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Really, It’s OK to Pinch Mums

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

People have been growing chrysanthemums for more than two thousand years. Mums make bright and colorful gardens. People in China and other Asian cultures make tea with the flowers. Giacomo Puccini, the great Italian composer, even named one of his works after chrysanthemums, “Crisantemi.”

(MUSIC: Manhattan String Quartet)

One basic kind of mum is the hardy or garden mum. The other basic kind is the florist mum. The garden mum is better able to handle different growing conditions.

There are many varieties of mums. The decorative mum is often seen in gardens. Another popular type, the quill mum, has long, straight petals like a tube or needle.

Chrysanthemum blooms can be white, yellow, gold, red or other colors. The plants often grow one meter high.

The soil for chrysanthemums should be kept moist but well drained so it does not get too wet.

Newly planted mums should be watered two or three times a week, depending on conditions. Plants established in the ground may do well just with normal rainfall.

Mums grow best in full sunshine. They produce colorful blooms when days get shorter and nights get longer. The life cycle of the plant depends on the amount of daylight. This is why experts advise against placing mums near nightlights or streetlights. The light may interfere with their normal growth cycle. The plants may develop buds too soon.

In climates where temperatures fall below freezing, plant mums at least six weeks before the first frost is expected. That way, the plants will be well established for cold weather.

Placing mulch around the plants can protect them from the cold. Consider using straw or shredded leaves for the mulch. The material will also add nutrients to the soil.

Some gardeners say the most beautiful presentation comes from planting mums close together. But be sure to leave enough space to let air flow between the plants. If not, there may be a greater chance of disease.

To get more blooms, gardeners pinch back the branches when new growth has reached fifteen centimeters. Squeeze about five to seven centimeters off each branch. Pinch it again when a branch grows another twelve to fifteen centimeters. Stop the pinching about one hundred days before you want the plants to bloom.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. I’m Jim Tedder.

By |February 9th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Facebook and Its Big Stock Offering

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This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Investors soon will be able to own shares of Facebook stock. The world’s biggest social media network presented documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday. The documents are required before the company can make its initial public offering, or IPO. A date for the stock sale has yet to be announced.

Experts say Facebook could raise about five billion dollars. That would be one of the biggest IPO sales ever. And it would be much bigger than Google’s first public stock sale in two thousand four. At that time, the Internet search company raised almost two billion dollars.

Facebook has eight hundred million users around the world. It is the second most visited website after Google. Now, experts say the social media network is in a position to become one of the most valuable Internet companies.

Stock expert Anupam Palit at Greencrest Capital says that among social media sites, Facebook is in a class by itself.

ANUPAM PALIT: “It is the biggest company in this space and we believe what makes it very unique from every other company that went public last year in this space is that it is very, very profitable.”

Early estimates place the total value of the social network between seventy-five and one hundred billion dollars. That includes earlier investments by other companies. David Kirkpatrick wrote the book “The Facebook Effect.” He says Facebook’s IPO will be historic.

DAVID KIRKPATRICK: “Will Facebook’s IPO be the biggest IPO in American history, probably not, but it will certainly be by far the biggest Internet or technology IPO we’ve ever seen.”

The stock sale also could make Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg one of the world’s youngest billionaires. He is only twenty-seven.

Investment companies are likely to buy Facebook stock first. But investment manager Jim O’Shaugnessy says that is not so bad. He says the price of some IPO stocks are too high and fall not long after they first go on sale.

JIM O’SHAUGHNESSY: “Many IPO’s come out being very, very overvalued because they get so hyped up and investors are so taken in by the story that they’re willing to pay any amount just to be able to get into the stock. That generally translates to being very overvalued. So we generally tell investors that they should wait, probably a good full year before they look at buying stock that was recently IPO’d.”

Recently, share prices of some Internet businesses have fallen after their stock was first offered. For example, stock of LinkedIn, Groupon and Zynga, dropped in price by as much as twenty-five percent after going public.

There were similar questions eight years ago when Google first sold stock to the public. Today, Google is one of the world’s most valuable technology companies.

And that’s the VOA Special English Economics Report. Visit us at voaspecialenglish.com. And find teaching and learning activities in The Classroom at VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter.

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Contributing: Mil Arcega

By |February 5th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Book Cooks Up Recipe for Innovation

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Correction attached

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. This week on our program, we hear from the author of a book about the makings of innovation. Then, we learn how a Native American is bringing back the art and culture of his tribe from Alaska. And later we tell you about an American naturalist and the results of his work in Africa.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Simply put, innovation is doing something new that works. Steven Johnson has written a new book called “The Innovator’s Cookbook.” Mr. Johnson says all progress depends on innovation and creativity.

STEVEN JOHNSON: “There is no kind of occupation that can’t be improved with innovative thinking.”

Are there secrets to innovation? Mr. Johnson talked to a group of innovative people. They included businesspeople, software designers, artists and musicians. Among them was composer Brian Eno.

STEVEN JOHNSON: “One of the great things that he does is that when he sits down in the studio to start working on an album, he often has the band switch up their instruments.”

So think of the drummer playing guitar and the keyboardist playing violin. How does it sound? Pretty bad at first, Mr. Eno admits. But he told Mr. Johnson that the process is liberating.

STEVEN JOHNSON: “They end up generating new sounds, new ways of playing together they wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. That’s a great metaphor for what you want to do in your own life. Go and try things that you haven’t tried before, and don’t worry about sounding bad because what may happen is you’re taken to some new place.”

STEVE EMBER: Being open to new things also helped IDO, a design and innovation company in California, to expand around the world. Mr. Johnson talked with IDO co-founder Tom Kelley for his book. Mr. Kelley described a weekly meeting, held every Monday morning, for the company’s top managers.

STEVEN JOHNSON: “That meeting, for twenty years, has started with show and tell. People are asked to present interesting things they stumbled across that weekend. Someone would say, ‘Hey, I went to see a movie with my kids last night’ or ‘You guys seen this new game my kids are playing?’ or ‘I went to an art gallery the other day and it’s really interesting.’ Tom said it ends up triggering all these new associations and there is something unpredictable about it that leads to new ideas for their actual business.”

