Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Brasilian police and military invade a slum area in Rio

A slum area is an area of extreme poverty.  The people who live there have little money and the living situation is difficult and often violent. There are lots of these areas in Brasil and many illegal drug organizations operate out of these areas.  

Because Brasil was chosen to host the World Cup soccer tournament, the police and military have been invading (sending the military into these areas) these areas to try to clean them up by removing the criminals.

It is a shame that it took a World Cup for the Brasilian government to finally care about eliminating crime in its poorest neighborhoods.  Maybe if we give them another World Cup they'll actually try to do something to help the massive (huge) numbers of extremely poor people who live there. After the World Cup I am sure the Brasilian government will stop caring about these areas and the criminals will flood back in (move back in, in huge numbers).

Here is an article about the latest attack:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

a slum - another term can be 'ghetto' - an area where very very poor people live. Usually the conditions are terrible and there is a lot of violence.

Marines - members of the military who can fight on land and on sea; usually the Marines are the toughest or strongest of the soldiers who fight

massive complex - a huge or large area of many buildings

a security push - an aggressive action to make sure there is safety

shanty towns - very very poor towns of cheap and poorly made buildings - Brasil is filled with them

patrolling - soldiers will be walking around this area to make sure it is safe

virtually treeless - it means that basically there are no trees in this neighborhood

hugs the main road - it's right next to the main road; to hug someone is to place your arms around the person

permanent posts - places where the police and military will remain forever

pacification program - a program to make an area peaceful

to secure Rio ahead of not the World Cup - the author meant: to secure Rio ahead of not only the World Cup but also the 2016 Summer Olympics. 

installed - put into place

a critical time - the most important time

brazenly - openly, showing no concern or worries

stymie - to stymie something is to stop something or slow something down

with each area policy occupy - the writer meant: with each area the police occupy 

shuffled down a street - walked slowly, dragging her feet as if tired or old

the arc of the program - the length of time this program has been happening

shootouts - when people shoot guns at each other

heavy-handed police tactics - the police have been too strict, too forceful

presumed death - everyone is guessing that this poor guy died after being tortured by the police so they could get information

caches - collections, a bunch of stuff

strong social programs - so the residents seem to be happy the criminals are being arrested and removed, but their lives are not being improved by the government. The government just wants safety for the World Cup and not the welfare of its citizens.

retribution - revenge; being hurt because she said something the gangs don't like

Say a prayer for the poor in Brasil...there's more of a chance God will help them than the government.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What's your theory about the Malaysian airplane?

It seems as if they have finally determined that the missing Malaysian airliner crashed into the Indian Ocean.

But they still don't know why this happened.

Do you have a theory?  (Basically, in this case 'theory' would mean a 'guess.')

Here's one of my theories.  The pilot seemed to belong to a political party in Malaysia that has been fighting against the dominant (more powerful) political party.  The leader of the pilot's political party was thrown in jail one day before the plane disappeared.  Maybe the pilot deliberately (not accidentally) flew the airplane to a remote area intending to commit suicide.  He might have wanted to call attention to the injustice of his party's leader being thrown in jail.

Or, another theory is that something went terribly wrong and the pilot did not know where he was flying.  He just kept flying in the dark until the plane ran out of gas.

But who knows!?

Here is an article about the discovery of where the plane crashed:,0,1632728.story

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

PM - Prime Minister, basically the leader of Malaysia

satellite analysis - did you know the first satellite was launched by Russia in October 1957?  It was called Sputnik.  A satellite orbits (goes around) the earth obtaining and sending data.  Analysis means a really precise look at what is happening; often analysis means that you break something down into smaller components to get a better idea of something.

remote - far away from everything

a mounting number - an increasing number

en route to - on their way to

to vanish - to disappear

no clue - a clue is a bit of evidence that might solve a mystery

bearing fruit - providing positive results

hijacking - taking control of an airplane away from the pilot

sabotage - deliberately destroying something

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Putin and Obama

You probably know about what's happening in Ukraine.

{{A protest is when a group of people gather publicly to express disapproval of something. Those who protest are 'protesters.'}}

From the start of the protests in Kiev, I believed that the protesters needed to show greater restraint (greater control over their actions).  Elections were less than a year away and it would have been possible for the people of Ukraine to remove their president peacefully. Instead, over 100 people died, including about 25 police officers, and there is chaos in the country. (Chaos - pronounced KAY ahs - disorder).

