1.How High Will the Price of Oil Go This Time?
This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.
Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has pushed oil prices back into the news. Prices have been rising at their fastest level since two thousand eight.
Libya is not among the ten largest oil exporters. But the rebellion against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has reduced production, affecting the global market.
This month, oil prices rose above one hundred dollars a barrel. Prices went above one hundred forty-five dollars a barrel in two thousand eight.
The price of oil affects prices and demand for energy, plastics, farm chemicals and many other products made with petroleum.
During the last week of February, Americans paid the second biggest weekly increase in gasoline prices in twenty years. This young woman has to drive a long way to school, so high gas prices mean less money for other things.
WOMAN: "I am a college student and I have to drive forty-five minutes to college, so it sucks." The United States has a Strategic Petroleum Reserve that contains more than seven hundred million barrels of oil. President Obama could use some of this emergency supply to help ease fuel prices. But intervening in the market could hurt oil production in the United States. Oil prices have been rising at a bad time, just as many economies have been recovering from the global recession. Also, several countries in the euro area are still struggling with debt crises. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said last week that "strong vigilance" is needed to contain inflation. That could mean raising interest rates which could hurt European countries heavily in debt.
In the United States, higher fuel prices come just as General Motors and Chrysler show signs of recovery after their reorganizations.
American car sales last month were twenty-seven percent higher than last February. GM led all carmakers with a forty-seven percent increase.
High fuel prices reduce demand for big cars and trucks. But economist George Magliano says this time, high prices may be good for carmakers.
GEORGE MAGLIANO: "With gasoline prices higher, certain people might want to get a much more fuel-efficient vehicle and I don’t mean even a hybrid or an electric vehicle which they could do, but the gasoline vehicles get twenty-five, thirty percent better mileage today than they did three or four years ago."
And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. Share your stories about what high fuel prices mean to you at voaspecialenglish.com or on Facebook at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.
2.Quake, Tsunami May Only Add to Economic Struggles for Japan
This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
The earthquake that shook Japan with historic strength on Friday created a tsunami wave ten meters high. The water washed away boats, cars and houses in coastal areas north of Tokyo. It also led to tsunami warnings across the Pacific.
Scientists recorded the magnitude of the earthquake at 8.9. The United States Geological Survey says it was the fifth largest earthquake since nineteen hundred. The largest, with a 9.5 magnitude, shook Chile in nineteen sixty.
The quake struck near the east coast of Honshu, Japan's main island. It was centered under the sea about one hundred thirty kilometers east of Sendai. The tsunami washed away whole neighborhoods in Sendai.
President Obama offered whatever assistance Japan needs. He had already planned to meet with reporters Friday, and began by talking about the disaster.
BARACK OBAMA: "First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking.
"Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister [Naoto] Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families. And I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed. We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan and another is on its way.”
Japanese media said the tsunami carried away a ship carrying one hundred people. Television images showed a whole community on fire.
The quake has produced powerful aftershocks. It also raised concerns about possible effects on the world's third-largest economy. The economy was the second largest until China recently moved into that position.
Japan was already struggling to rebuild economic growth and reduce its budget deficit and government debt.
Japan has invested a lot of resources in preparing for earthquakes. Still, the nineteen ninety-five
earthquake in Kobe caused an estimated one hundred billion dollars in damage. The value of the yen dropped Friday but then recovered.
Japan is the world's third-largest importer of oil. World prices for oil fell after the quake. This followed weeks of increases because of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. Oil traders said prices fell because of a belief that quake damage will hurt growth in Japan and reduce demand for energy.
The quake happened about three hundred seventy kilometers northeast of Tokyo. It shook buildings in the capital, halting all train and subway traffic and leaving many people unable to get home.
Joruji Shinozaki wrote on the VOA Learning English page on Facebook: Friday's earthquake was a nightmare. Suddenly the building where I live in Tokyo shook violently and objects began to fall. I was so scared because I've never experienced such a strong quake before in my life. Another Facebook user in Japan, Mitsutoshi Sato, wrote: It was a frightening experience. The blackout lasted for more than 10 hours around me. Thank each and every one of you in the world praying for Japan.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
3.Short Story: 'Keesh' by Jack London
SHEP O'NEAL: Keesh lived at the edge of the polar sea. He had seen thirteen suns in the Eskimo way of keeping time. Among the Eskimos, the sun each winter leaves the land in darkness. And the next year, a new sun returns, so it might be warm again.
The father of Keesh had been a brave man. But he had died hunting for food. Keesh was his only son. Keesh lived along with his mother, Ikeega.