Steven Johnson shares his interviews in “The Innovator’s Cookbook.” It also includes nine essays written by business researchers. These essays explore the conditions that can either allow creativity to grow, or kill it.

One of those essays is by Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book “The Progress Principle.”

TERESA AMABILE: “It is absolutely possible to kill creativity. In fact, it seems to be more common inside most workplaces for the work environment to undermine creativity, to kill it, rather than to stimulate it and keep it alive.”

In her essay, Professor Amabile offers guidelines for supporting innovation in the workplace.

TERESA AMABILE: “First of all, people need to feel that they have some degree of autonomy in what they are doing. They also need to feel personally involved in what they are doing, that they find it in some way interesting, satisfying, enjoyable and personally challenging. When people are in that mindset, they’re much more likely to come up with new and useful ideas. People also need to feel, across the organization, they have encouragement for coming up with new ideas.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Innovator’s Cookbook” author Steven Johnson says creative minds also need to work together, to collaborate.

STEVEN JOHNSON: “You think about Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founding that company. Very different people; a brilliant engineer and a brilliant visionary and salesman, two totally different kinds of minds, and they needed each other.”

True. But author Susan Cain wrote recently that “If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.” Ms. Cain, writing in the New York Times, noted Mr. Wozniak’s own words to would-be inventors: “I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone.”

Susan Cain has just published a book called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” She wrote in the Times: “Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

“But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

In other words, there can be too many cooks in the innovator’s kitchen.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: David Boxley is a member of the Tsimshian tribe. The tribe’s home state is Alaska. Mr. Boxley is a dancer, songwriter and wood carver. He is also an ambassador for Tsimshian culture and heritage.

DAVID BOXLEY: “We call it art now, but it was a way for people to say, this is how I am. This belongs to me, or this is my clan, this is my crest, this is my family history, carved and painted in wood.”

Mr. Boxley was raised by his grandparents. He says the influence of Christian missionaries was strong while he was young, so he learned little about his native culture.

David Boxley works at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington on one of the totem poles that he created with his son

VOA

David Boxley works at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington on one of the totem poles that he created with his sonAfter college, he went to work as a teacher. He also began to research Tsimshian wood carving in museums and other cultural collections. In nineteen eighty-six, he left teaching to spend his time on wood carving and bringing attention to Tsimshian art and culture.

DAVID BOXLEY: “I guess I came along at the right time. Our people really needed a shot in the arm. Our culture wasn’t very prominent after all that missionary influence, and years and years of not having anybody be in that kind of position to guide.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: That was almost thirty years ago. Since then Mr. Boxley has created seventy totem poles. Totem poles tell a story. Several months ago he began carving his most recent totem pole from a seven-meter-long piece of red cedar.

DAVID BOXLEY: “We don’t use sandpaper. We use the knives and the chisels to get it as smooth as possible. Get the lines clean.”

He worked on it at his home near Seattle, in the northwestern state of Washington. Then the totem pole was shipped by truck across the country to the other Washington. It will stand in the permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian.

DAVID BOXLEY: “The title is Eagle and the Young Chief.”

The totem pole tells the story of a young chief who rescued an eagle caught in a fishing net. Years later, when the chief’s village was starving, the eagle repaid the chief for his kindness.

DAVID BOXLEY: “A live salmon fell out of the sky, and he looked up and he saw the eagle flying away. And every day for days and days, the eagle brought salmon to feed the village.”

STEVE EMBER: David Boxley has other wood carvings in the permanent collection at the museum. His dance group of family and friends performed for a crowd on the day the totem pole was presented to the public.

(SOUND)

Mr. Boxley says a totem pole that he carved in honor of his grandfather is closest to his heart. But this new one, at the museum, is a close second.

DAVID BOXLEY: “This one is going to be seen by millions over the next hundred years. And it is not just me and my son; it is all of my people that are proud. My tribe.”

We have a video about David Boxley and his work at voaspecialenglish.com.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Mike Fay calls himself a “nature boy.” Mr. Fay is a naturalist and explorer. His work has been supported by organizations like National Geographic and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In nineteen ninety-nine, Mr. Fay began a fifteen-month project called the MegaTransect. He walked more than three thousand kilometers across the Congo basin to study plants and wildlife. Mr. Fay and a team of Pygmy guides crossed the dense tropical forests of the Congo and Gabon.

MIKE FAY: “You know, we were [on] like an epic voyage out there. Every day you have to find food for thirteen people, you have to keep everyone healthy, you have to be the mother, the father, the coach, everybody, for all these guys.”

Mike Fay

Veronique LaCapra

Mike FayMr. Fay was gathering information about the plants and animals of the last untouched forests in west-central Africa. He says he wanted to bring international attention to the rich biology that was being threatened by the logging industry. But he admits that the local guides on his team did not really know what they were getting involved in.

At one point, they stopped at a small village. Mr. Fay warned his group not to drink the water because of the risk of disease.

MIKE FAY: “And sure enough, one of the Pygmies gets hepatitis like probably two or three weeks later. And the first reaction of those guys to something like that is to scarify them with razor blades and bleed them, you know, to get the bad blood out. And so here you’ve got this highly infectious guy, who all of a sudden everybody’s touching his blood, and I just had these nightmares of the whole crew getting hepatitis.”

He says it took about a week to carry the sick man to a river. Then they used a dugout canoe to transport him to safety.

STEVE EMBER: Mr. Fay documented his experiences on the MegaTransect. He used a satellite-based positioning system, digital cameras and a laptop computer. He and his guides cut through dense vegetation and crossed rivers and deep, muddy swamps. Along the way, they saw elephants, aardvarks, gorillas and other wildlife. They also saw roads and machinery that logging companies were using to remove trees.

MIKE FAY: “It was hard. But we didn’t lose a single person, and it was an expedition of a lifetime, for sure.”