The country of Ukraine has lost the Crimea area for ever, the Ukrainian economy is in a huge mess (it is completely disorderly) and the United States people are unwilling to send too much funding to this country. Furthermore, about half of the people in the USA seem to believe that Russia deserves the Crimean area.

More than half of the USA also believes that President Obama is no match for Vladimir Putin (Obama cannot compete effectively with Putin). People in the USA think Putin is able to out-think and out-plan Obama in every situation.

Here is an article about Putin and Obama (it has excellent idioms):

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to screw with - to play around with, to bother, to humiliate; if you are screwing with a person you have no respect for that person and you are treating them badly or disrespectfully

at every turn - whenever something happens, in every instance

a last ditch effort - one final last effort to try to resolve something against all hope: a final desperate effort

a full court press - this is a basketball term for when one team puts a lot of pressure on another team to try to win a game

to cut a deal - to make a deal, to establish an agreement

the illusion of diplomacy - he was pretending to be interested in being diplomatic and resolving a situation, but he was really not

played into the hands of - if someone plays into the hands of someone else, that person does something the other person wants him to do or if you play into someone's hands, you make it easier for the other person to take advantage of you

to respond on the fly - responding without planning, without preparing

to calibrate a strategy - to create a specific strategy that works well; the problem is that Obama needs Putin's help but also disagrees with much of what Putin does; at times Obama needs to criticize Putin but cannot make Putin so upset that he cannot work effectively with him

leverage - power

confrontation - a confrontation is a type of conflict; if you confront someone you directly tell the person you find his/her behavior to be wrong and this usually leads to a troubling relationship

an ally - friend

a myth - a false story

to blend - to mix elements together into one thing

a thorny issue - a difficult to resolve issue; you find thorns on roses...they can prick your skin because they are sharp

recalibrate - reformulate, to fix again

to deter some from doing something - to scare someone from doing something; the reason people are punished is to deter others from doing the same thing

imposing punitive measures - placing a punishment onto Russia; punishing Russia

a sanction - an economic punishment

crony bank - a fake bank, a bank that serves someone in kind of an illegal way

bluffing - to pretend to have the intention of doing something without intending to do it

contingency plan - a plan of action in response to something that might happen

in defiance of - a defiant person refuses to do what he is ordered to do

to deteriorate - to get worse

to play out - to happen

to call the shots - to determine what will happen  

surgically strike - precisely strike

off-handed - casual, not practiced or rehearsed

into oblivion - into nothing

crucial - essential

ousted - if someone is ousted he has been forced out of office

Russian reset - Obama promised he would treat Russia differently from how previous presidents had treated Russia

intertwined - mixed together

Saturday, March 8, 2014

There will be a new version of the SAT in 2016 (an easier version for the 'internet' generation and to ensure diversity)

The big news recently, in regard to the field of education in the USA, concerns the SAT test. This has been a test that high school students take either in their junior (3rd) or senior (4th) year.  The results of the test are submitted along with other materials to gain admission to a college or university.  

If you want to enroll as an undergraduate at a US college or university, you usually need to submit your high school grades, your SAT or ACT (another type of test) scores and three letters of recommendation by teachers.  The college or university will also ask that an application be filled out and they will look at the extracurricular activities in which a student has engaged (what the student did after school - volunteer work, real work, school activities etc.)

The company which makes the SAT test is dramatically changing the test.  Basically, they are going to make the test easier - much easier.  They are not saying that they are going to make the test easier, however. They are saying they are trying to make the test a better measurement of how well students have learned material in high school.

So why are they really changing the test?  In essence, there are a few reasons.

First, there is a rival testing company (another testing company that competes with the SAT company) that produces a test called the ACT.  The ACT is an easier test that high school students can take and more high school students are now taking the ACT than the SAT. 

Secondly, average SAT scores have been dropping during the 'internet' era.  Last year the average SAT scores were among the lowest in the history of the exam. Students in US high schools do not do 'real' research any more. They do not read as much as they used to, cannot write well and have very limited vocabulary sets. Therefore, frankly, current American students seem to be 'more stupid' than American students in the past.

Third, the gap between the scores of, on the one hand, white and Asian students and, on the other hand, black and Latino students has been increasing.  For many years the SAT test has been called a 'racist' test - a test that white and Asian students can do well on but black and Latino students cannot do well on.  If something is 'racist' it favors one or more races over others.  

