Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Superbowl: Football, American Style

           The Super Bowl—the national championship football game-­‐-­‐will be played on Sunday, February 2, in New Jersey. Football is as popular in the U.S. as fútbol is in Spain. I don’t know anything about the game, so I asked my friend Anthony Miksak—who follows the San Francisco 49ers football team—to write something about it for you.
           He was excited to talk to you about it. He asked his friend Alberto, who lives in Italy, to tell you what he thinks about American football. Alberto, like you, is learning English, and he wrote: ““I believe that football is one of the best sports to describe life. Why? Because in this sport as in life to achieve a goal (the touchdown) or to earn a little piece of the field you really need to fight very hard.
           “However, all this is not possible without the help of your own teammates. In their different roles, they support you, your actions, and most of all, when you fall down they are there, close to you, to help you get up.”
            Anthony writes, “Alberto understands the sport well. Like you, he’s learning English, and like you, I’m also learning a second language – in my case, Italian. 
           “Alberto lives in a small town in central Italy, and through the magic of satellite TV he follows his favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is such a fan he watches every game, even at 3 in the morning. He has a Green Bay scarf in green and yellow hanging on his wall.”
            Anthony then tells us, “In 1950 I was five years old. My family moved from New York City to San Francisco, where I soon got interested in football.
            “I read about the Christopher Milk Junior Forty-­‐Niners Club on the side of a milk carton. I cut out the coupon and sent it in. I got back a membership card with my name on it and a letter signed by George Christopher (who later became the mayor of San Francisco).
“Soon I was attending football games -­‐-­‐ for free! -­‐-­‐ with fellow members of the Christopher Milk Junior Forty-­‐Niners Club. The games were at Kezar Stadium, a short walk from our apartment. I developed a hero-­‐worship for the best players of that day – YA Tittle (quarterback), Hugh McElhenny (halfback) – and many others.
            “When I was old enough to play football, I wanted to throw the ball like YA and run like McElhenny. I did throw the ball and I ran, and I wore the pads and helmet, but I was never a very good player.
             “Even now, when age and wisdom have slowed me to a walk, I still root for ‘my’ 49ers. I yell when they score and groan when they don’t. I can feel my legs tighten and my feet get ready to run every time someone from the other team needs to be tackled – right – now – hooray! They threw him for a loss!
              “The next play will be a pass. I’m sure about it.
              “Now I have to stop writing so I can watch!”
               Tony’s 49ers won’t be in the Super Bowl. Neither will Alberto’s Packers. But 
for Tony and Alberto, it won’t really matter: they’ll watch the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks fight for the trophy. As they say, it’s like watching life.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Winning Christmas Cards

        The annual student Christmas Card Contest took place in December. Students from levels 1 - 3 made cards that showed great creativity and imagination. 
         The judges met a short time before Christmas break to decide the winners. Silvia Moreno, Carmen Coronel, Beatriz Rodríguez, and, as guest judge, Susan Lowery, discovered the choices were not easy to make! After a lot of deliberation, they agreed on the following results:

Monday, 13 January 2014

The State of the Union

         On January 28, President Barak Obama will give a speech. You might say, “So what?” There are lots of politicians in all countries, at all levels of government, who love the sound of their own voices more than the rest of us do.
But President Obama’s January speech is more than a speech.
         The  United States Constitution is a short document. Its language is very economical. Yet it specifically states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
The first president, George Washington, translated “from time to time” into “each year.” His first Annual Message (as it was then called) was given in 1790 as a speech. Every year since then—almost 225 years—the President has submitted an annual report to Congress, although from 1801 until 1913, presidents gave an annual written report of national conditions, along with their policy recommendations, to the Congress.
          Woodrow Wilson began the shift to a public oral speech in 1913. He thought a president could use the occasion to act as the nation’s spokesman.
The lesson wasn’t lost on those who came after him.
           In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge used the new radio technology to share his policy proposals with the American people when he reported to Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt ushered the annual speech into its modern age: he was the first to popularize it as the “State of the Union” address.
            It was first televised in 1947.  Lyndon Johnson made the speech prime time television in 1965. A constitutional mandate to report to Congress is today a chance for a president to speak directly to the American people about his vision of what the country is and should be—and how to achieve that vision.
        Anyone curious about U.S. government can see many of its major players if they watch the State of the Union. Almost everyone who is anyone in U.S. politics is there.
The speech is given in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives to both houses of Congress. All U.S. Senators and all members of the House of Representatives sit “on the floor” of the House chamber (in chairs, but within the chamber itself, not the balcony above). Members of the President’s cabinet and members of the Supreme Court also sit on the floor. Invited guests fill the observation balconies above the floor.

They don’t just sit. TV cameras catch their reactions as the president speaks. Usually, he begins with a review of national values; then he looks at the problems he sees in reaching national goals based on these values; finally, he proposes his policies to resolve the problems and fulfill the goals. While overall, civility is maintained, in recent years there have been protests, and one faction or another may fail to applaud or otherwise show their disagreement with a presidential statement.
It should be noted that there are exceptions to the general rule that every player in government attends the speech. Traditionally, one cabinet member, and, since September 11, 2001, two designated members of Congress from each of the two major political parties, do not attend. This is in case a major disaster disables the rest of the government. Presumably, a new government would form from these survivors, allowing the nation to continue.
        [You can find a glossary of some of the terms in this post at: ]

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Martin Luther King Jr.: Beyond Racial Equality

On January 20, 2014, there will be a National Day of Service celebrated in the United States.  Many work places and schools will be closed. All across the country, people will volunteer to serve their communities. They make soup to deliver to places where poor people receive free meals; they clean parks and paint school rooms. They collect coats for the poor against winter's cold. Kids as young as 5 years old make craft items to raise money for people who have no homes.  Teenagers make posters and write letters in support of different social justice projects.

All of this is in memory of Martin Luther King Junior. He was an African American Baptist preacher. He is best known as a leader for racial equality in the United States. This short video tells some of that story:

But for Martin Luther King Junior, equality was about more than race. He understood that everyone needs education and work. He saw poverty as both immoral and dangerous to a democratic, civil society. Above all, he insisted that every person deserved respect and that each of us has the right to be heard and to be treated with decency.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, King organized non-violent public demonstrations to focus attention on his campaigns and to build support for the political reforms needed to make changes.

His last campaign is known as the Poor People's Campaign. It tried to unite blacks, other minorities, and poor whites in a movement to persuade the U.S. Congress to adopt an Economic Bill of Rights. A part of this campaign, in King's mind, was a strike by city sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to Memphis to give his backing to the strike on April 3, 1968. That night, he delivered a powerful speech, now called the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. The next day, he was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of his modest motel in Memphis.

After King's death in 1968, the Economic Bill of Rights was forgotten amidst political turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the presidential election. But the ideas King championed live on in his powerful speeches. They continue to inspire new movements worldwide for economic and social justice.

Martin Luther King Junior's speeches still have power. The most famous, the "I Have a Dream Speech," was given at a huge civil rights rally in Washington, D.C. in August of 1963. You can see the text and hear Dr. King give it at:

King's commitment to social justice for all people is at the root of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. He envisioned what he called "the Beloved Community." Citizens would build it by living according to the nation's principles and working together to solve social problems.

So on January 20, schools and banks will be closed in the U.S. But for many, it won't be a "day off." It will be a day of citizen action and service to others.

"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."
                                 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
                                 16 August 1967

Glossary: Some terms in the biographical video and in the above text can be found at