The knowledge that came out of the trip, and the attention it received, helped lead Gabon to create thirteen national parks. These placed more than four million hectares of forest under protection.

Mr. Fay moved to Washington to write his findings after he finished the MegaTransect in two thousand. But he says he had a difficult time re-entering city life after sleeping outdoors in the forest for so long.

Mike Fay is now in his fifties. Since the MegaTransect he has completed other surveys of biodiversity. His latest trip was in two thousand seven. He hiked three thousand kilometers through California’s redwood forests. But wherever he is, he says, he still tries to avoid sleeping inside.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Our program was produced by Brianna Blake, with reporting by Faiza Elmasry, Jeff Swicord and Veronique LaCapra. I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. You can find texts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, along with English teaching activities, at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Correction: The caption below a picture of inventors Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz has been changed to remove an incorrect time reference. (The photo could not have been taken “during the Great Depression,” as Steinmetz died in 1923.)

By |February 1st, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

For Some, Religion is Part of the College Experience

FAITH LAPIDUS: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I’m Faith Lapidus. Today on our show, we play music from singer Lana Del Rey.

We also answer a question from Burma about the way Americans elect a president.

But, first we go to real college to hear how some students combine religion with their school life.

College Religious Life

FAITH LAPIDUS: Going to college is often a chance for young adults to explore ideas and beliefs different from those they grew up with. As they do, college students are finding new ways to express their beliefs. As we hear from Christopher Cruise, American clergy say many young people are remaining true to their religious faith.

(SOUND)

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: A traditional observance gives Indian students a chance to share their faith and culture with others. Many did that at this recent event, says Chandni Raja of the Hindu Student Organization at the University of Southern California.

CHANDNI RAJA: “Meeting other groups on campus and trying to get that dialogue going, while also maintaining our own communities as a strong place where people can come together.”

Varun Soni works as dean of religious life at the University of Southern California. He says many students keep religion on their own terms.

VARUN SONI: “They’re more interested, I find, in making religion work for them as opposed to working for it. So they interpret their religious and spiritual traditions in a way that makes sense for them.”

Scotty McLennan is dean for religious life at Stanford University in California. He is also seeing a new openness.

SCOTTY MCLENNAN: “I think the most exciting thing that’s happening is that students really are learning how to listen to each other across traditions, and they really are getting more interested in that kind of empathetic listening and presence to each other, hearing each others’ stories.”

Some students use religious traditions to support their beliefs. Others become less observant, but many want to share their faith and culture with others.

Omer Bajwa directs Muslim religious activities at Yale University in Connecticut. He advises Muslim students. He says they have many questions about the importance of faith.

OMER BAJWA: “In a time of increasing religiosity but also increasing secularism, where are the fault lines, and what are the tensions and what are the areas of conversation?  I think we find common questions coming across.”

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann is senior associate dean for religious life at Stanford University. She says discussions in the classroom and with students from different religious traditions can lead to questions in a student’s faith.

PATRICIA KARLIN-NEUMANN: “The question in my mind is whether that questioning leads to a falling off of commitment or a deepening of commitment. And my experience is that people who claim their religious traditions after having or in the process of being engaged with other people are far more inclined to see what they have as something precious.”

Tahera Ahmad is associate university chaplain at Northwestern University in Illinois. She says interfaith service projects and community discussions are bringing students together at schools all across the country.

TAHERA AHMAD: “What I’ve seen on college campuses is that the young students who are from various faith backgrounds are coming together and not necessarily leaving their faith at the door, but not also wearing their faith on their sleeve, so to say, but finding some kind of balance as to saying, ‘This is who I am. I am a Muslim, I am a Christian, I am a Jew. We’re all coming together towards making the world a better place.’”

These clergymen and women say college students are growing in their faith by meeting and learning from those of other religions.

Electoral College

FAITH LAPIDUS: Our question this week comes from Burma. Ko Maw Gyi wants to know about the Electoral College. This is the name of the system Americans use to elect a president.

The Electoral College is made up of representatives from all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Electors are appointed representatives who promise to vote as the people of the state guide them. Different states have different laws on the appointment of the electors. In some states, the names of the electors appear on the ballot, below the names of the candidates.

The number of electoral votes in each state equals the number of representatives and senators in Congress from that state. This depends on population. So, states with more people have more electoral votes. In all, there are five hundred thirty-eight electoral votes. To become president, a candidate must win a simple majority, at least two hundred seventy.


AP

What this means is that it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the popular vote in the country but lose the election. This has happened four times. The most recent was in two thousand, when George W. Bush was elected to his first term in office. Five hundred thousand more Americans voted for Vice President Al Gore for president. But Mister Bush received more electoral votes.

This is because forty-eight of the fifty states have a winner-take-all electoral votes policy. The candidate who wins the highest number of popular votes in a state receives all of that state’s electoral votes.

Critics of the Electoral College say it is undemocratic, difficult to understand and dangerous to the political system. Supporters say it helps to guarantee the rights of states with small populations. They say it also requires candidates to campaign in many states, not just those with large populations.

There have been hundreds of proposals in Congress to end or reform the Electoral College. But amending the Constitution is a difficult process.

Ko Maw Gyi in Burma also asked about American presidential debates. We will answer that question next week.

Lana Del Rey

FAITH LAPIDUS: Twenty-five year old singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey has an album set for release Tuesday. But, she already has been getting a lot of attention with the release of several singles and music videos. Shirley Griffith has more.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” was first released in June of last year. Her smoky, sexy sound and the somewhat strange song became popular on the World Wide Web. So did her video that went with it. The artist says she made it herself, using film and video clips she found on the Web. The video is an interesting, piece filled with images that bring old Hollywood and new love to mind.

Lana Del Rey

AP

Lana Del Rey

In October, “Video Games” was re-released as a single from her new album “Born to Die.” The album is supposed to come out on January thirty-first. However, it was leaked on the Internet Tuesday.

“Blue Jeans” is another single from the new recording.