Fourth, colleges and universities do not seem to value the SAT as much as they used to. Indeed, colleges and universities would like to have 'diverse' student bodies (a population of students).  But black and Latino students do so poorly on the SAT compared to white and Asian students that, if the SAT is used to choose students, very few black and Latino students will be accepted.   So the best option to ensure diversity is to get rid of the SAT or to make it super simple.

Here's an article about the upcoming changes to the SAT.

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

prep tests - preparation tests or practice tests

sweeping changes - dramatic changes, big changes - if your floor is dirty you sweep your floor with a broom to make it sweeping changes are like changes that clean out something so something completely new can begin

standardized tests - a test which is 'standard' or the same for everyone who takes it

tricks - a magician does magic tricks...when he does a trick he makes something happen but you can't see the real cause.  So this person is saying that students do not even know how their tests are being graded because some tricks are being used

evidence based - they will provide some material to read (evidence) and the student will read the material and then answer questions based on what he/she has read.  In NY State this is done on various exams students have to take in order to graduate from high school.  These tests are ridiculously easy.

retooled - redesigned

filling a bubble - taking one's pencil and making an open area darker

justifying an answer - explaining why they chose an answer

penalized - punished; apparently if you choose a wrong answer you lose more points than if you leave an answer blank

income eligible students - poor students (will be able to take the test for free)

altered - changed

obstructing them - stopping them

detached from - separate from (basically the SAT company is lying - they need to make an easier test for a bunch of social reasons but they are claiming they are making a better test, not an easier test)

academic rigor - academic difficulty

seductively simple - if something is seductive, it tempts seems very appealing to you.  So these test scores were seductively simple because they looked like an easy way to tell which students deserved admission and which didn't.

intrigued - very interested in

skeptical - not believing in something easily

angst - anxiety, stress, nervousness

obscure words - rarely used words

foster - encourage

the prompt - the part the student has to start from or write about

to gear up - to prepare

more transparent - less mysterious, more understandable

to breathe a sign of relief - this is when a person has been scared but then realizes he/she does not have to be scared any more and the person breathes out heavily to show relief or a new sense of peacefulness

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A tragedy in China - over 30 killed by terrorists in Kunming

(photo from

The Uighur or Uyghur people are an ancient people.  They speak a language similar to Turkish and appear to look "European." They are also Muslim. A majority of the Uighur people, however, currently live in China. Apparently the Uighur people would like to have their political independence - a country of their own.

Therefore, 10 Uighur terrorists, dressed in black, attacked a crowded train station in China in order to show their anger.

Here is an article about this terrible tragedy. (A tragedy is a horrible situation that results in death.)

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

terror - a feeling of extreme or deep fear; therefore a terrorist is someone who takes action to cause fear among groups of people

knife-wielding - to wield a knife or sword means to swing a knife or sword from side to side violently to kill one or more people; the term can also be used 'figuratively', for instance, a president wields power (exercises or uses power). i.e. The president of the US does not wield as much power as many people think. The powers of the president are limited by the Constitution.

an assailant - an attacker, someone who takes aggressive action to harm others

injured - wounded, harmed but still alive

to stab and to slash - to stab is to thrust a knife into another's body, to push it in; to slash is to cut sideways to cut the flesh open

stormed through - forced their way through aggressively, violently

ethnic separatists - there is a difference between ethnicity and race.  If you are Chinese, your race is Asian, your ethnicity is Chinese.  So the Uighur people belong to their own ethnic group.  They are also separatists - they wish to live separately of the Chinese people.

captured - caught

at random - they did not act deliberately or choose whom they were going to kill.  They just attacked people who were available.

exerted - used

resolutely crack down on - strongly punish

swollen with arrogance - they feel 'big' because they think they can act against the law - they are arrogant, they think they are above the law, overly proud

rounding up members - gathering people

confirmed - verified, proved

municipal - city

freaking out - slang for panicking, losing one's sense of calm and feeling very anxious and scared

to take refuge - to get to a safe place

chopping - swinging down with the knife to cut into people

motives - what causes a person or people to act

crack down the crimes - should be: crack down on the crimes

in accordance to the law - following the law

no tolerance - no forgiveness or mercy will be shown

simmering - when you heat water, it begins to simmer before it boils; so if something is simmering, it is ready to boil or become worse

heavy-handed security - very forceful actions to prevent protests or trouble

clashes - fights

unrest - violence

mob - a violent group of people

a vigilante - someone who takes action to punish someone he/she thinks is a criminal, instead of trusting the police to do it