Apr 26 2010


In June, 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an order banning the use of City money to buy single-serving bottled water. He said at the time that the tap water of the City of San Francisco, which comes from Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite, was cleaner than a lot of the bottled water that was called “pure.” In addition, he pointed out that bottled water was a great stress on the environment.

In the movie below, the woman explains how bottled water has become so popular. She explains that the soft drink companies needed another way to improve their profits, so they decided to sell bottled water. They “manufactured demand” for it. That means they advertised in ways that would make people want something that they really didn’t need. Among the things they did was to try and make people afraid to drink the water that comes out of the tap. However, even some of the bottled water that is sold is just filtered tap water. And many blind taste tests (where people don’t know which water is tap water and which is bottled) show that tap water tastes better. In some countries, it is true that tap water is not safe to drink; however, in San Francisco, the water is very good.

Carrying tap water with you requires a little bit of planning. You can buy a reusable water bottle and fill it before you leave your house. It would save you a lot of money too.

I think the following movie is worth seeing, but it might be hard to understand. There are some things you can do to make it easier. First, the woman talks fast, but there are also subtitles. You can make the picture (and the subtitles) bigger if you press the Ctrl button on the keyboard, hold it down, and push the + key. You can also stop and start the movie at any time, or go back to see something you missed. Ask if you need help.

Here is the rather long movie about bottled water:

You can probably guess that there are two sides to this argument, and which side I am on! How about you? What do you think about bottled water? Do you use it a lot? Do you drink tap water? Is the tap water in your country safe to drink?

14 responses so far

Apr 19 2010

Goldman Prize Winner Maria Gunnoe

Published by under Animals & the Environment

Today I would like you to read and listen to some stories about Goldman Prize winner Maria Gunnoe. First, let me explain about the Goldman Prize. The Goldman Environmental Prize is an award for “grassroots environmentalists.” “Grassroots environmentalists” are regular people who work to fix some environmental problems in their neighborhood or region. It’s not an award for well-known environmental organizations, for example. The award is given to six people every year, one from each of six different parts of the world. The award is for $150,000. Last year the award for North America went to Maria Gunnoe, of Bob White, West Virginia.

Maria Gunnoe has lived in a little town in West Virginia for all her life. Her family has been there for generations. This part of West Virginia is famous for coal, which is used to power energy plants. For years, miners worked to bring coal up from the mines, but now there is a new way to get coal. The new way uses fewer workers, but is devastating (very bad) for the environment. It is called “Mountaintop Removal.”

In mountaintop removal, the company blows off the top of a mountain to get to the coal. The mountain is gone. The valleys get filled. The water gets spoiled. Maria Gunnoe stood up to the coal companies, a very dangerous thing to do in West Virginia. She testified (gave her opinion in court) and helped stop some mountaintop removal. Because of that, she needs protection from people who want to hurt her, burn down her house, shoot her dog, etc.

I thought her story was interesting, and I would like to show you some links for more information. One of them is a video on the Goldman Prize site. It is just for listening, because there is no script. Another is an interview on another site, but for that one you can listen first and then look at the script. Do your best, and if you think it’s too hard, you don’t have to continue, but if you try, I am pretty sure you will find it interesting.

First, click to go to the Goldman Prize Website. There is a picture of Maria Gunnoe on the right side of the page. It says, “Click to Play”. Click on the picture and then click on the arrow to start the video. You can replay it or stop it if you want.

When you finish that video, click to go to the interview with Maria Gunnoe called Defending the Mountains. Click on RealAudio for this Story to hear the interview. After you listen to the interview once, you can listen to it again and read the transcript as well. The transcript is below the picture.

Now that you have seen a video and listened to an interview, post an answer to my questions: What do you think about Maria Gunnoe? Had you ever heard of the Goldman Prize before? Do you think it was a good idea to give her that award? Did you understand enough of the interviews to make the lesson worthwhile for you or was it too hard?