(MUSIC)

Lana Del Rey was born Elizabeth Grant in New York City. She grew up in Lake Placid, New York, but returned to the city to begin her music career. She told a reporter she often performed in small Brooklyn music clubs on nights when anyone was permitted to get on stage.

We leave you with her performing the title song from her new album, “Born to Die.”

(MUSIC)

FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus. We’re thinking about starting a new feature on American Mosaic. It would offer advice to people who have a problem in a relationship. It could be a problem in a romantic relationship, or with a family member or a friend, or at school or work.
We would talk to experts for advice and gather opinions from users of our social media sites. We would give a brief summary of the problem but never identify you. We would give our answer online and on radio during our program AMERICAN MOSAIC.
To test this idea, we need your help. If you have a relationship problem write to us about it. Give us enough details to understand the situation. Make sure you tell us how old you are, whether you’re a man or a woman, and the country you live in.
Write to mosaic@voanews.com and type “Relationship” in the subject line.

This program was written by Christopher Cruise and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer. We had additional reporting from Mike O’Sullivan.

Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

By |January 30th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

IBM Thinks Minds Will Control Machines Within 5 Years

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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

Controlling a device with your mind. Powering your home with the energy of your own activities. These are two of the developments that experts at IBM think will become reality within the next five years.

The technology company has released its latest “5 in 5″ report. The experts think people will soon be able to control many electronic devices simply by using their minds. Scientists at IBM and other companies are researching ways to do this in a field of science known as bioinformatics.

They say people will soon have a way to just think about calling or e-mailing someone in order to make it happen. Bernie Meyerson is IBM’s vice president of innovation.

BERNIE MEYERSON: “[It’s a] simple ability to command a system to do something for you without actually doing or saying anything, literally thinking and having something happen as a result that’s accurate. Something with really deep capability so that a person, for instance, a quadriplegic, a paraplegic can actually utilize brainwaves to make things happen and basically run their own lives independently.”

Another prediction is a way for people to power their homes and offices using energy from activities like walking or running. Bernie Meyerson says this is known as micro-electronic generation.

BERNIE MEYERSON: “For instance, you can have somebody in the third world who has access to a phone or a smartphone but doesn’t have access to the power grid, which is a very common thing, and literally in a shoe has something that recovers energy from walking and can charge the battery to enable that person to actually become connected with the rest of the world.”

Another prediction: passwords could soon become a thing of the past. IBM says developments in biometric technology could soon make passwords unnecessary. Some of the most common biometrics used to identify people are fingerprints, face and voice recognition, and iris scans. The iris is the colored part of the eye.

Bernie Meyerson says this technology will soon be more widely used by money machines and other devices.

BERNIE MEYERSON: “Imagine that things recognize you. You walk up to an ATM [automated teller machine]. [It] takes one look, says, Yep, you’re you.”

Another prediction from the experts at International Business Machines: better technology to prevent unwanted e-mail.

BERNIE MEYERSON: “The device, as you act upon it, as you eliminate mail, you don’t read it, you just look at it and kill it, after a while it learns your habits and works for you as as your assistant by eliminating stuff you never wanted anyway.”

The fifth prediction on IBM’s 5 in 5 list is an end to the “digital divide” between those who have technology and those who do not.

BERNIE MEYERSON: “Think about the digital divide today: the haves and the have-nots, people who are and are not connected. We anticipate within five years, better than eighty percent  coverage of the world’s populations by cellular to smartphones. At that point, imagine having, for instance, the ability to speak openly with anybody anywhere, anytime and any language — real time translation. Literally, the old ‘Star Trek’ idea of the universal translator coming to be, and how the world would change if there were that kind of communication and openness.”

And that’s the VOA Special English Technology Report. What are your predictions for the next five years? Share them at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.

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Contributing: Faisa Elmasry

By |January 26th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Websites Cut Service to Protest US Antipiracy Bills

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This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Some popular websites have protested two proposed United States laws aimed at fighting illegal copying of writing, movies and other intellectual property on the Internet.  Wednesday, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, blacked out its English language website for twenty-four hours.

Jay Walsh is head of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation which operates Wikipedia.

JAY WALSH:  “It is detrimental to the free and open web.  It is detrimental to Wikipedia.  And we want to make sure that we send a message.”

The blogging site Boing Boing and Social news website Reddit also went black.

Erik Martin is General Manager of Reddit.

ERIK MARTIN:  “This is a really big deal and this is something we’re going to fight, and this is something we think threatens the entire tech sector.”

Both Wikipedia and Reddit urged users to contact their Congressional representative to oppose the law.  Even Internet search leader Google protested, although it continued to provide service.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act are known as SOPA and PIPA for short.  Supporters say they are a way to fight foreign websites that sell pirated copies of American movies and music.

Steven Tepp is a lawyer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  He says piracy of books, music, movies and other forms of intellectual property hurt the economy and threaten jobs.

STEVEN TEPP: “These rogue sites are hurting American jobs, stealing American jobs, they’re harming American consumers and they have no business being on the Internet.”

But many online businesses like blogs, news sites and search engines say the laws force them to become censors.

David Smith is with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.  He says the proposed laws would hurt Wikipedia and other sites that depend on material provided by people who use the sites.  He says websites would be required to police all the material they carry.

DAVID SMITH:  “It creates a legal situation in which a complainant can go before a judge and get an order, and it then makes the various Internet companies, the Internet service providers, responsible for what they’re carrying.  And, this is where the rub (problem) comes, because it basically turns the Internet service provider into a monitor.”

The House and Senate are expected to work on the bills in the coming weeks.  But after the online protests, some lawmakers have already said they have doubts about the bill.  Republican Senator Marco Rubio urged lawmakers to take more time to consider the concerns of both supporters and opponents of the bills.

Obama administration spokesman John Carney said the president opposes any law that hurts freedom of expression or security.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner admitted there is now a lack of agreement among lawmakers on the bills.

