Friday, January 29, 2010

A Museum Better Known as the US Capitol - From Voice of America.


I'm Bob Doughty.


U.S. Capitol
And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., is one of the most recognized buildings in the world. Its design was influenced by the classical buildings of ancient Greece and Rome.

The United States Congress meets in the Capitol. The building was created as a physical representation of democracy. But it is also a museum filled with art and sculpture that tell about America's social and political history.



A drawing of the Capitol dome from 1859

Our story begins on the Caribbean island of Tortola during the hot summer of seventeen ninety-two. William Thornton is hard at work on a set of building drawings. Mister Thornton came from a family of wealthy landowners who grew sugar on the island. He was trained as a doctor. But he had many interests including history, mechanics, government and building design. Mister Thornton was working to complete drawings for the design of the United States Capitol.


A few months earlier, the government of President George Washington had started a contest for the best design for the Capitol. William Thornton wanted the building to express the democratic goals of this young country. It would be a physical version of America's constitution. His design was influenced by the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, and the Louvre museum in Paris, France.

William Thornton sent his building design to federal officials in Washington with a letter. "I have made my drawings with the greatest accuracy, and the most minute attention", he wrote. "In an affair of so much consequence to the dignity of the United States," it was his request that "you will not be hasty in deciding."

President Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson selected a later version of Mister Thornton's design for the Capitol. George Washington praised the design for its "grandeur, simplicity, and beauty."



Over the centuries, the United States Capitol has had many changes and additions. Many architects have worked on its extensions. But just as important as the building's design are the priceless collections of art and sculpture inside. They tell a detailed story about different events in America's past. And, they provide an interesting commentary on how America's government, people, and artists have chosen to represent their history.

We asked Barbara Wolanin to take us through several important rooms to learn more about the building's art and statue collection. She is the curator for the Architect of the Capitol.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "The Capitol, from the very beginning, the architects envisioned art sculpture for it, paintings for it. They were really built in as part of the architecture in each of the different construction stages of the Capitol."


The inside of the Capitol dome
We start in the most beautiful room, the Rotunda. This large circular room inside the Capitol's tall white dome measures over fifty-four meters high. It was completed in eighteen twenty-four.

The room connects the Senate side of the building with the House of Representatives side. So, it is both the physical and symbolic center of the building. Visiting the room is a wonderful experience. The room has a feeling of solidity and permanence, but it also is a celebration of light and airiness.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "We're in the Rotunda, right in the center of the United States Capitol, and starting from the top down, the very top is the fresco painting called the
"Apotheosis of Washington".

It was painted by a Roman-born artist Constantino Brumidi in eighteen sixty-five, at the end of the Civil War."


At the top of the dome is a colorful painting showing groups of people arranged in a circular shape. George Washington sits in the center of the painting, with women representing Liberty and Victory at his sides.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "He's the one in the lavender lap robe. And he's rising up into the heavens. Apotheosis means being raised to the level of an ideal or a god."


It might seem strange today to show an American president as a god. But during the nineteenth century, Americans greatly loved and respected President Washington. This included Americans from both the North and South after the Civil War. Several Roman gods are also in the painting. They are holding examples of American technologies of the time.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "They are mixed in with new American technology, the latest inventions. Like Ceres there is sitting on a McCormick reaper, which is the new way for reaping grain quickly. And Neptune with a Trident is helping lay the trans-Atlantic cable which was just being laid when he was painting this."


The artist Constantino Brumidi finished this huge work in only eleven months. He also painted much of the frieze that extends along the Rotunda walls under the room's thirty-six windows. A frieze is a long stretch of surface that has been painted or sculpted. This one tells the history of America. The people in the frieze are painted to look three- dimensional, like sculptures.

Below the frieze, eight huge historical paintings hang on the curved walls. Four paintings tell about the events of the Revolutionary War in the late eighteenth century. The four others show examples of early explorations of the country. These include the landing of explorer Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the Mississippi River.


Sculptures are another important part of the room's decoration. One marble sculpture of Abraham Lincoln was created in eighteen seventy-one, after his death. Vinnie Ream made the sculpture. She was the first woman hired by the government to create a work of art. She was only eighteen years old when she was asked to make the statue.

Another marble statue nearby honors three women who fought for voting rights for women. Adelaide Johnson made this sculpture.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "'Portrait Monument' has just an amazing history too. This is also by a woman artist. And it was commissioned by the National Woman's Party in nineteen twenty after women finally got the vote."


The sculpted forms of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott seem to be coming up out of the huge piece of stone.

Behind them, a fourth form rises out of the uncut stone. Adelaide Johnson said this unfinished area was meant to show that the struggle for women's equality was not over.



