Friday, May 21, 2010

"The Rio Grande, Part Two" from Voice of America.

This is Shirley Griffith. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS.

Today, we finish the story of one of the most important rivers in the United States, the Rio Grande. The river flows from the mountains of Colorado south to the Gulf of Mexico. It forms the border between the United States and Mexico for two thousand kilometers.

By the early Fifteen-Hundreds Spanish explorers arrived in the southwest of what is now the United States. They moved up the Rio Grande looking for gold and treasure. They found none. The native Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were friendly until they were treated badly by the Spanish. Then the Indians pushed the invaders out. But the Spanish returned in Sixteen-Ninety-Three. After some fighting, they finally made peace with the Pueblo Indians.

More and more settlers arrived and established new towns along the Rio Grande. Soon people from other countries began arriving. They came from France, England, and, by the end of the Seventeen Hundreds, from the newly formed United States to the east.

By the early Nineteenth Century, Americans had begun settling in the Rio Grande area, especially in the territory of Texas, east of New Mexico. The Spanish government in the American southwest began to lose control as Spain became less powerful in Europe.

Soon more and more people settling near the Rio Grande began to think of themselves as Americans. In Eighteen-Twelve, the Mexican territory of Texas rebelled and declared itself an independent republic. Spain regained control of Texas, but the seeds of revolution had been planted. In Eighteen Twenty-One, Spain withdrew from the Americas.

A new age was beginning in North America. Two young nations, the United States and Mexico, would now decide their own futures and the future of the Rio Grande area. One of the most important questions facing the two countries was who would control Texas.

That was not an easy decision to make. In Eighteen-Twenty-Three, the Mexican government agreed to permit a group of Americans to live in Texas. Mexico said the Americans, led by Stephen Austin, could stay there permanently.

More Americans settled in Texas. Many people wanted to make Texas a part of the United States. At the same time, more Mexicans wanted to push all Americans out of Texas.


South of the Rio Grande, there were three revolutions in Mexico’s first eight years of independence. North of the river, Americans were more and more unhappy with Mexican rule. In Eighteen-Thirty-Two, Stephen Austin went to Mexico City to ask that Texas become a separate Mexican state.

At this time, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was struggling to gain control of Mexico and become its ruler. He faced a number of rebellions in different parts of the country. General Santa Anna told Stephen Austin he would make Texas a separate Mexican state. Yet events were moving in another direction.

In Texas, demands for change became demands for independence from Mexico. This led to an invasion across the Rio Grande of thousands of soldiers led by General Santa Anna. He planned to quickly crush the rebellion. As Santa Anna moved his army into Texas in Eighteen-Thirty-Six, a group of Texans signed a document declaring Texas an independent nation.

To answer this, General Santa Anna led a strong attack against a group of rebels near the city of San Antonio. The place they attacked was called The Alamo. There were one-hundred-twenty-eight men in the building defending it against the many thousands of soldiers in Santa Anna’s army. After many days of fighting, the Mexican army broke through the defenses of the Alamo and killed everyone inside.

Santa Anna and his army began a march across Texas. They burned towns and villages. They chased the small army of Texans but were unable to catch them. The Mexican soldiers were tired. The Texans attacked, shouting “Remember the Alamo”. There was a fierce battle. Only forty Mexican soldiers escaped. All the others were killed, wounded or captured. General Santa Anna was among those captured.

General Santa Anna met with Texas leader, General Sam Houston. The Mexican leader agreed that in return for his freedom Texas would become independent from Mexico. He agreed that the Rio Grande would be the border between Texas and Mexico. General Santa Anna went home to Mexico City. The new Republic of Texas looked to the future.


The future was not all good. President Santa Anna declared war on Texas eight years after his defeat by the Texan army. However, he never carried out his threat of war. He was removed from office. And the next year, Eighteen-Forty-Five, the United States government invited Texas to become a state.