And that’s the VOA Special English Economics Report.  Get transcripts and mp3s of our reports at voaspecialenglish.com.  I’m Mario Ritter.

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Contributing: Alex Villarreal

By |January 22nd, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Words and Their Stories: The Cold, Hard Truth

Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

(MUSIC)

Cold weather has a great effect on how our minds and our bodies work. Maybe that is why there are so many expressions that use the word cold.

For centuries, the body’s blood has been linked closely with the emotions. People who show no human emotions or feelings, for example, are said to be cold-blooded. Cold-blooded people act in cruel ways. They may do brutal things to others, and not by accident.

For example, a newspaper says the police are searching for a cold-blooded killer. The killer murdered someone, not in self-defense, or because he was reacting to anger or fear. He seemed to kill for no reason, and with no emotion, as if taking someone’s life meant nothing.

Cold can affect other parts of the body. The feet, for example. Heavy socks can warm your feet, if your feet are really cold. But there is an expression — to get cold feet — that has nothing to do with cold or your feet.

The expression means being afraid to do something you had decided to do. For example, you agree to be president of an organization. But then you learn that all the other officers have resigned. All the work of the organization will be your responsibility. You are likely to get cold feet about being president when you understand the situation.

Cold can also affect your shoulder.

You give someone the cold shoulder when you refuse to speak to them. You treat them in a distant, cold way. The expression probably comes from the physical act of turning your back toward someone, instead of speaking to him face-to-face. You may give a cold shoulder to a friend who has not kept a promise he made to you. Or, to someone who has lied about you to others.

A cold fish is not a fish. It is a person. But it is a person who is unfriendly, unemotional and shows no love or warmth. A cold fish does not offer much of himself to anyone.

Someone who is a cold fish could be cold-hearted. Now a cold-hearted person is someone who has no sympathy. Several popular songs in recent years were about cold-hearted men or cold-hearted women who, without feeling, broke the hearts of their lovers.

Out in the cold is an expression often heard. It means not getting something that everybody else got. A person might say that everybody but him got a pay raise, that he was left out in the cold. And it is not a pleasant place to be.

(MUSIC)

This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I’m Shirley Griffith.

By |January 22nd, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

‘Super PACs’ and More: Politics, Money and Language

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STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I’m Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we talk about politics, money and language.

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STEVE EMBER: Two years ago this month, the United States Supreme Court decided a campaign finance case known as “Citizens United.”

The court said the government may continue to limit direct donations to political candidates by corporations and unions. However, the justices said the government may not limit spending on independent efforts to support or oppose candidates.

The court said these limits violate the Constitution’s right of free speech. The majority ruled that corporations have the same rights to free speech in political campaigns as individuals do. The vote was five to four.

The case resulted from a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission by a conservative group called Citizens United. The ruling has cleared the way for unrestricted donations to groups known as “super PACs,” or political action committees. These super PACs are supposed to work independently of campaigns, though some include former aides to the candidates they support.

From VOA News: USA 2012 — the Road to the White House

The effects of “Citizens United” can be seen in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Super PACs have been spending millions of dollars on television advertising. The Supreme Court found nothing wrong with requirements to identify who is paying for political ads. But, given the timing of reports, voters might not know who the donors were until after they vote in a primary.

Newt Gingrich is an example of a candidate who supported the “Citizens United” decision, them became a victim of it.

The next primary is this Saturday in South Carolina. Since nineteen eighty no Republican presidential candidate has won the nomination without winning South Carolina.

FEMALE VOICE: “Ever notice how some people make a lot of mistakes?”

NEWT GINGRICH: “It was probably a mistake.”

Mr. Gingrich became the target of attack ads before the recent Iowa caucuses. The former speaker of the House of Representatives had been leading in public opinion polls in that state. However, he finished fourth in the voting. Ads paid for by allies of Mitt Romney are widely seen as having played a big part.

New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a Democrat, says the situation is ironic.

CHARLES BARRON: “And it couldn’t have happened to a better person than Newt Gingrich [laughs], because this was a person who supported corporate elites having their way and contributing as much as they want to campaigns. Now it turned around to bite him.”

And now a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC aims to bite the Romney campaign with a half-hour film called “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.” The group, Winning Our Future, presents him as a “corporate raider” when he led Bain Capital, an investment company. It says he profited while people lost their jobs in the companies he bought and sold.

MITT ROMNEY: “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people.”

CROWD: [Laughter]

MITT ROMNEY: “Where do you think it goes?”

CROWD: “Into their pockets!”

MITT ROMNEY: “Whose pockets? Whose pockets?”

ANNOUNCER: “A story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street.”

STEVE EMBER: On Friday, Newt Gingrich said the film contained mistakes and he called on Winning Our Future to either remove them or not run the film.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The New York City Council has passed a resolution that calls for amending the United States Constitution. The proposed amendment would declare that corporations do not have the same rights as people. It would declare that money is not a constitutionally protected form of speech. Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, has passed a similar resolution. So have other cities including Albany, New York; Boulder, Colorado; and South Miami, Florida.

STEVE EMBER: Eric Ulrich is a Republican member of the New York City Council. He voted against the resolution targeting corporate political spending.

ERIC ULRICH: “Because it’s just as important, even if you don’t agree with it, as the influence labor organizations and other groups may have. You have to create an equal playing field and zeroing out one group simply because we don’t agree with them just to help another — that’s not fair, that’s not American.”

Some people think the solution is to have public financing of campaigns. Jonah Minkoff-Zern represents the group Public Citizen.

JONAH MINKOFF-ZERN: “Our voice and our vote doesn’t matter the same way that someone who has so many resources to devote to a campaign, whether it’s a wealthy individual or a mega-corporation.”

Last week, the Supreme Court made another ruling related to the issue of money and political influence. It dismissed an appeal seeking to expand the ability of foreigners to contribute to American political campaigns.

The justices upheld a federal court judgment in support of a ban on foreign contributions from all but immigrants who live permanently in the United States. A three-judge court ruled that Congress was acting within its powers when it banned most foreigners from donating to campaigns.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling by the three-judge panel without further comment.