Many of the statues in this room and others throughout the Capitol are part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. The collection was established in eighteen sixty-four. Congress invited each state to send two statues to the collection.

The statues can represent a very famous person, such as an American president. Or, they can represent someone less well known but historically important. States can also replace an older statue with a new one. It has taken a long time to complete the collection. The one hundredth statue arrived in two thousand five.


Barbara Wolanin takes us into the National Statuary Hall. This large room was a meeting room for the House of Representatives until eighteen fifty-seven.

BARBARA WOLANIN: "This room, at the time it was built was considered the most beautiful room in the whole country. Benjamin Henry Latrobe was the architect and he really tried to make it as fine as he could. He was very interested in the classical architectures. So he wanted columns and he had these special capitals for the columns carved in Carrara, Italy based on ancient designs."

As you can guess from the room's name, it now houses many statues from the national collection. For example, there is a marble statue of Sam Houston, a leader who fought for independence for the state of Texas. One of the state of Louisiana's statues is a bronze representation of the politician Huey Long.


The newest building extension of the Capitol is the Capitol Visitor Center. These large underground rooms were completed in December of two thousand eight. The goal is to enrich the experience of the more than two million people who visit the Capitol every year.

The Visitor Center is filled with water fountains, skylights, historical exhibits, a restaurant — and more statues. A bronze statue of the Hawaiian ruler King Kamehameha is hard to miss. His clothing is almost completely covered in gold. Every year in June, Hawaiians come to the Capitol to honor this ancient ruler.


Helen Keller

The newest statue in the national collection is from Alabama. It shows the deaf and blind activist and writer Helen Keller as a young child. It is also the smallest statue in the collection.

But the biggest statue in the room is not part of the Statuary Collection. It is a plaster form that was used to make the bronze statue of Freedom that stands on the dome of the Capitol high above the city. Freedom is represented as a strong woman wearing the flowing clothing of ancient Rome. She measures over five meters tall.

If you stand under a skylight in the Visitor Center, you can see the bronze statue of Freedom high up on the dome outside. She is watching over the Capitol building as it continues to represent America's history, government and people.



This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Bob Doughty. Next week, we visit another important art collection, at the Vatican in Italy. You can comment on this and other programs on our Web site, Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Part One of the story of Helen Keller, from VOA
Part Two of the story of Hellen Keller, from VOA

A video tour of the capitol building from Youtube.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968: He Used Non-Violence and Civil Disobedience to
Gain Equal Rights for Black Americans.

Martin Luther King Jr.

(This program, Part One of the story of Martin Luther King and The Civil Rights Movement, was first presented in January of 2008)


People in America - a program in Special English on the Voice of America.


Today, Warren Scheer and Shep O'Neal begin the story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior.



It all started on a bus. A black woman (Rosa Parks) was returning home from work after a long hard day. She sat near the front of the bus because she was tired and her legs hurt. But the bus belonged to the city of Montgomery in the southern state of Alabama. And the year was nineteen fifty-five.

In those days, black people could sit only in the back of the bus. So the driver ordered the woman to give up her seat. But the woman refused, and she was arrested.

Incidents like this had happened before. But no one had ever spoken out against such treatment of blacks. This time, however, a young black preacher organized a protest. He called on all black citizens to stop riding the buses in Montgomery until the laws were changed. The name of the young preacher was Martin Luther King. He led the protest movement to end injustice in the Montgomery city bus system. The protest became known as the Montgomery bus boycott. The protest marked the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States.

This is the story of Martin Luther King, and his part in the early days of the civil rights movement.


Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in nineteen twenty-nine. He was born into a religious family.

Martin's father was a preacher at a Baptist church. And his mother came from a family with strong ties to the Baptist religion.

In nineteen twenty-nine, Atlanta was one of the wealthiest cities in the southern part of the United States. Many black families came to the city in search of a better life. There was less racial tension between blacks and whites in Atlanta than in other southern cities. But Atlanta still had laws designed to keep black people separate from whites.

The laws of racial separation existed all over the southern part of the United States. They forced blacks to attend separate schools and live in separate areas of a city. Blacks did not have the same rights as white people, and were often poorer and less educated.


Martin Luther King did not know about racial separation when he was young. But as he grew older, he soon saw that blacks were not treated equally.

One day Martin and his father went out to buy shoes. They entered a shoe store owned by a white businessman.