5 responses so far

Apr 12 2010

Native City

Published by under Cities

Last week you talked in groups briefly about your native city. You had a lot of questions that you could ask the other people in your group. These were the questions:

  • What’s the name of your native city? Where is it located in your native country? What kind of city is it? Is it big, small, urban, rural, industrial? Is it near mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, rivers? What’s the scenery like?
  • What kind of museums are there in your native city? Are they very well-known?
  • What’s the weather like in your native city? Are summers hot and winters cold? Does it snow? Does it have lightning and thunderstorms? Is it foggy?
  • What kind of buildings are in your native city? Where do people live? Where do people work? Where do people shop?
  • If some people were planning a trip to your native city, what advice would you give them? What would you tell them to be sure to do there? What would you tell them to avoid?
  • What are some similarities and differences between San Francisco and your native city?

I would like you to write a paragraph about your native city. You do not have to answer all the questions. You can choose which questions you would like to answer, or you can write something that doesn’t answer any of my questions at all. I will respond to your post.

20 responses so far

Apr 05 2010


Published by under General

I hope you all had a good vacation and are coming back ready to study again. As for me, I didn’t get a vacation from my new job as a cancer fighter, you know! I thought I’d let you know that my treatment is going well, but it’s just too hard to do that and come to school too. I think my treatment is about half finished now; some parts are almost finished, but other parts aren’t.

I am still preparing the lessons for the Internet on Monday and Tuesday, as well as checking with Lisa for the other days so you can have the grammar and homework lessons I have already prepared. This is certainly not the semester I had planned, but sometimes life interferes with our plans. I am doing pretty well, actually, but I don’t want to wear myself out, so I haven’t been back to school for a while. I guess you know that already!

Some students think they want to leave me alone and not bother me, but really, I’d rather hear from you, so I’m asking you to answer my questions on this blog so I can respond to you too. At least that way I feel like I still have a class, even if I can’t come to school right now.

I would like to know what you did on your vacation. Did you read any good books or visit any interesting museums? Did you cook any special food or just relax and watch movies in your own language? Write a little to let us know how you spent your vacation.

12 responses so far

Mar 22 2010

The Census

Published by under American History & Politics

It’s census time again, and I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about the census. You probably already received your census form in the mail. It is sent to every address in the country. Every ten years, we count the number of people who are living in the United States. This count of people has been going on since the very first count in 1790. In fact, the census is part of the Constitution.

If you fill out the census form and send it back, no one will call on you. However, if you ignore the form, someone will come to your house to help you fill it out. You have to count everyone who is living in your house/flat/apartment, every age from just born to over 100. It is very important for the city of San Francisco and the state of California to have an accurate count. The amount of money that is sent to the state and the city for a lot of services depends on the number of people who live here. In addition, the House of Representatives is divided up according to population. Every ten years some states which have lost population, lose seats, and some states which have gained population, gain seats.

The main information that you need to put on the form is the name, age, sex, and race of everyone living in your household. There is also a question about whether you own or rent your living space.

It is very very important to fill out and return the form. If you want some more information, you can even go to the government 2010 Census page and select your own language to read about the census.

Have you already gotten the census forms? Did you fill them out and send them in yet? Is there a similar kind of census in your country?

15 responses so far

Mar 09 2010

Health Care

Published by under Health and Safety

I have been reading a lot recently about the situation of health care in the United States. Lots of people who have been losing their jobs have also been losing their health insurance, or are no longer able to afford health care. I am lucky because I have great insurance. Of course, while it includes me and my family, I pay about $7,600 a year for it. The community college district pays some too. People used to have health insurance as part of their jobs, but the expense in recent years has meant that some employers have stopped offering it.

While there are health plans for people over 65 who qualify for Medicare, or people who qualify for Medicaid, there is a large group of people who don’t have insurance, don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, and can’t afford to buy it. Sometimes they can’t get insurance because of “pre-existing conditions.” (That means they have already been sick, so the insurance company doesn’t want to insure them.) I think it’s not a good idea for people to have to make a choice between seeing the doctor and getting some medicine or feeding their children.