One night, the village council met in the big igloo of Klosh-kwan, the chief. Keesh was there with the others. He listened, then waited for silence.
He said, “It is true that you give us some meat. But it is often old and tough meat, and has many bones.”
The hunters were surprised. This was a child speaking against them. A child talking like a grown man!
Keesh said, “My father, Bok, was a great hunter. It is said that Bok brought home more meat than any of the two best hunters. And that he divided the meat so that all got an equal share.”
“Naah! Naah!” the hunters cried. “Put the child out! Send him to bed. He should not talk to gray-beards this way!”
Keesh waited until the noise stopped. “You have a wife, Ugh-gluk,” he said. “And you speak for
her. My mother has no one but me. So I speak. As I say, Bok hunted greatly, but is now dead. It is only fair then that my mother, who was his wife, and I, his son, should have meat when the tribe has meat. I, Keesh, son of Bok, have spoken.”
Again, there was a great noise in the igloo. The council ordered Keesh to bed. It even talked of giving him no food.
Keesh jumped to his feet. “Hear me!” he cried. “Never shall I speak in the council igloo again. I shall go hunt meat like my father, Bok.”
There was much laughter when Keesh spoke of hunting. The laughter followed Keesh as he left the council meeting.
The next day, Keesh started out for the shore, where the land meets the ice. Those who watched
saw that he carried his bow and many arrows. Across his shoulder was his father’s big hunting spear. Again there was laughter.
One day passed, then a second. On the third day, a great wind blew. There was no sign of Keesh. His mother, Ikeega, put burned seal oil on her face to show her sorrow. The women shouted at their men for letting the little boy go. The men made no answer, but got ready to search for the body of Keesh.
Early next morning, Keesh walked into the village. Across his shoulders was fresh meat. “Go you men, with dogs and sleds. Follow my footsteps. Travel for a day,” he said. “There is much meat
on the ice. A she-bear and her two cubs.”
His mother was very happy. Keesh, trying to be a man, said to her, “Come, Ikeega, let us eat. And after that, I shall sleep. For I am tired.”
There was much talk after Keesh went to his igloo. The killing of a bear was dangerous. But it was three times more dangerous to kill a mother bear with cubs. The men did not believe Keesh had done so. But the women pointed to the fresh meat. At last, the men agreed to go for the meat that was left. But they were not very happy.
One said that even if Keesh had killed the bear, he probably had not cut the meat into pieces. But when the men arrived, they found that Keesh had not only killed the bear, but had also cut it into pieces, just like a grown hunter.
So began the mystery of Keesh.
On his next trip, he killed a young bear…and on the following trip, a large male bear and its mate.
Then there was talk of magic and witchcraft in the village. “He hunts with evil spirits,” said one. “Maybe his father’s spirit hunts with him,” said another.
Keesh continued to bring meat to the village. Some people thought he was a great hunter. There was talk of making him chief, after old Klosh-kwan. They waited, hoping he would come to council meetings. But he never came.
“I would like to build an igloo.” Keesh said one day, “but I have no time. My job is hunting. So it would be just if the men and women of the village who eat my meat, build my igloo.” And the igloo was built. It was even bigger than the igloo of the Chief Klosh-kwan.
One day, Ugh-gluk talked to Keesh. “It is said that you hunt with evil spirits, and they help you kill the bear.”
“Is not the meat good?” Keesh answered. “Has anyone in the village yet become sick after eating it? How do you know evil spirits are with me? Or do you say it because I am a good hunter?”
Ugh-gluk had no answer.
The council sat up late talking about Keesh and the meat. They decided to spy on him. On Keesh’s next trip, two young hunters, Bim and Bawn, followed him. After five days, they returned. The council met to hear their story.
“Brothers,” Bim said, “we followed Keesh, and he did not see us. The first day he came to a great bear. Keesh shouted at the bear, loudly. The bear saw him and became angry. It rose high on its legs and growled. But Keesh walked up to it.”
“We saw it,” Bawn, the other hunter, said. “The bear began to run toward Keesh. Keesh ran away. But as he ran, he dropped a little round ball on the ice. The bear stopped and smelled the ball, then ate it. Keesh continued to run, dropping more balls on the ice. The bear followed and ate the balls.”
The council members listened to every word. Bim continued the story. “The bear suddenly stood
up straight and began to shout in pain.
“Evil spirits,” said Ugh-gluk.
I do not know,” said Bawn. “I can tell only what my eyes saw. The bear grew weak. Then it sat
down and pulled at its own fur with its sharp claws. Keesh watched the bear that whole day.”
