Oct 182013

Here’s our latest 90 second video English lesson. (As always, the video is also available with a clickable transcript at http://www.simpleenglishvideos.com/language/)

This is one of many curious British and American differences that I’ll be exploring in my webinar for IATEFL this Saturday (19th Oct 2013), along with questions like ‘Are Americans really more direct?’ and ‘What’s the role of sarcasm in American English?’
To join the webinar, follow this link: http://www.iatefl.org/membership-information/iatefl-webinars
It’s suitable for English teachers or anyone with an interest in linguistics and British and American differences. It’s free and open to all so hope some of you can make it.

 Posted by at 3:51 am
Oct 172013

The Tea Party and the President are at loggerheads. The Tea Party and Democrats are at loggerheads. The Tea Party and Republicans are at logger heads. Only at the eleventh hour before the country defaulted on its debts has a debt ceiling deal been passed. Polls show the country as frustrated, angry and bitterly divided.

So you might have expected to see that in elections this week. Negative advertising is commonplace in many political campaigns here. But up in Massachusetts, Congressional candidate Carl Sciortino took a different tack. Instead he told the story of how he came out to his Dad. But not in the way you might expect…

Carl failed to get win his primary, but the ad attracted wide attention which enabled him to come third in a race where he’d started as a rank outsider. Positive advertising with a positive outcome.

 Posted by at 8:10 am
Sep 232013

Gun control is a multi faceted problem and it disturbs me that the discussions about it here often seem detached from statistics. I was very moved this weekend by an art project taking place on the next block. Thank you so much to Peter Quinn (and all the volunteers) for using art to tell a story to flesh out a key statistic.

Here’s a 90 second video we made when they chalked me up:

For more information on the project, here are some links:

Philadelphia Inquirer



 Posted by at 7:25 am
Nov 032012

This is a powerful value in the US and one of those values that, speaking as a Brit, I’ve found it hard to understand. It’s not that I want a tumultuous transition of power. On the contrary. I just don’t understand the weighting it’s given. It seems to me the need for a peaceful transition can supersede a rightful transition of power.

Back in 2004 when the ‘hanging chads’ debate had been settled by the supreme court, I caused an embarrassing argument at a dinner party. ‘It’s horrific that so many people have been disenfranchised’, I argued. And I got hot under the collar when Americans spoke with pride (in much more genial, polite and measured tones than mine) about the way power had been conveyed peacefully. It’s become one of those things that I have to keep reminding myself. The peaceful transition of power carries a different weighting here. It’s an important American value – really important. I think I presume it will happen automatically, but am I wrong to presume it can be taken for granted?

My take is still that Al Gore made a bad mistake back in 2004. Creating history like that allows misguided folks like Mike Turzai (in the video below) to believe that they can disenfranchise voters by requiring ID they don’t have and get away with it.


It’s been fascinating watching the legal challenges to voter ID unfold in Pennsylvania. But it’s just one of many story lines in this election and I have to say I’ve loved every one of them. I’ve found it way more interesting than a British election because more fundamental issues seem to come out into the open and get discussed – both hilariously in the late night talk shows (oh they are wonderful here) and in more serious venues like the broadsheets and the presidential debates too.

And I look at the discussion that’s been going on about whether Mark Thompson, ex BBC Director General, is fit to run the New York Times after the Jimmy Savile scandal. And (unlike many Brits I suspect) I doubt he is. I think maintaining the peace (as he did) often comes at an unacceptable price. I like the discussion I’ve seen here about the way power is used and abused so I’m inclined to favour more argy-bargy.

But what do you think? Any thoughts? And what results are you hoping for in Tuesday’s election?

 Posted by at 3:54 am