that issue on the TV show.

to prompt - to motivate, to encourage

to embrace - in this case it means to accept.

to criminalize journalism - to make it a crime to report the news

to leak information - to secretly reveal it.

co-conspirator - someone working on an illegal activity with another person

sources - people who reveal information to journalists.

climate - that atmosphere

to menace - to frighten, to scare someone

contending - arguing

to be prosecuted - to be arrested and put on trial before a judge or jury

Even though this journalist cannot be thrown in jail because he is protected by the 1st Amendment, do you think he should have revealed information he knew to be obtained illegally?

Why do you think the journalist wrote this story?

Yes, I'm the guy who created the scandal in Asia awhile ago. :P

Yes, I'm also the guy who wrote the very funny ESL bookNew York City Sucks, But You'll Wanna Live Here Anyway.

If this page is useful to you, please buy the book (it's quite inexpensive and useful!!!!). If you don't have an e-reader, drop me a line at and I'll send you a free copy via Word file. Let me know whether you have Word 2010 or an earlier version.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snowden is safe and free

On a personal level, I suppose that I am glad that he will not have to spend the rest of his life in jail.  That seems too cruel. 

While reading a newspaper today, I learned that Snowden never even graduated from high school and initially worked for this contractor of the government as a security guard.  The newspaper asked how a person who never even graduated from high school was able to obtain such secret information. 

Clearly people in the United States government were at fault for not protecting their secrets carefully enough.  Snowden is a scapegoat.  A scapegoat is someone who is blamed for something even though he is not ultimately responsible for the problem that occurred.  People often blame scapegoats instead of admitting what the real cause of a problem might have been.

Now let's see whether Snowden's motives were genuine (sincere) or whether he tries to make money from his sudden fame.  Did he do this to provide the American people with information he felt they needed to know, or does he want money and fame?

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to head for - to go to

a contractor - he worked for a company that was contracted by the US government (the NSA - National Security Agency).

to extradite - to have him sent back to the USA to face justice.

espionage - spying; illegally and secretly obtaining secret information

charges - a criminal accusation; a charge is when someone states that someone else has committed some wrongful act

anti - against, pro - for

to confirm - to say for sure, to verify

to book a seat - to schedule a seat

leaking details - revealing or publicly stating details

surveillance - the act of watching someone or spying on someone

a former British colony - England used to control Hong Kong. Basically England stole Hong Kong from China after a war in the 1840s. 

to depart - to leave

to comply with - to go with, to agree with

furious - very angry

to face trial - to face justice, to go before  a judge or jury

a shocker - it is unusual and shocking, highly  unexpected

to be irate - another word for very, very angry

political asylum - safety from being harmed unfairly by the US government.  Many people seek asylum in the USA because they feel they are under threat by their own government.

facilitating disclosures in the public interest - making secret information available to the general public even though the US government wants the information to remain secret.  To facilitate means to make something easier.

taken sanctuary - is living in safety

unauthorized - he did not have permission to spread this information publicly

willful - this was not an accident, he did this deliberately

a provisional warrant of arrest - a temporary document allowing Snowden to be arrested

to restrict him from leaving - to stop him from leaving.

pro-Kremlin - those in favor of the current Russian government.  Putin has his offices in the Kremlin.

hacking - illegally gaining access to someone's computer

an accusation - a claim or a statement that someone did something wrong

troubling - if something is troubling, it makes you worry

to play innocent - to pretend to be innocent.

a villain - a bad guy

a bloc - a group of countries

an alliance - an organized group of several members

anti-imperialist - against imperialism. Imperialism is when a stronger country uses a weaker country to make money. The stronger country grows even stronger and the weaker country never becomes strong.

credentials - in this case credentials means 'background.'  A person's credentials might include where he/she went to school, any licenses etc.


Why do you think Russia helped Snowden escape?

On the one hand, Snowden broke the law.  On the other hand, some claim he provided necessary information to the American people.  What do you think?

Do you think that Ed Snowden is a scapegoat?  If so, who was at fault for these secrets getting out?  Are you happy these secrets did leak out (since now the spying by the government can be stopped)?
If you like art, you might like my new blog about artists who show their work in New York City:
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Yes, I'm also the guy who wrote the very funny ESL bookNew York City Sucks, But You'll Wanna Live Here Anyway.

If this page is useful to you, please buy the book (it's quite inexpensive and useful!!!!). If you don't have an e-reader, drop me a line at and I'll send you a free copy via Word file. Let me know whether you have Word 2010 or an earlier version.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Police attack protesters in Brasil

It seems as if little things always spark (start) large protests.  I guess the second lesson we can learn from Brasil (and Turkey) is that the police always make the situation worse by attacking and beating people.