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The United States has a long process for choosing candidates to run for president every four years.

The first voting of this election season took place on January third in Iowa at local political meetings known as caucuses. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, finished just eight votes ahead of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Iowa traditionally holds the first caucuses, while New Hampshire holds the first primary election. In primaries in other states, voters who are registered with a political party can only vote for candidates from that party. But in some states, including New Hampshire, people can vote in primaries even if they are not registered with a party.

Professor Candice Nelson at American University in Washington is an expert on elections.

CANDICE NELSON: “The purpose of the primary season is to enable candidates to introduce themselves to the voters, to let the voters get to know the candidates, to think about the candidates over the course of three or four months.”

STEVE EMBER: Many of the people who attend campaign rallies and other events do not just want to shake hands with a candidate. They want answers on issues. Phil Elliott is a political reporter with the Associated Press.

PHIL ELLIOTT: “They go to these events. They pack the coffee shops.  They wait for hours to meet the candidates and ask them very serious and substantive questions.”

The traditional period of three or four months when states hold primaries and caucuses has been shrinking in recent presidential elections. States have been setting earlier and earlier dates in hopes of gaining greater visibility and power in deciding a party’s nominee.

Some people think all fifty states should hold their primaries or caucuses on the same day — a so-called national primary.

Mark Rom is a political scientist at Georgetown University in Washington.

MARK ROM: “The main advantage of a national primary is that the voters, the votes from individuals across the nation, would count equally toward choosing the presidential candidates. That would be a good thing. The bad thing about a national primary is it would give special advantages to those who have raised the most money, and those who have the highest popularity when the race starts.”

During the primary season, people are choosing a candidate but really they are voting for delegates for that candidate. The idea is that the candidate with the most delegates becomes the party’s nominee. But the nominee is not officially chosen until the delegates gather for the party’s national convention.

The conventions takes place about two months before the general election in early November. The Republican National Convention will take place in the Tampa Bay area in Florida at the end of August. The Democratic National Convention is in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the first week of September.

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Twenty-eleven is over, but some of the words that came to define the past year of political protests around the world may live on. Grant Barrett is host of the public radio program “A Way with Words” and vice president of the American Dialect Society. That group chose “occupy” as its Word of the Year.

GRANT BARRETT: “And this was used in phrases like Occupy Wall Street or Occupy San Francisco, or frankly ‘occupy’ just about any place. And this was a word coined by an organization in Canada called Adbusters, which started a campaign last summer to get people in October to protest in the streets, to protest the unfair distribution of wealth and the unfair distribution of power, and ‘occupy’ really has had a lot of legs, as they say — a lot of life.”

Grant Barrett says it can work with lots of other words.

GRANT BARRETT: “And so, in that way, ‘occupy’ has become what we call a combining form. So it can be combined with verbs and nouns and adjectives in order to create new phrases and new expressions that filter throughout the whole movement.”

Activists in the Occupy movement call themselves the “ninety-nine percenters.”

(SOUND : “We are the ninety-nine percent”)

GRANT BARRETT: ” And there is one percent of the population — the ‘one-percenters’ — who seem to have all the money and all the power and all the control.”

The Occupy movement has borrowed methods and terms from protests of the past. Mr. Barrett points to the use of the so-called human megaphone.

(SOUND)

GRANT BARRETT:  “In order not to violate laws about electronic amplification, what they would do is a speaker would say something. They would say, ‘I would like to tell you my opinion,’ and the whole crowd repeats exactly what the speaker just said to make sure that everyone else who is farther away can hear it.”

The protesters have also used non-verbal communication. Crossing your arms in front of your chest is called a “hard block” and means “firm opposition.” Occupiers have also used “twinkling” similar to a hand motion that deaf people use to signal applause.

GRANT BARRETT: “It looks kind of like if you hold our hands up in the air and you face your palms outward and you kind of waggle your hands a little bit, you kind of shake them, that’s ‘twinkling.’ And this is really interesting from a language point of view. It’s borrowed from American Sign Language, because that is the way you applaud in ASL. It’s interesting stuff!”

Another widely used term in twenty-eleven was Arab Spring.

GRANT BARRETT: “In this two-word phrase we have encapsulated, we’ve made shorthand for, a lot of really important history.”

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: We had reporting by Peter Fedynsky, Jeffrey Young and Adam Phillips, and help from Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I’m ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Shirley Griffith. You can download texts and MP3s of our programs, get English teaching activities and subscribe to our podcasts at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

By |January 18th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Henry Ford, 1863-1947: Life After the Model T

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PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

Every week at this time, we tell the story of a person important in the history of the United States. Today, Steve Ember and Frank Oliver complete the story of industrialist Henry Ford.

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STEVE EMBER: In nineteen three, a doctor in Detroit, Michigan, bought the first car from the Ford Motor Company. That sale was the beginning of Henry Ford’s dream. He wanted to build good, low-priced cars for the general public. As he said many times: “I want to make a car that anybody can buy.”

To keep prices low, Henry Ford decided that he would build just one kind of car. He called it the Model T.

FRANK OLIVER: The Model T was ready for sale in October nineteen eight.

The Model T cost eight hundred fifty dollars. It was a simple machine that drivers could depend on. Doctors bought the Model T. So did farmers. Even criminals. They considered it the fastest and surest form of transportation.

Americans loved the Model T. They wrote stories and songs about it. Thousands of Model Ts were built in the first few years. The public wanted the car. And Henry Ford made more and more.

STEVE EMBER: To Make the Model T, Ford built the largest factory of its time. Inside the factory, car parts moved to the workers exactly when they needed them. Other factories moved some parts to the workers. But Ford was the first to design his factory completely around this system. Production rose sharply.

As production rose, Ford lowered prices. By nineteen sixteen, the price had dropped to three hundred forty-five dollars.

The last step in Ford’s production success was to raise his workers’ pay. His workers had always earned about two dollars for ten hours of work. That was the same daily rate as at other factories.