This was not acceptable to Mexico. War began. In Eighteen-Forty-Six, Mexican soldiers crossed the Rio Grande. The Americans quickly defeated the invading army and began moving into Mexico, toward Mexico City. Other American soldiers began moving west into New Mexico. The government in Santa Fe quickly surrendered.

In February Eighteen-Forty-Eight, Mexico surrendered to the American army. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo declared the border between the United States and Mexico to be along the Rio Grande and then west to the Pacific Ocean. The new land belonging to the United States included New Mexico, Arizona and Upper California. For all this territory, the United States paid Mexico fifteen-million dollars.

Becoming a part of the United States presented both political and social problems for Texas. The state of Texas permitted slavery. Governor Sam Houston opposed joining the Confederate states that also permitted slavery and were seeking to separate from the United States. He was removed from office. Texas joined the southern states in the Civil War. After the northern forces won the long war and the country united, Texas was re-admitted as a state.

At this time, the expanding population of the Rio Grande country faced other problems. Criminals from both sides of the Rio Grande attacked the people. Also, Indian tribes such as the Apache and Comanche resisted the spread of white settlers into their lands. The settlers were destroying the Indians’ way of life. The Indians attacked and killed many white settlers. By Eighteen Seventy Four, government troops had forced many Indian tribes out of their traditional lands.

The United States army also was ordered to take action to stop criminal activities along the Rio Grande. It was given permission to chase criminals across the river into Mexico. Also, the army acted to stop Indian attacks.

Over time, fighting ended in the Rio Grande Valley and the surrounding territory. The United States and Mexico developed friendly relations.

Yet tensions continue along the border between the two countries today. One problem is illegal immigrants. The other is illegal drugs. No one knows for sure how many people cross the border from Mexico to the United States. Officials have estimated that the number is in the millions. The illegal immigrants come from Mexico, and from Central and South America. Most come to the United States for economic or political reasons. A few come to sell illegal drugs. Many of the illegal drugs in the United States are transported across the border.

The river itself can create problems too. The Rio Grande flows where it wants to flow. Dams, canals and other man-made devices cannot always control it.

Most of the water from the upper Rio Grande does not flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Almost all of the water is completely used for agriculture and by cities and towns along the upper part of the river.

Down the river, many springs and several other rivers flow into the Rio Grande, renewing the water supply. Two major dams create electric power and provide water for agriculture and other needs of people living along the lower part of the river. Yet man-made controls do not prevent changes in the path the river takes in many places. Some changes make it difficult to know exactly where the border is between the United States and Mexico. The great river, the Rio Grande, continues to flow across the land and through the history of two countries.


This Special English program was written by Oliver Chanler and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember. And this is Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

The Rio Grande: Part One

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"The History of the Guitar" from Voice of America.

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

PHOEBE ZIMMERMAN: And I’m Phoebe Zimmermann with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about a very popular musical instrument. Listen and see if you can guess what it is.


STEVE EMBER: If you guessed it was a guitar, you are correct. Probably no other musical instrument is as popular around the world as the guitar. Musicians use the guitar for almost every kind of music. Country and western music would not be the same without a guitar. The traditional Spanish folk music called Flamenco could not exist without a guitar. The sound of American blues music would not be the same without the sad cry of the guitar. And rock and roll music would almost be impossible without this instrument.

PHOEBE ZIMMERMAN: Music experts do not agree about where the guitar first was played. Most agree it is ancient. Some experts say an instrument very much like a guitar was played in Egypt more than one thousand years ago.

Some other experts say that the ancestor of the modern guitar was brought to Spain from Persia sometime in the twelfth century. The guitar continued to develop in Spain. In the seventeen hundreds it became similar to the instrument we know today.

Many famous musicians played the instrument. The famous Italian violinist Niccolo Paganinni played and wrote music for the guitar in the early eighteen hundreds. Franz Schubert used the guitar to write some of his famous works. In modern times Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia helped make the instrument extremely popular.