Some people use the emergency room for little problems that aren’t really emergencies because they have nowhere else to go. Other people don’t see the doctor when their problems are small, and instead wait until they get really bad and then they have much bigger trouble. Some people skip routine tests that can find problems before they get big.

In addition to health care, some people are also very concerned with dental care, although it hasn’t been discussed as much recently.

Just as a personal note, I am doing okay. I had my surgery Friday, and now I have a port so they can take out blood and do chemotherapy without sticking me with needles in a lot of places. The only bad thing was that they changed the time of the appointment from 2:00 to 12:30 and forgot to tell me. I got there as soon as I could, and at least I was home by 3:20.

What do you think? Are you concerned about the cost of health care? Are there differences between the health care system in your native country and the health care system in this country? If so, what are they? What do you think is good or bad about the U.S. health care system? Do you think dental care should be included too? Is it included in your native country? Write a paragraph about your ideas about health and dental care. You don’t have to answer all the questions.

12 responses so far

Mar 02 2010

Climate Change

Published by under Animals & the Environment

If you read or listen to the news, you have probably heard about Global Warming. Records show that the earth’s temperature has been going up over a period of years. Many scientists are very concerned about what will happen if the ice melts and the sea level rises.

Now that the terrible snows have been happening on the East Coast, a lot of people have been making jokes about Global Warming because the weather there is cold and the snowfall is much heavier than normal. Other people try to explain that the issue is really Climate Change. When the climate changes, some places might be warmer, and other places might have more snow.

Most climate scientists agree that the increase in temperature and climate change has been happening faster because of human activity. There is some disagreement about what to do about it, especially in this country.

Yesterday (or today!) you read the article called Snow Melting on Mount Kilimanjaro. That article was written in 2002. The website of the National Air and Space Administration shows two pictures of Mount Kilimanjaro, one from 1993 and one seven years later. The pictures are here. You can see how much ice had melted in those seven years. (You can close the window with the pictures when you are finished looking at them.) Another article in the New York Times from November, 2009 explains that the ice cap is still retreating, and has gone down another 26% since 2000. The article and another picture is here.

Recently a huge iceberg the size of the small European country of Luxemburg, about 2550 square kilometers, broke off a shelf in Antartica when it was hit by another floating iceberg. Scientists are concerned about the impact of occurrences like these too.

Here is a video showing a piece breaking off a smaller iceberg off the coast of New Zealand: (You can get headphones and listen to it.)

What do you think? Do you think that people are causing climate change? If so, what do you think should be done about it?

10 responses so far

Feb 23 2010


Published by under Health and Safety

Earthquakes can be pretty scary, but since we live in San Francisco, we have to be prepared for them. Normally the earthquakes we get are not too large, and are over pretty quickly. I will admit that I don’t always follow the advice about what to do in an earthquake. If you are in bed, you are supposed to stay there and cover your head, but I often run to the doorway. I think standing in the doorway was an old suggestion, based on pictures of houses that had survived earthquakes, and although parts of the houses had fallen down, you could see the doorways were still standing. Nowadays, people seem to recommend getting under a strong table or desk instead. I still run for the doorway, but you are supposed to be careful you don’t get hit by the door!

After many years of doorway running, or sitting and wondering if it was really an earthquake, I was here for the last big one in 1989. It was called the Loma Prieta earthquake, and it happened on October 17. My younger kids were two years old and five years old at that time. The younger one was upstairs taking a nap in his crib. When the earthquake started, I was on the telephone and the TV was on. I dropped the phone and went to the doorway, like I always did. However, this time was different. Instead of standing up in the doorway, I had to sit down. I put my five-year-old son in front of me and I held on to the side of the wall with both hands, because the house was rocking a lot. I heard things falling down, and a big crash from upstairs. I was very worried about the baby, because he was upstairs too. As soon as the earthquake finished, I ran upstairs to see what made the big crashing sound. My dresser had fallen over right next to my son’s crib. It didn’t touch the crib, though, and he slept through the whole thing.