With wages the same everywhere, factory workers often changed jobs. Henry Ford wanted loyal workers who would remain. He raised wages to five dollars a day.

FRANK OLIVER: That made Henry Ford popular with working men. He became popular with car buyers in nineteen thirteen when he gave back fifty dollars to each person who had bought a Ford car. Henry Ford was demonstrating his idea that if workers received good wages, they became better buyers. And if manufacturers sold more products, they could lower prices and still earn money.

This system worked for Ford because people continued to demand his Model T. And they had the money to buy it. But what would happen when people no longer wanted the Model T, or did not have the money?

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen nineteen, Henry was involved in a dispute with the other people who owned stock in the Ford Motor Company. In the end, Henry bought the stock of the other investors. He gained complete control of the company.

The investors did not do badly, however. An investment of ten thousand dollars when the company was first established produced a return of twenty-five million dollars.

A few years later, another group of investors offered Ford one thousand million dollars for the company. But he was not interested in selling. He wanted complete control of the company that had his name. In a sense, Henry Ford was the company.

FRANK OLIVER: Henry’s son, Edsel, was named president of the company before nineteen twenty. No one truly believed that Edsel was running the company. Whatever Edsel said, people believed he was speaking for his father.

In nineteen twenty-three, fifty-seven percent of the cars produced in America were Model T Fords. About half the cars produced in the world were Fords. Taxicabs in Hong Kong. Most of the cars in South America. Never before — or since — has one car company so controlled world car production.

STEVE EMBER: The success of the Ford Motor Company permitted Henry Ford to work on other projects.

He became a newspaper publisher. He bought a railway. He built airplanes. He helped build a hospital. He even ran for the United States Senate.

German diplomats award Henry Ford, center, Nazi Germany's highest honor for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, in Detroit on July 30, 1938

AP

German diplomats award Henry Ford, center, Nazi Germany’s highest honor for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, in Detroit on July 30, 1938

Some of Henry’s projects were almost unbelievable. For example, he tried to end World War One by sailing to Europe with a group of peace supporters.

FRANK OLIVER: While Henry Ford enjoyed his success, a dangerous situation was developing. Other companies began to sell what only Ford had been selling: good, low-priced cars. Ford’s biggest competitor was the General Motors Company. General Motors produced the Chevrolet automobile.

Ford’s Model T was still a dependable car. But it had not changed in years. People said the Model T engine was too loud. They said it was too slow. The Chevrolet, however, had a different look every year. And you could pay for one over a long period of time.

Ford demanded full payment at the time of sale. Ford’s share of the car market began to fall.

STEVE EMBER: Everyone at Ford agreed that the Model T must go. Henry Ford disagreed. And it was his decision that mattered. Finally, in nineteen twenty-six, even Henry admitted that the age of the Model T was over. A new Ford was needed.

A year later, the Model T was gone.

Strangely enough, people mourned its end. They did not want to buy it anymore. But they recognized that the Model T was the last of the first cars in the brave new world of automobile development.

The success of Ford’s new cars did not last long. After nineteen thirty, Ford would always be second to General Motors.

FRANK OLIVER: In nineteen twenty-nine, the United States suffered a great economic recession. Many businesses failed. Millions of people lost their jobs. In nineteen thirty-one, the Ford Motor Company sold only half as many cars as it had the year before. It lost thirty-seven million dollars. Working conditions at Ford grew worse.

In nineteen thirty-two, hungry, unemployed men marched near the Ford factory. Police, firefighters and Ford security guards tried to stop them with sticks, high-pressure water and guns. Four of the marchers died, and twenty were wounded.

Newspapers all over the United States condemned the police, firefighters and security guards for attacking unarmed men. And to make a bad situation worse, Ford dismissed all workers who attended funeral services for the dead.

STEVE EMBER: More violence was to come. For several years, automobile workers had been attempting to form a labor union. Union leaders negotiated first with America’s two other major automobile makers: the Chrysler company and General Motors. Those companies quickly agreed to permit a union in their factories. That left Ford alone to fight against the union. And fight he did.

FRANK OLIVER: In nineteen thirty-seven, union organizers were passing out pamphlets to workers at the Ford factory. Company security guards struck. They were led by the chief of security, Harry Bennett.

Harry Bennett knew nothing about cars. But he did know what Henry Ford wanted done. And he did it. Bennett’s power came from Henry. The only person who might have had the power to stop Bennett was Henry’s son, Edsel, who was president of the company. But Edsel himself was fighting Henry and his unwillingness to change.

Bennett’s power in the company continued to grow. His violence against the union of automobile workers also grew.

The Ford Motor Company did not agree to negotiate with the union until nineteen forty-one. Henry Ford accepted an agreement. If he had not, his company would have lost millions of dollars in government business.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-three, Edsel Ford died. With Edsel gone, Henry again became president of the Ford Motor Company. It was difficult to know if Henry or Harry Bennett was running the company. America was at war. And Henry was eighty years old — too old to deal with the problems of wartime production. And Bennett knew nothing at all about production.

So Henry’s grandson, also Henry Ford, was recalled from the Navy to run the company. Young Henry’s first act was to dismiss Harry Bennett.

FRANK OLIVER: Old Henry Ford retired from business. His thoughts were in the past. He died in his sleep in nineteen forty-seven, at the age of eighty-three.

Henry Ford was not the first man whose name was given to an automobile. But his name — more than any other — was linked to that machine. And his dream changed the lives of millions of people.

Some still wonder if Henry Ford was a simple man who seemed difficult  — or a difficult man who seemed simple. No one, however, questions the fact that he made the automobile industry one of the great industries in the world.

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FRANK OLIVER: You have been listening to the Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Your narrators were Steve Ember and Frank Oliver. Our program was written by Richard Thorman. I’m Ray Freeman.