“For three more days, Keesh continued to watch the bear. It was getting weaker and weaker. Keesh moved carefully up to the bear and pushed his father’s spear into it.”
“And then?” asked Klosh-kwan.
“And then we left.”
That afternoon, the council talked and talked. When Keesh arrived in the village, the council sent a messenger to ask him to come to the meeting. But Keesh said he was tired and hungry. He said his igloo was big and could hold many people, if the council wanted a meeting. Klosh-kwan led the council to the igloo of Keesh. Keesh was eating, but he welcomed them. Klosh-kwan told Keesh that two hunters had seen him kill a bear. And then, in a serious voice to Keesh, he said, “We want to know how you did it.” Did you use magic and witchcraft?”
Keesh looked up and smiled. “No, Klosh-kwan. I am a boy. I know nothing of magic or witchcraft.
But I have found an easy way to kill the ice-bear. It is head-craft, not witchcraft.”
“And will you tell us, O Keesh?” Klosh-kwan asked in a shaking voice.
“I will tell you. It is very simple. Watch.”
Keesh picked up a thin piece of whalebone. The ends were pointed and sharp as a knife. Keesh bent the bone into a circle. Suddenly he let the bone go, and it became straight with a sharp snap. He picked up a piece of seal meat.
“So,” he said, “first make a circle with a sharp, thin piece of whale bone. Put the circle of bone inside some seal meat. Put it in the snow to freeze. The bear eats the ball of meat with the circle of bone inside. When the meat gets inside the bear, the meat gets warm, and the bone goes snap! The sharp points make the bear sick. It is easy to kill then. It is simple.”
Ugh-gluk said, “Ohhh!” Klosh-kwan said “Ahh!” Each said something in his own way. And all
That is the story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the edge of the polar sea. Because he used head-craft, instead of witchcraft, he rose from the poorest igloo to be the chief in the village. And for all the years that followed, his people were happy. No one cried at night with pains of hunger. (MUSIC)
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: You have just heard the story, "Keesh." It was written by Jack London. Your storyteller was Shep O’Neal. This is Shirley Griffith.
4.Edward Hopper, 1882-1967: The Making of the Artist and His Art
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.
DOUG JOHNSON: And I’m Doug Johnson with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about artist Edward Hopper. He painted normal objects and people in interesting and mysterious ways.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In June of two thousand-six, visitors entered the redesigned Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., for the first time. When these people walked into the building, they saw two simple, colorful paintings. These paintings showed normal scenes from American life. But they looked mysterious and beautiful. American artist Edward Hopper painted both of these famous pictures.
DOUG JOHNSON: Edward Hopper was born in eighteen eighty-two in Nyack, a small town in New York State. From a young age, Edward knew he wanted to be a painter.
His parents were not wealthy people. They thought Edward should learn to paint and make prints to advertise for businesses. This kind of painting is called commercial art. Edward listened to his mother and father. In nineteen hundred, he moved to New York City to study commercial art. However, he also studied more serious and artistic kinds of painting.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: One of Hopper’s teachers was Robert Henri, a famous American painter in the early twentieth century. Henri was a leader of a group of artists who called themselves the Ashcan School painters. The Ashcan artists liked to paint normal people and objects in realistic ways. Henri once expressed his ideas about painting this way: “Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you.”e
Edward Hopper agreed with many of these ideas about art. He told people that Henri was his most important teacher.
DOUG JOHNSON: Hopper studied with Henri in New York City for six years. During those years, Hopper dreamed of going to Europe. Many painters there were making pictures in ways no one had ever seen before.
Many of them had begun to paint pictures they called “abstract.” The artists liked to say these
works were about ideas rather than things that existed in the real world. Their paintings did not try to show people and objects that looked like the ones in real life. Most American artists spent time in Europe. Then they returned to the United States to paint in this new way.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: With help from his parents, Hopper finally traveled to Europe in nineteen six. He lived in Paris, France, for several months. He returned again in nineteen nine and nineteen ten.
Unlike many other people, however, Hopper was not strongly influenced by the new, abstract styles he found there. “Paris had no great or immediate impact on me,” he once said. At the end of these travels, he decided that he liked the realistic methods he had learned from Robert Henri. (MUSIC)
DOUG JOHNSON: When Edward Hopper returned from Paris for the last time, he moved into a small apartment in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. He took a job making prints and paintings for businesses. However, the paintings he made outside of his job were not helping him earn money or recognition. He had a show of his work at a gallery in New York. However, most people were not interested in his simple, realistic style. Very few people bought his paintings. SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Things began to improve in nineteen twenty-three. He began a love relationship with an artist named Jo Nivison. Soon they married. His wife sometimes said that
Edward tried to control her thoughts and actions too much. However, most people who knew them said they loved each other very much. They stayed married for the rest of their lives. Also, Jo was the model for all of the women in Hopper’s paintings.