The businessman sold shoes to all people. But he had a rule that blacks could not buy shoes in the front part of the store. He ordered Martin's father to obey the rule. Martin never forgot his father's angry answer:

"If you do not sell shoes to black people at the front of the store, you will
not sell shoes to us at all. "

Such incidents, however, were rare during Martin's early life. Instead, he led the life of a normal boy. Martin liked to learn, and he passed through school very quickly. He was only fifteen when he was ready to enter the university. The university, called Morehouse College, was in Atlanta. Morehouse College was one of the few universities in the South where black students could study.


It was at the university that Martin decided to become a preacher. At the same time, he also discovered he had a gift for public speaking.

He soon was able to test his gifts. One Sunday, Martin's father asked him to preach at his church. When Martin arrived, the church members were surprised to see such a young man getting ready to speak to them. But they were more surprised to find themselves deeply moved by the words of young Martin Luther King.

A church member once described him: "The boy seemed much older than his years. He understood life and its problems."


Martin seemed wise to others because of his studies at the university. He carefully read the works of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader and thinker. Martin also studied the books of the American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Both men wrote about ways to fight injustice. Gandhi had led his people to freedom by peacefully refusing to obey unjust laws. He taught his followers never to use violence. Thoreau also urged people to disobey laws that were not just, and to be willing to go to prison for their beliefs.

As he studied, Martin thought he had found the answer for his people. The ideas of Gandhi and Thoreau -- non-violence and civil disobedience -- could be used together to win equal rights for black Americans. Martin knew, then, that his decision to become a preacher was right. He believed that as a preacher he could spread the ideas of Gandhi and Thoreau. Years later he said:

"My university studies gave me the basic truths I now believe. I discovered the idea of humanity's oneness and the dignity and value of all human character. "


Martin continued his studies in religion for almost ten years. When he was twenty-two, he moved north to study in Boston.

It was in Boston that Martin met Coretta Scott, the woman who later became his wife.

Martin always had been very popular with the girls in his hometown. His brother once said that Martin "never had one girlfriend for more than a year".


But Martin felt Coretta Scott was different. The first time he saw her Martin said: "You have everything I have ever wanted in a wife. "

Coretta was surprised at his words. But she felt that Martin was serious and honest. A short time later, they were married. Martin soon finished his studies in Boston, and received a doctorate degree in religion. The young preacher then was offered a job at a church in Montgomery, Alabama.


Martin Luther King and his wife were happy in Montgomery. Their first child was born. Martin's work at the church was going well. He became involved in a number of activities to help the poor. And the members of his church spoke highly of their new preacher. Coretta remembered their life as simple and without worries.

Then, a black woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested for sitting in the white part of a Montgomery city bus. And Martin Luther King organized a protest against the Montgomery bus system.

Martin believed it was very important for the bus boycott to succeed -- more important even than his own life. But he worried about his ability to lead such an important campaign. He was only twenty-six years old. He prayed to God for help and believed that God answered his prayers.


Martin knew that his actions and his speeches would be important for the civil rights movement. But he was faced with a serious problem. He asked: "How can I make my people militant enough to win our goals, while keeping peace within the movement. "

The answer came to him from the teachings of Gandhi and Thoreau. In his first speech as a leader, Martin said:

"We must seek to show we are right through peaceful, not violent means. Love must be the ideal guiding our actions. If we protest bravely, and yet with pride and Christian love, then future historians will say:

"There lived a great people, a black people, who gave new hope to civilization. "

With these words, a new movement was born. It was non-violent and peaceful. But victory was far from sure, and many difficult days of struggle lay ahead.



You have been listening to the VOA Special English program, People in America. Your narrators were Warren Scheer and Shep O'Neal. Our program was written by William Rodgers. Listen again next week at this time, when we will complete the story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior.


Rosa Parks was arrested because she ________________ .
a: insulted the bus driver
b: refused to give her seat to an elderly passenger
c: refused to sit in the back of the bus
d: refused to pay the bus fare

2. The civil rights movement began with _________________ .
a: the Montgomery bus boycott
b: a march on Washington
c: an occupation of the city hall in Montgomery, Alabama
d: a boycott of stores in Montgomery, Alabama

3. In Martin Luther KIng's first speech, he said, "We must show that we are right through ________________ means.
a: violent, not peaceful
b: economic, not political
c: political influence, not direct confrontational
d: peaceful, not violent

4. Coretta King, Martin's wife, remembers that their life together was simple ____________ .
a: after Rosa Parks was arrested
b: before Rosa Parks was arrested
c: after the Montgomery bus boycott
d: after the beginning of the civl rights movement

5.At the university, Martin Luther King read the American Philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau wrote that _______________________ .
a: all protests must be non-violent
b: a protestor should be willing to go to jail for his/her convictions
c: tactics in political movements should be carefully evaluated
d: politicians with influence must be persuaded to support your cause