One kind of music for the guitar developed in the southern area of Spain called Adalusia. It will always be strongly linked with the Spanish guitar. It is called Flamenco. Carlos Montoya was a Spanish Gypsy. Listen as he plays a Flamenco song called “Jerez.”


STEVE EMBER: In the nineteen thirties, Les Paul began experimenting with ways to make an electric guitar. He invented the solid body electric guitar in nineteen forty-six. The Gibson Guitar Company began producing its famous Les Paul Guitar in nineteen fifty-two. It became a powerful influence in popular music. The instrument has the same shape and the same six strings as the traditional guitar, but it sounds very different.

Les Paul produced a series of extremely popular recordings that introduced the public to his music. They included Paul playing as many as six musical parts at the same time. Listen to this Les Paul recording. It was the fifth most popular song in the United States in nineteen fifty-two. It is called “Meet Mister Callaghan.”


PHOEBE ZIMMERMAN: The guitar has always been important to blues music. The electric guitar Les Paul helped develop made modern blues music possible. There have been many great blues guitarists. Yet, music experts say all blues guitar players are measured against one man and his famous guitar. That man is B.B. King. Every blues fan knows that years ago B.B. King named his guitar Lucille. Here B.B. King plays Lucille on his famous recording of “The Thrill Is Gone”.


Lucille, B.B. King’s large, beautiful black guitar, is important to American music. Visitors can see King’s very first guitar at the Rock and Soul Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum is the only permanent exhibit organized by the Smithsonian Institution outside Washington, D.C., and New York City.

STEVE EMBER: Another famous guitar in American music also has a name. It belongs to country music star Willie Nelson. His guitar is as famous in country music as Lucille is in blues music. Its name is Trigger.

Trigger is really a very ugly guitar. It looks like an old, broken instrument someone threw away. Several famous people have written their names on it. A huge hole was torn in the front of it a long time ago. It looks severely damaged. But the huge hole, the names and other marks seem to add to its sound. Listen while Willie Nelson plays “Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground."


PHOEBE ZIMMERMAN: Many rock and roll performers are very good with a guitar. One of the best is Chuck Berry. Berry’s method of playing the guitar very fast was extremely popular when rock music began. He still is an important influence on rock and roll music. Listen as Chuck Berry plays and sings one of his hit songs. He recorded it in nineteen fifty-seven. The song is about a guitar player named “Johnny B. Goode.”


STEVE EMBER: There are almost as many different kinds of guitar music as there are musicians. We cannot play them all in one program. So we leave you with one guitar player who often mixes several kinds of music.

His name is Jose Feliciano. Here he plays a song that is based on traditional Spanish guitar music. He mixes this with a little jazz and a little blues and adds a Latin sound. Here is “Bamboleo.”


PHOEBE ZIMMERMAN: This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Phoebe Zimmermann.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

1. The guitar is not played in a __________ .
a. country and western song
b. violin concerto
c. rock and roll song
d. flamenco

2. Jose Feliciano mixes many styles in " __________ ."
a. Bamboleo
b. Jerez
c. Johnny B. Goode
d. Meet Mr. Callaghan

3. __________ was the country in which the guitar developed the most.
a. England
b. The United States
c. Spain
d. Italy

4. __________ is an important influence on rock and roll music.
a. Jose Feliciano
b. Segovia
c. Willie Nelson
d. Chuck Berry

5. Willie Nelson named his guitar __________ .
a. Trigger
b. Schubert
c. Lucille
d. Johnny Boy

6. Les Paul experimented with the electric guitar in __________ .
a. 2000
b. the 1930s
c. the fifties
d. the first decade of the Twentieth Century

7. Lucile is the name of the guitar played by __________ .
a. Chuck Berry
b. B.B. King
c. Willie Nelson
d. Les Paul

8. On the guitar, __________ played.
a. only one kind of music is
b. only Rock and Roll is
c. many kinds of music are
d. mostly flamenco is

9. Another name for this story could be "__________ ."
a. The Most Popular Instrument
b. Flamenco Melodies
c. The History of the Electric Guitar
d. Lucille and Trigger

10. This story is mainly about __________ .
a. Rock and Roll music
b. Country and Western guitar
c. the history of the guitar
d. how the electric guitar changed music

B.B. King playing for you on Youtube:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"The Mystery of Time" from Voice of America.