In Brasil the government decided to raise bus fares and this lead to demonstrations.  The police then attacked protesters in the demonstrations and this has escalated (increased) the violence and resentment (anger).  In the photo below a woman has written: "We seek quality education, healthcare and transportation."

In this article The Economist seems puzzled (confused) about why the people of Brasil are protesting.  The Economist seems to think it is because the attention of the world is directed toward Brasil because of the upcoming Olympics and World Cup competitions. I disagree.  I think they are just fed up (to be fed up with something means you will not allow something wrong any more because you have suffered from it for too long) with a corrupt government and poor services for high taxes.

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

a demonstration/ a protest - when a group in a society becomes so dissatisfied with a government policy that they go into public spaces to express their anger.

a bus fare - the amount to be paid to ride a bus.  There are many poor people in Brasil and so bus fares are a central issue to people's lives there.

taking to the streets - this is an idiom: the people are taking to the streets!  This means they are protesting.

bubbling - if anger is bubbling it is rising or showing itself as bubbles show themselves when you are heating water.

corruption - this means the government is dishonest, does not help people and that politicians work to gain power and make money for themselves and do not help the people.

to boil over - like water boiling over a pot after it is heated too long.  The hot water begins to spill over the edge of the pot.

stunning - shocking

impeachment - when a corrupt president is forced out of office

dismissed - in this case: ignored

paulistanos - people born in Sao Paulo

universal free bus service - free bus service for everyone.

a mayor - the leader of a city.

commuters were unimpressed - regular bus riders were made angrier when the protests made their bus rides longer and more difficult.

vandalism by the hardcore - vandalism is when public property is destroyed or damaged.  A 'hardcore' group committed the vandalism - a group that was especially angry and violent.

a crackdown - when the government uses force to stop something it doesn't like

ill-trained, brutal police - badly trained and very severe

a rout - this is when one side easily defeats or beats the other side.

name tags removed - they didn't want the protesters to know who they were

stun grenades and rubber bullets - stun grenades explode and 'stun' people - make people feel disoriented, or unable to move quickly.  Rubber bullets are not metal bullets but can still kill people.

a bystander - someone just standing around.

to hunt stragglers - to go after people who are wandering around after participating in the protests.

mayhem - chaos, disorder

a markedly different tone - showed a different attitude

a splinter group - a smaller group that breaks away from a larger group and begins working on its own

looted - broken into so that stuff can be stolen.  Looting often occurs during protests.

A new poll finds many Americans view Obama as 'incompetent' and a 'liar.'

There is a research organization that recently published the findings of an interesting 'poll.'  A poll is when an organization calls up many people to ask for their opinion on a topic.

The Pew Research Center called hundreds of American citizens and asked them to describe President Obama in one word (using one word).  Pew reported that a majority of callers referred to Obama as either 'incompetent' or 'a liar.'

At this time, based on other polls, it seems that the percentage of Americans who approve of Obama as a president is under 50%.  If the Republican Party had been able to provide a better candidate than Mitt Romney, Obama might have lost the last election.

The following article is taken from a very conservative website (since conservatives are very happy to hear this type of news).  

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

incompetent - not capable of doing a job well; if someone is competent at a job, he can handle it or do it satisfactorily - incompetent is the opposite.

conservative - the opposite of liberal.  In America a conservative tends to be pro-business (in favor of business).  Liberals tend to want to regulate business and generate money from higher taxes while conservatives seem to prefer lower taxes and fewer regulations on business.  There are many differences between conservative and liberal values.  The Republican Party is a conservative party while The Democratic Party is a more liberal party. 

an impression - in this case an impression means the way a person feels about something.

knocking down the perception - eliminating a perception; getting rid of a perception.  Actually this conservative writer feels that Obama has not been able to get rid of the belief among some people that he is a socialist, but there are many people in America who stupidly believe that Obama is a socialist and this percentage of stupid people has not become any smarter.

civil liberties - the rights and freedoms in America that allow people to live their lives as they choose.

Independents - those who do not consider themselves to be Democrats or Republicans. 

Obama's legacy - how people will view Obama in the future.

holding relatively steady - not changing.

the poll queried - the poll asked.
Discussion/Writing:  Has your view of Obama changed over the past 6 years?  Has he done anything that has made you very happy?  Has he done anything which has upset you?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The US government files charges against Snowden and asks Hong Kong to arrest him

Here is a follow-up on the last story I posted concerning Ed Snowden.