6. From his studies, Martin Luther King became convinced of humanity's oneness and ____________________ .
a: the dignity and value of the human character
b: the necessity of deep meditation to grasp this oneness of humanity
c: Christianity's unique perspective on this truth
d: white people were more likely to be mired in prejudice

7. Martin Luther King met Coretta Scott while ___________________ .
a: initiating the civil rights movement
b: attending the university
c: working as a minister in Montgomery, Alabama
d: leading a protest against discrimination

8. When Martin Luther King's father was told he could buy shoes only in the back of the store, he said "__________________ ."
a: I will buy shoes in the back of the store only if they are quality shoes
b: Please, can't I try on shoes in the front?
c: If you will not sell black people shoes in the front part of the store, you will not sell shoes to us at all
d: All right, sorry about that. I'll go to the back of the store right away because I really need a new pair of shoes

9. In 1929, the year Martin Luther King was born, Atlanta, Georgia _______________ other cities of the south .
a: had more racial tension than
b: had as much racial tension as
c: was segregated, but had less racial tension than
d: was not segregated and therefore had less racial tension than

10. Martin Luther King's mother and father were both strongly tied to _______________ .
a: the Baptist faith
b: Gandhi's philosophy
c: the works of Henri David Thoreau
d: Morehouse College

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Challenges of a New Age, from The White House Blog.

The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., Part Two

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"How the Earth is Cracked Like an Eggshell": The Science of Plate Tectonics, from Voice of America.


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.


And I'm Steve Ember. Scientists who study the Earth tell us that the continents and ocean floors are always moving. Sometimes, this movement is violent and might result in great destruction. Today, we examine the process that causes earthquakes.



The first pictures of Earth taken from space showed a solid ball covered by brown and green landmasses and blue-green oceans. It appeared as if the Earth had always looked that way -- and always would.

Scientists now know, however, that the surface of the Earth is not as permanent as had been thought. Scientists explain that the surface of our planet is always in motion. Continents move about the Earth like huge ships at sea. They float on pieces of the Earth's outer skin, or crust. New crust is created as melted rock pushes up from inside the planet. Old crust is destroyed as it rolls down into the hot area and melts again.


Only since the nineteen-sixties have scientists begun to understand that the Earth is a great, living structure. Some experts say this new understanding is one of the most important revolutions in scientific thought. The revolution is based on the work of scientists who study the movement of the continents -- a process called plate tectonics.

Earthquakes are a result of that process. Plate tectonics is the area of science that explains why the surface of the Earth changes and how those changes cause earthquakes.


Scientists say the surface of the Earth is cracked like a giant eggshell. They call the pieces tectonic plates. As many as twenty of them cover the Earth. The plates float about slowly, sometimes crashing into each other, and sometimes moving away from each other.

When the plates move, the continents move with them. Sometimes the continents are above two plates. The continents split as the plates move.



Tectonic plates can cause earthquakes as they move. Modern instruments show that about ninety percent of all earthquakes take place along a few lines in several places around the Earth.

These lines follow underwater mountains, where hot liquid rock flows up from deep inside the planet. Sometimes, the melted rock comes out with a great burst of pressure. This forces apart pieces of the Earth's surface in a violent earthquake.

Other earthquakes take place at the edges of continents. Pressure increases as two plates move against each other. When this happens, one plate moves past the other, suddenly causing the Earth's surface to split.

An aerial image of the San Andreas fault from Carrizo Plain in central California


One example of this is found in California, on the West Coast of the United States. One part of California is on what is known as the Pacific plate. The other part of the state is on what is known as the North American plate.

Scientists say the Pacific plate is moving toward the northwest, while the North American plate is moving more to the southeast. Where these two huge plates come together is called a fault line.

The name of this line between the plates in California is the San Andreas Fault. It is along or near this line that most of California's earthquakes take place, as the two tectonic plates move in different directions.

The city of Los Angeles in Southern California is about fifty kilometers from the San Andreas Fault. Many smaller fault lines can be found throughout the area around Los Angeles. A major earthquake in nineteen ninety-four was centered along one of these smaller fault lines.



The story of plate tectonics begins with the German scientist Alfred Wegener in the early part of the twentieth century. He first proposed that the continents had moved and were still moving.

He said the idea came to him when he observed that the coasts of South America and Africa could fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. He proposed that the two continents might have been one, then split apart.

Later, Alfred Wegener said the continents had once been part of a huge area of land he called Pangaea. He said the huge continent had split more than two hundred million years ago. He said the pieces were still floating apart.