Success in art soon followed this success in love. In nineteen twenty-four, Hopper had the second show of his paintings. This time, he sold many pictures. Finally, at age forty-three, he had enough money to quit his job painting for businesses. He could now paint what he loved. Edward and Jo bought a car and began to travel around the country to find interesting subjects to paint. (MUSIC)
DOUG JOHNSON: Most people say that Hopper’s nineteen twenty-five painting “The House by
the Railroad” was his first mature painting. This means that it was the first painting that brought
together all of his important techniques and ideas.
“The House by the Railroad” shows a large, white house. The painting does not show the bottom of the house. It is blocked by railroad tracks. Cutting scenes off in surprising ways was an important part of Hopper’s style. He became famous for paintings that are mysterious, that look incomplete or that leave viewers with questions.
Shadows make many parts of the home in “The House by the Railroad” look dark. Some of the windows look like they are open, which makes the viewer wonder what is inside the house. However, only dark, empty space can be seen through the windows. Strange shadows, dark spaces, and areas with light were important parts of many Hopper paintings.
There are no people in the painting, and no evidence of other houses nearby. Hopper was famous for showing loneliness in his art. People often said that, even when there were many people in his paintings, each person seems to be alone in his or her own world.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: During the great economic depression of the nineteen thirties, many people saw Hopper’s lonely, mysterious paintings of everyday subjects. They liked the pictures because they seemed to show life honestly, without trying to make it happier or prettier than it really was. As a result, Hopper continued to sell many paintings during those years, even though most Americans were very poor.
DOUG JOHNSON: In nineteen forty-two, Hopper painted his most famous work, “Nighthawks.”
The painting shows four people in an eating-place called a diner late at night. They look sad, tired, and lonely. Two of them look like they are in a love relationship. But they do not appear to be talking to each other. The dark night that surrounds them is mysterious and tense. There is no door in the painting, which makes the subjects seem like they might be trapped.
Hopper painted “Nighthawks” soon after the Japanese bomb attack against the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Many people thought the painting showed the fear and unhappiness that most Americans were feeling after the attack. The painting became very famous. Today, most Americans still recognize it. The painting now hangs in a famous museum in Chicago, Illinois. SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: “Nighthawks” was not Edward Hopper’s only great success. In nineteen
fifty, he finished a painting called “Cape Cod Morning.” It shows a brightly colored house in the country. In the middle of the painting, a woman leans on a table and looks out a window. She looks very sad. However, nothing in the painting gives any idea about why she would be sad. Today this painting hangs in a special place in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. It is one the paintings we noted at the beginning of this program. (MUSIC)
DOUG JOHNSON: Edward Hopper began to struggle with his art during the nineteen fifties and
sixties. He had trouble finding interesting subjects. When he did find good things to paint, he struggled to paint them well.
At the same time, the artistic community became less interested in realistic paintings. In the nineteen fifties, the abstract expressionist style became very popular. These artists refused to have subjects to paint. They wanted to “paint about painting” and “paint about ideas.” They thought Hopper’s style was no longer modern or important. As a result, the paintings he did complete met
less success than during the earlier years.
Edward Hopper died in nineteen sixty-seven. His wife Jo died less than a year later. Many years after his death, Hopper’s work is still popular in this country and outside America. In
two thousand four, the famous Tate Art Gallery in London had a show of his paintings. This show brought the second-largest number of visitors of any show in the history of the museum. Today, people say Edward Hopper was one of the best American artists of the twentieth century. (MUSIC)
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written by Sarah Randle and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Shirley Griffith.
DOUG JOHNSON: And I’m Doug Johnson. You can read, listen to and download this program at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.
5.Words and Their Stories: Monkey Expressions
Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.
Monkeys are very similar to us in many ways. Most have ten fingers and ten toes, and brains much like ours. We enjoy watching them because they often act like us. In fact, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution says that monkeys and humans share a common ancestor.
Songwriter William Gilbert, in the musical "Princess Ida", wrote:
"Darwinian man, though well-behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved."
His words -- sung to Sir Arthur Sullivan's music -- make listeners smile. Well, monkeys make us smile, too, because they are creatures full of playful tricks.