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to file charges - the verb 'file' is often used in regard to legal matters.  A person can 'file' a law suit if he/she wants to sue someone.  To sue someone means to bring a person to court in order to obtain money from that person.  The state can file criminal charges against a person.  To 'file' these charges means the accusations against a person are now official and the person must appear in court.  So basically 'charges' means the claim that a person has committed a crime.

espionage - spying; obtaining secret information and providing it to those who are not supposed to have it.

a leaker - someone who reveals secret information.  If you have a cup and it leaks, water comes out when it is not supposed to.

prosecutors - these are lawyers for the state who try to prove that people accused of crimes are guilty.

a sealed criminal complaint - this means that the people cannot read the complaint; it is a secret complaint.  a 'complaint' is the list of things a person supposedly did which supposedly broke the law.

classified - secret.  Classified information is only supposed to be seen by certain people in government.

an unauthorized person - someone who wasn't supposed to see classified information.

to detain - to stop a person from leaving; to keep a person in custody

provisional - it can be changed later

an arrest warrant - an official document that gives the police the right and ability to take a person into custody (to detain him).

a contractor for the NSA - he worked for a company which worked for the government.

a three-count complaint - supposedly he committed three crimes.

willful communication - he deliberately communicated secrets - he didn't accidentally co0mmunicate secrets.

to be outspoken - to have a strong opinion and to express it forcefully.

treason, treasonous - to do something to harm your country.

take him into custody - this is when the police arrest a person and take him to the police station.

to extradite him - to force him to leave Hong Kong and to come back to the United States to face justice.

disclosures - stuff he revealed, stuff he told the newspapers about.

to ignite - to start something.  When you start a fire you ignite a fire.

to disrupt - to mess up; to stop something from happening.

If you like this blog and are benefitting from it, please consider buying my e-book on amazon.  It's a lot of fun and has really good vocabulary words and reading passages in it.  You'll also learn a lot about New York City and America through this book:

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What will happen to Ed Snowden?

Is Ed Snowden a hero or a villain?  Good guy or bad guy?

He released information to newspapers that the US government was 'spying' on people in the USA.  President Obama has denied that US citizens are being monitored, but it looks as if the US government has been secretly gathering information from telephone records and the internet.

This is just one of several recent scandals that the Obama administration has had. 

The US government would now like to arrest Snowden and throw him in jail.  Russia has suggested they might offer him political asylum and Iceland is also considering this.

What do you think?  Should Snowden be protected from the US government?

The article (there are three pages to this article after you click on it):

Vocabulary to help you understand the article: 

a villain - a bad guy. (pronounced: VIL in)

to spy on - to secretly watch someone is to spy on him/her.

to deny - to say that something didn't happen.

to be monitored - to be watched or to have one's actions followed.

a scandal - a situation in which a famous or powerful person gets into trouble.

to arrest - when the police capture or take a person into custody.

political asylum - when one country gives a safe place to live to a person who is being threatened by his/her own government.

to hang in the balance - to be uncertain.  If something is hanging, it could remain hanging or it could fall.

the fate of - the fate of a person is what ultimately or finally will happen to a person.  Fate usually has a bad connotation or meaning.  Destiny usually has a good connotation or meaning.

a contractor - someone who works for a company that signs a contract to do a job for the government.

a whistle-blower - someone who reports something that is wrong.

an intermediary - a third person who represents Snowden.  He is intermediate between Snowden and other people.

to extradite someone - this is when a person who is hiding in another country is forced to go back to his own country to face justice.

concrete ways to get into the country - real, actual ways.

to disclose - to reveal, to show, to tell.

a bid - an attempt.

an intelligence leak - this is when secret information gets out into the public - like a liquid leaking from something.

to be cornered - to be stuck in one place; to be stuck in a corner.  To be unable to move.

subsequent -  following.

to amplify - to make something bigger.  Rock musicians use amplifiers to make the sound of their music louder.

repercussions - consequences.  Results - usually negative results.

intruded on the rights of citizens - to intrude is to go somewhere where you are not supposed to go.  The government should have allowed people to have their privacy, but intruded into their privacy.

classified materials - secret material.

surveillance programs - programs to watch what people do.

a threat - a situation which can cause harm to someone.


Would you have done what Snowden did?  He learned that the government was doing something wrong and he reported it.  Wasn't that the right thing to do?