By |January 18th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Laser: How the Futuristic Became the Everyday

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Teachers: Download a version with English teaching activities for your classroom

MARIO RITTER: Welcome to EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. I’m Mario Ritter. This week, we tell about one of the most recognizable objects in science fiction — the laser. It is one of the best examples of how technology can go from the science of the future to everyday use in a short period of time. Faith Lapidus and Steve Ember tell us about the history and many uses for the laser.

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FAITH LAPIDUS: Laser is short for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The idea behind lasers is complex. Just how complex? Consider that it took the mind of Albert Einstein to discover the physics behind the laser.

Theodore Maiman succeed in building the first working laser in nineteen sixty. Mr. Maiman worked at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California.

A laser fires a light beam. Before the laser, scientists developed a similar device: a maser which stands for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A maser is basically a microwave version of the laser. Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation similar to, but shorter than, radio waves. The best-known use of masers is in highly accurate clocks.

In the nineteen fifties, researchers in the United States and Russia independently developed the technology that made both masers and lasers possible. Charles Townes was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He and his students developed the first maser.

Russians Nicolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov did their research in Moscow. Their work led to technology important to lasers and masers. The three men received the Nobel Prize in Physics in nineteen sixty-four.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: The idea of a thin beam of light with deadly power came much earlier. By the end of the eighteen hundreds, the industrial revolution had shown that science could invent machines with almost magical powers. And some writers of the time were the first to imagine something like a laser.

In eighteen ninety-eighty, H.G. Wells published a science fiction novel called “The War of the Worlds.” In it, he described creatures from the planet Mars that had technology far beyond anything on Earth. Among their weapons was what Wells called a “heat ray.” Listen to actor Orson Welles describe the weapon in a famous radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” from nineteen thirty-eight.

PROFESSOR PIERSON (ORSON WELLES): “I shall refer to the mysterious weapon as a heat ray. It’s my guess that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. That — that is my conjecture of the origin of the heat ray.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: H.G. Wells’ description is not too far from the truth. All lasers have several things in common. They have a material that supplies electrons and a power source that lifts the energy level of those electrons. And, as Wells guessed, many lasers have mirrors that direct light.

Laser light is different from daylight or electric lights. It has one wavelength or color. Laser light is also highly organized. Light behaves like a wave and laser light launches in one orderly wave at a time from its source.

MARIO RITTER: You are listening to the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS.

STEVE EMBER: The physics of the laser may be complex. Still, it is just a story of how electrons interact with light. When a light particle, or photon, hits an electron, the electron jumps to a higher energy state. If another photon strikes one of these high-energy electrons, the electron releases two photons that travel together at the same wavelength. When this process is repeated enough, lots of organized, or coherent, photons are produced.

In Theodore Maiman’s first laser, a rod of man-made ruby supplied the electrons. A more powerful version of the flash on a common camera was used to lift the energy state of the electrons. Mirrors on either end of the ruby rod reflected and increased the light. And an opening at one end of the rod let the laser light shoot out — just like the flash ray of science fiction hero Buck Rogers.

(SOUND)

FAITH LAPIDUS: Industry put lasers to work almost immediately after they were invented in nineteen sixty. But weapons were not first on the list.

The first medical operation using a laser took place the year following its invention. Doctors Charles Campbell and Charles Koester used a laser to remove a tumor from a patient’s eye at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Since then, doctors have used lasers to cut and remove tissue safely with little risk of infections.

Other health uses include medical imaging and vision correction surgery. Eye surgeons use lasers in Lasik operations to reshape the cornea, which covers the lens of the eye. The reshaped cornea corrects the patient’s bad eyesight so he or she does not have to wear glasses or other corrective lenses.

STEVE EMBER: Lasers have made measurement an exact science. Astronomers have used lasers to measure the moon’s distance from Earth to within a few centimeters. Mappers and builders use laser technology every day. For example, drawing a perfectly level straight line on a construction site is easy using a laser.

Energy researchers are using lasers in an attempt to develop fusion, the same energy process that powers the sun. Scientists hope fusion can supply almost limitless amounts of clean energy in the future.

Lasers have also changed the way we communicate. It is likely that laser light on a fiber optic network carried this EXPLORATIONS program at least part of the way to you if you are reading or listening online. Super-fast Internet connections let people watch movies and send huge amounts of information at the speed of light.

Manufacturers have used lasers for years to cut and join metal parts. And the jewelry industry uses lasers to write on the surface of the world’s hardest substance, diamonds.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Since nineteen seventy-four, the public has had direct experience with lasers — at the grocery store checkout line.

Laser barcode scanners have changed how stores record almost everything. They help businesses keep track of products. They help in storage and every detail of the supply process.

Experts say no company has put barcode technology to better use than Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. By nineteen eighty-eight, all Wal-Mart stores used laser bar code scanners. Highly detailed records on its products, and how they were selling, helped Wal-Mart keep costs down. Today, Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest corporation.

STEVE EMBER: Lasers are found in many products used almost everywhere. Laser printers can print out forms and documents quickly and are relatively low in cost. They are required equipment for offices around the world.

If you have a CD or DVD player, you own a laser. Laser disc players use lasers to accurately read or write marks on a reflective, coated plastic disc. A device turns these optical signals into digital information that becomes music, computer software or a full-length movie.

(SOUND)

FAITH LAPIDUS: Over one hundred years ago, writers imagined that beams of light could be powerful weapons. Today, lasers guide missiles and bombs.

For example, pilots can mark a target invisibly with a laser. Bombs or missiles then track the target with deadly results.

And, yes, American defense companies are working on giant laser guns recognizable to science fiction fans everywhere. But there are technological difficulties. Scientific American magazine says huge lasers turn only about twenty to thirty percent of the energy they use into a laser beam. The rest is lost as heat.

That has not stopped scientists from working to perfect powerful lasers that, one day, may be able to shoot missiles out of the sky.

(SOUND)

MARIO RITTER: Your announcers were Steve Ember and Faith Lapidus. For transcripts and audio of our programs go to voaspecialenglish.com. And visit The Classroom to find activities for English learning and teaching at VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

By |January 14th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments
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