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. This week our program is about a mystery as old as time. Bob Doughty and Sarah Long tell about the mystery of time.



If you can read a clock, you can know the time of day. But no one knows what time itself is. We cannot see it. We cannot touch it. We cannot hear it. We know it only by the way we mark its passing.

For all our success in measuring the smallest parts of time, time remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.


One way to think about time is to imagine a world without time. There could be no movement, because time and movement cannot be separated.

A world without time could exist only as long as there were no changes. For time and change are linked. We know that time has passed when something changes.


In the real world -- the world with time -- changes never stop. Some changes happen only once in a while, like an eclipse of the moon. Others happen repeatedly, like the rising and setting of the sun. Humans always have noted natural events that repeat themselves. When people began to count such events, they began to measure time.

In early human history, the only changes that seemed to repeat themselves evenly were the movements of objects in the sky. The most easily seen result of these movements was the difference between light and darkness.

The sun rises in the eastern sky, producing light. It moves across the sky and sinks in the west, causing darkness. The appearance and disappearance of the sun was even and unfailing. The periods of light and darkness it created were the first accepted periods of time. We have named each period of light and darkness -- one day.


People saw the sun rise higher in the sky during the summer than in winter. They counted the days that passed from the sun's highest position until it returned to that position. They counted three hundred sixty-five days. We now know that is the time Earth takes to move once around the sun. We call this period of time a year.


Early humans also noted changes in the moon. As it moved across the night sky, they must have wondered. Why did it look different every night? Why did it disappear? Where did it go?

Even before they learned the answers to these questions, they developed a way to use the changing faces of the moon to tell time.

The moon was "full" when its face was bright and round. The early humans counted the number of times the sun appeared between full moons. They learned that this number always remained the same -- about twenty-nine suns. Twenty-nine suns equaled one moon. We now know this period of time as one month.



Early humans hunted animals and gathered wild plants. They moved in groups or tribes from place to place in search of food. Then, people learned to plant seeds and grow crops. They learned to use animals to help them work, and for food.

They found they no longer needed to move from one place to another to survive.

As hunters, people did not need a way to measure time. As farmers, however, they had to plant crops in time to harvest them before winter. They had to know when the seasons would change. So, they developed calendars.

No one knows when the first calendar was developed. But it seems possible that it was based on moons, or lunar months.

When people started farming, the wise men of the tribes became very important. They studied the sky. They gathered enough information so they could know when the seasons would change. They announced when it was time to plant crops.



The divisions of time we use today were developed in ancient Babylonia four thousand years ago. Babylonian astronomers believed the sun moved around the Earth every three hundred sixty-five days. They divided the trip into twelve equal parts, or months. Each month was thirty days. Then, they divided each day into twenty-four equal parts, or hours. They divided each hour into sixty minutes, and each minute into sixty seconds.

Humans have used many devices to measure time. The sundial was one of the earliest and simplest.

A sundial measures the movement of the sun across the sky each day. It has a stick or other object that rises above a flat surface. The stick, blocking sunlight, creates a shadow. As the sun moves, so does the shadow of the stick across the flat surface. Marks on the surface show the passing of hours, and perhaps, minutes.

The sundial works well only when the sun is shining. So, other ways were invented to measure the passing of time.


One device is the hourglass. It uses a thin stream of falling sand to measure time. The hourglass is shaped like the number eight --- wide at the top and bottom, but very thin in the middle. In a true "hour" glass, it takes exactly one hour for all the sand to drop from the top to the bottom through a very small opening in the middle. When the hourglass is turned with the upside down, it begins to mark the passing of another hour.