Wegener investigated the idea that continents move. He pointed out a line of mountains that appears from east to west in South Africa. Then he pointed out another line of mountains that looks almost exactly the same in Argentina, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. He found fossil remains of the same kind of an early plant in areas of Africa, South America, India, Australia and even Antarctica.

Alfred Wegener said the mountains and fossils were evidence that all the land on Earth was united at some time in the distant past:


Wegener also noted differences between the continents and the ocean floor. He said the oceans were more than just low places that had filled with water. Even if the water was removed, he said, a person would still see differences between the continents and the ocean floor.

Also, the continents and the ocean floor are not made of the same kind of rock. The continents are made of a granite-like rock, a mixture of silicon and aluminum. The ocean floor is basalt rock, a mixture of silicon and magnesium. Mister Wegener said the lighter continental rock floated up through the heavier basalt rock of the ocean floor.


Support for Alfred Wegener's ideas did not come until the early nineteen-fifties. American scientists Harry Hess and Robert Dietz said the continents moved as new sea floor was created under the Atlantic Ocean.

They said a thin valley in the Atlantic Ocean was a place where the ocean floor splits. They said hot melted material flows up from deep inside the Earth through the split. As the hot material reaches the ocean floor, it spreads out, cools and hardens. It becomes new ocean floor.

The two scientists proposed that the floor of the Atlantic Ocean is moving away from each side of the split. The movement is very slow -- a few centimeters a year.

In time, they said, the moving ocean floor is blocked when it comes up against the edge of a continent. Then it is forced down under the continent, deep into the Earth, where it is melted again.

Harry Hess and Robert Dietz said this spreading does not make the Earth bigger. As new ocean floor is created, an equal amount is destroyed.


The two scientists also said Alfred Wegener was correct. The continents move as new material from the center of the Earth rises, hardens and pushes older pieces of the Earth away from each other. The continents are moving all the time, although we cannot feel it.

They called their theory "sea floor spreading." The theory explains that as the sea floor spreads, the tectonic plates are pushed and pulled in different directions.



The idea of plate tectonics explains volcanoes as well as earthquakes. Many of the world's volcanoes are found at the edges of plates, where geologic activity is intense. The large number of volcanoes around the Pacific plate has earned the name "Ring of Fire."

Volcanoes also are found in the middle of plates, where there is a well of melted rock. Scientists call these wells "hot spots." A hot spot does not move. However, as the plate moves over it, a line of volcanoes is formed.

The Hawaiian Islands were created in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as the plate moved slowly over a hot spot. This process is continuing, as the plate continues to move.


Volcanoes and earthquakes are among the most frightening events that nature can produce. More than one thousand people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck western Indonesia at the end of September. Thousands more were injured or left without homes because of the earthquake. At times like these, we remember that the ground is not as solid and unchanging as people might like to think.



This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.


And I'm Steve Ember. We would like to hear from you. Write to us at Special English, Voice of America, Washington, D-C, two-zero-two-three-seven, U-S-A. Or send your e-mails to Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.


1. The process whereby continents move is called "_______________ ".
a.sea floor spreading
b.plate tectonics spots
d.geological shifting

2. California sits on _______________ .
a.The Pacific Plate
b.The North American Plate
c.Both The Pacific and The North American Plates
d.neither the Pacific nor the North American Plate

3. When scientists say "the Earth is a great living structure" they mean that ____________________.
a.the continents are moving
b.there is enormous diversity things depend on each other
d.the Earth breathes like a living creature

4. The name of the single continent where all the continents originated is called "_______________ ".
a.Alta California
d.African America

5. Which one of these four events was the least affected by plate tectonics?
a.the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
b.the massive eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980
c.the creation of the Sierra Mountains four million years ago
d.the flooding of the Mississippi in 2011

6. In this article, the best meaning for the word "crust" is _____________.
a.the Earth's surface, melting rock
c.cooling, dusty ground
d.areas of high altitude

7. A "fossil" is _________________________. aging person
b.the ancient remains of a dead plant or animal
c.a rock which has become hot, then cooled down
d.wreckage discovered at the bottom of the ocean

8. Most volcanoes and earthquakes occur in an area called "_________________ ."
a.The Ring of Fire
b.The North American Plate

9. Another name for this article could be _________________ .
a."The Process of Volcanic Eruption"
b."The Discovery of Ancient Fossils"
c."The Story of The Motion of Continents"
d."How to Prepare for an Earthquake"

10. This article is mainly about ______________________ .
a.the process of moving continents the often frightening effects of that process
b.the secret of living things in the ocean's depths
c.the geology of mountain ranges
d.the prospect of the continents joining one another again