Should the government of the USA just leave Snowden alone?  Will your opinion of Obama change if he has this person arrested because the person did what he thought was right?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Head of The Chicago Teachers Union Blames "Rich White People" for Poor Educational Policies

Chicago is one of the most corrupt cities in America.   Many Chicago politicians are completely dishonest.  Indeed, Chicago is in the State of Illinois, and 4 out of the last 7 governors (leaders of the state) have been thrown in jail.

The city is also one of the most racially segregated cities in the country.  This means that black people and white people live apart from each other.

Chicago is so corrupt because there is a "Democratic machine" that controls the city.  This is called "machine politics."  It means that there is only one political party in the city (there are no Republicans in Chicago) so if you want to gain power or do anything in the city, you have to do business with a very strong political organization.  If you want to gain power, you start at the bottom of the organization, do favors for people, and work your way up. When you gain power, people do favors for you and, of course, you make lots of money for yourself and your friends and family.

As a result of the political corruption, Chicago's public schools are a joke.  They are a bad joke.  They are a disgrace to a civilized society.  Students do very poorly in the Chicago Public School System.  Of course, the public school system has, primarily, black and Latino children.  So there are often claims that the corrupt politicians who run Chicago just don't care about children of color.

That's probably true.  Yet, there's probably another reason as to why the schools suck so badly.  In 1966 a sociologist named James Coleman wrote a report called The Coleman Report on Equality of Educational Opportunity in the USA.

Basically the Coleman Report stated that children who live in poor and violent neighborhoods will perform badly in schools - even if the schools are wonderful, modern schools with excellent teachers.

The emphasis in America has always been to provide excellent schools - but Coleman showed that if you want children to be able to learn, you have to make sure they have safe living environments and enough financial resources to live relatively well so they can have some hope and focus on their studies.

Many educational experts would argue that the black and Latino students who do poorly in Chicago's schools do so because they live in poverty and in dangerous neighborhoods.  Yet the US government continually blames 'bad' teachers or 'bad schools."

Now we have a person in Chicago who is blaming someone else: rich white people.  Her argument is in this article. Actually, she does mention poverty and racism in her attack against rich white people, but I am not sure I understand her argument about the Chicago Cubs baseball team (probably the worst baseball team to ever play baseball in the world).

The article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

corrupt - dishonest, not following the law, willing to do unethical things for one's own profit.

a politician - someone elected to a government office.

a union - an organization that represents a group of workers.  Unions usually negotiate contracts for their workers.

a chief - the boss or the head of the union.

to fault s/o or s/t - to criticize someone; to blame someone or something.

a mess - a difficult problem, a situation that looks very difficult to fix.

scathing - scathing criticism is a very sharp or angry type of criticism.

to charge - to make a claim or to accuse or to make an argument.

immense financial crisis - a huge financial crisis.

upscale - very nice, rich, wealthy, expensive

boss - a supervisor

urged - encouraged

a blueprint - a basic plan for something.

the status quo - a normal situation; the way things have been; usually the status quo means the way things have been for too long - now it is time for a change.

well-resourced public and private institutions - rich people tend to send their children to good schools while poor children are not getting an education.

to hinder - to stop or to slow down something

to inveigh - to verbally attack

stage props - basically she's saying the children are being treated like objects in a theater or like things to be used to create a story.

fire, layoff or lockup - to fire someone from a job means to force the person to leave his/her job; to lay someone off means that your company isn't making enough money and has to ask some workers to leave; to lock a person up is to throw the person in jail.

subsidies and loopholes - she's saying that rich people get various benefits from the government.  A subsidy is money from the government and a loophole is some problem in the law which allows a person to avoid paying taxes.

progressive taxation - taxation based on how much money a person makes.  Poor people would pay little while rich people would pay a lot.

a deficit - a debt.

The Second City - this is a term for the City of Chicago.  It has always been considered second in importance to New York City.

self-professed - she is calling herself something.

dismantled - taken apart.

to emulate - to imitate, to try to act as another acts.

underutilized - not used as much as it can be used.

a franchise - in this case a franchise means a business.

to implore - to beg for, to ask for.

The Chicago Cubs - basically she is saying that the Chicago Cubs baseball team is a terrible team, just as the Chicago Public School System is a terrible school system.  Yet, the people of Chicago are willing to support the team, but not the school system.  This is, honestly, a ridiculous argument.

Discussion/writing:  What do you think of her argument?  Based on what you read, are wealthy white people to blame for Chicago's terrible schools? 

Do you feel her criticism was justified?
Here is the last governor of Illinois (Rod Blagojevich of Chicago) to be thrown in jail. We see him with his ex-friend Barack Obama.