By the eighteenth century, people had developed mechanical clocks and watches. And today, many of our clocks and watches are electronic.

So, we have devices to mark the passing of time. But what time is it now? Clocks in different parts of the world do not show the same time at the same time. This is because time on Earth is set by the sun's position in the sky above.

We all have a twelve o'clock noon each day. Noon is the time the sun is highest in the sky. But when it is twelve o'clock noon where I am, it may be ten o'clock at night where you are.


As international communications and travel increased, it became clear that it would be necessary to establish a common time for all parts of the world.

In eighteen eighty-four, an international conference divided the world into twenty-four time areas, or zones. Each zone represents one hour. The astronomical observatory in Greenwich, England, was chosen as the starting point for the time zones. Twelve zones are west of Greenwich. Twelve are east.

The time at Greenwich -- as measured by the sun -- is called Universal Time. For many years it was called Greenwich Mean Time.


Some scientists say time is governed by the movement of matter in our universe. They say time flows forward because the universe is expanding. Some say it will stop expanding some day and will begin to move in the opposite direction, to grow smaller. Some believe time will also begin to flow in the opposite direction -- from the future to the past. Can time move backward?

Most people have no trouble agreeing that time moves forward. We see people born and then grow old. We remember the past, but we do not know the future. We know a film is moving forward if it shows a glass falling off a table and breaking into many pieces. If the film were moving backward, the pieces would re-join to form a glass and jump back up onto the table. No one has ever seen this happen. Except in a film.


Some scientists believe there is one reason why time only moves forward. It is a well-known scientific law -- the second law of thermodynamics. That law says disorder increases with time. In fact, there are more conditions of disorder than of order.

For example, there are many ways a glass can break into pieces. That is disorder. But there is only one way the broken pieces can be organized to make a glass. That is order. If time moved backward, the broken pieces could come together in a great many ways. Only one of these many ways, however, would re-form the glass. It is almost impossible to believe this would happen.


Not all scientists believe time is governed by the second law of thermodynamics. They do not agree that time must always move forward. The debate will continue about the nature of time. And time will remain a mystery.



Our program was written by Marilyn Christiano and read by Sarah Long and Bob Doughty. I'm Steve Ember. Listen again next week for Science in the News, in VOA Special English.


1. People discovered how to measure a month by _____________________ .
a: using a sundial
b: learning the phases of the moon
c: observing when the moon disappeared and when it became full
d: counting the number of times the sun appeared between full moons

2. The second law of thermodynamics says that ________________ .
a: disorder increases with time
b: it takes time to create something valuable
c: a broken glass can be re-made to look like new
d: some day, the universe will begin to contract

3. People counted the days that passed between the sun's highest position until it returned that position. That's how they ___________________.
a: measured one year
b: figured out when to plant crops
c: learned to become farmers
d: invented the clock

4. Among early ____________, time became very important.
a: hunters
b: farmers
c: plant gatherers
d: warriors

5. In early human tribes, the wise men ________________________ .
a: didn't use calendars
b: studied the sky
c: only experimented with different herbal medicines
d: were not considered really wise

6. We can read a clock, but we can't see, touch, or hear ____________________ .
a: a watch
b: an airplane
c: time
d: a railroad train

7. Because San Francisco is in a different ____________ from New York, when it is 7:00 AM here, it is 10:00 AM there.
a: state
b: universe
c: time zone
d: lunar phase

8. A world without time would have no _______________________________ .
a: buildings
b: movement
c: parks
d: automobiles

9. Not one of the reasons for establishing a common time for all parts of the world would be "____________________________ ."
a: greater international communications
b: more international travel
c: faster electronic connections
d: more reliance on local agriculture

10. Greenwich Mean Time was the name given to ______________________ .
a: the fastest marathon runners in the town of Greenwich, England
b: Universal Time
c: the long lines at the Greenwich, England post office
d: a glass shaped like a number eight that recorded one hour by the movement of sand through the thinnest part of the glass