I was very relieved to see everything was okay with him. The electricity was off, the water in the fish bowls sloshed out all over the floor, and when my husband came home, he said that he had been driving at the time, and had stopped because he thought he had a flat tire. Everyone else thought the same thing, and had stopped too. We were very lucky, but it made us think about earthquakes again. After that, we hired an engineer and had our house “earthquake-proofed.” They connected the house to the foundation, tied the water heater, put in some extra poles, etc. There is, of course, no guarantee that nothing will happen, but we try to be prepared.

There are some suggestions on different websites about things you should have on hand in case there is an earthquake. These include food, water, flashlights with batteries, a radio with batteries, and so on. I gave you a worksheet yesterday that talked about some of these things. What things have you done to prepare yourself? What things do you think you should do? Have you been in an earthquake in San Francisco or in another country? How bad was it? What did you do?

12 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

Visitors to San Francisco

Published by under Cities

Last week in class you talked about San Francisco. One of the topics was to talk about your favorite places. I asked you where you would take someone who came to visit you here.

I thought I’d tell you about two places I have taken visitors. The first one was many many years ago, after I first came to San Francisco. My first job was teaching ESL in Chinatown, while the TransAmerica Pyramid was being built. You probably know that building–it looks like this:

My classroom was opposite the 13th floor of the new building, so we saw the workmen building it. Anyway, my students were very nice about showing me the “non-traditional” parts of Chinatown. One of the places they took me was to a Chinatown fortune cookie factory. Fortune cookies are cookies that have a piece of paper with your “fortune” inside. They look like this:

The fortune cookie factory had a machine that squirted out some dough in a small circle. The cookies cooked as they moved along, and there was a woman who took the still hot cookies from the machine, put in the fortune, and closed and bent them to make the cookie shape. The machine looked like this:

The other place I remember was when my cousin came to visit and she wanted to see Alcatraz. I had already been in San Francisco for over 20 years, but I had never been there, so I decided to go. It was quite expensive and included a boat ride, since it’s on an island. We rented a walking tour so we could play the tapes and follow the directions. I remember that it was a very interesting trip.

What places do you like in San Francisco? Where have you taken or where would you like to take people who come to visit you in this city?

23 responses so far

Feb 02 2010

I Love the Internet

Published by under Internet

In yesterday’s reading, Medicine, I gave three links to sites on the Internet where you can get information about medications–how to take them, what side effects they have, who shouldn’t take them, what they are for, etc.

The Internet is a wonderful place to get information. I use Google to find things on the World Wide Web because it is my favorite search engine. In fact, it is the only one that I use. You can use a search engine by putting in the words you are looking for, and the search engine will examine its memory and give you a list of all the webpages that have those words on them. Google uses a method which usually puts the webpage you want at the top of the list. I remember back in 2000 when Google said it could search 1 billion webpages. Now, although Google no longer says how many webpages it searches, estimates are that the number is up to 40 to 60 billion, and Google has explained it has found 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) different webpages, although it doesn’t search them all.

Many people have websites now. Anyone can put anything on a webpage, so of course you have to be careful to make sure you get your information from a website that is accurate. I use Google to find all kinds of information. My husband laughs at me now because whenever he asks me a question, I go to the computer to find the answer. All government agencies, all large companies, museums, and even many restaurants are on the Internet. You can find out the symptoms of a disease, how much your old car is worth, how many people live in France, what time the bank is open, how to make pizza, and so on.

I am planning to make a few lessons about the Internet, Internet searching, and so on. Do you use the Internet now? What do you do on the Internet? If you don’t know how to use the Internet, what would you like to learn? What kinds of websites do you want to visit?

37 responses so far

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