This is why many monkey expressions are about tricky people or playful acts. One of these expressions is monkeyshines, meaning tricks or foolish acts.
The meaning is clear if you have ever watched a group of monkeys playfully chasing each other: pulling tails, stealing food, doing tricks. So, when a teacher says to a group of students: "Stop those monkeyshines right now!" you know that the boys and girls are playing, instead of studying. You might hear that same teacher warn a student not to monkey around with a valuable piece of equipment. You monkey around with something when you do not know what you are doing. You are touching or playing with something you should leave alone.
Also, you can monkey around when you feel like doing something, but have no firm idea of what to do. For example, you tell your friend you are going to spend the day monkeying around with your car. Weel, you do not have any job or goal in mind. It is just a way to pass the time. Monkey business usually means secret, maybe illegal, activities. A news report may say there is monkey business involved in building the new airport, with some officials getting secret payments from builders.
You may make a monkey out of someone when you make that person look foolish. Some people make a monkey out of themselves by acting foolish or silly.
If one monkey has fun, imagine how much fun a barrel of monkeys can have. If your friend says he had more fun than a barrel of monkeys at your party, you know that he had a really good time. Monkey suits are common names for clothes or uniforms soldiers wear.
In earlier years in many American cities, you would find men playing musical hand organs on the street. Dancing to the music would be the man's small monkey dressed in a tight-fitting, colorful jacket similar to a military uniform. So, people began to call a military uniform a monkey suit. (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.
6.Ten of Thousands of Technology Lovers Head South to Austin
This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.
Tens of thousands of people travel to Austin, Texas each year to attend the South by Southwest festival. The festival is most famous for its music and film presentations. In recent years it has also become one of the biggest new media events of the year.
Last year more than fourteen thousand people from fifty-four countries attended the event. It is the place to learn about promising new technologies.
Margie Newman describes the event as “a sea of Mac-toting, smartphone-obsessed, new media
snobs on a mission to know what is next.” Ms. Newman is a public relations professional in
Washington D.C. She made her third trip to the South by Southwest festival this year. We spoke with her by phone at the festival.
MARGIE NEWMAN: “When you can go to a place and not only see what’s next and see how to
better use what’s already here, but also connect with people who love it as much as you do, it’s just kind of a special thing. A lot of people call South by Southwest Interactive the geek spring break. And that’s pretty accurate.”
South by Southwest Interactive has seen the successful launch of several products. It helped push Twitter into mainstream popularity in two thousand seven. In two thousand nine, a company called Foursquare launched its mobile networking service at the festival. The service lets friends tell other friends where they are by “checking in” using a mobile application or a text message. Foursquare’s owners say they now have more than six and a half million users around the world.
Margie Newman says quick response codes are big news at this year’s festival. The codes turn
URLs and text into barcode-like images that can be scanned using a mobile phone or a QR code reader.
MARGIE NEWMAN: “It looks like a scanning device like when you’re at the grocery store but it’s a square. A lot of people aren’t quite using QR codes for marketing just yet in mainstream. But you’re seeing a lot of it here. It’s very hot this year.” Cloud computing is also expected to be a hot topic this year, as is group messaging. The five-day festival runs through March fifteenth. Hundreds of events are planned each day. They include speeches by some of the world’s leading technology industry experts, hands-on training workshops and many group discussions. MARGIE NEWMAN: “Without a doubt I would say South by Southwest Interactive is the place
to be if you are into digital new media. You don’t want to miss it. And in fact, part of it is just being able to say you were here makes you one of the cool kids, even if you didn’t go to one panel. Just having the badge that says you were here kind of makes you worth your salt if you’re part of the new media landscape.”
And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at voaspecialenglish.com. We're also on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.
7.Census Findings Show Changes in US Population
STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. Every ten years the United States government counts
the national population and asks people questions about how they live. Results from the twenty ten census are still being organized and studied. But this week on our program, we look at some of the findings released so far to learn how the American population is evolving.
STEVE EMBER: The United States has collected census data since seventeen ninety as a requirement of the Constitution. Last year's census was the twenty-third in the nation’s history.
The population as of April first -- the official census day -- was three hundred eight million, seven hundred forty-five thousand, five hundred thirty-eight.
The population grew by twenty-seven million people over the past ten years. That was an increase of more than nine percent since the last census in two thousand.
Growth in the United States population slowed compared to the last census. Between nineteen ninety and two thousand, the nation’s population grew by about thirteen percent.
In fact, the only decade with slower growth was between nineteen thirty and nineteen forty. The country grew by a little more than seven percent at that time, which was during the Great Depression.