IS CHRISTMAS GETTING YOU DOWN?

[LIFE ★]

IS CHRISTMAS GETTING YOU DOWN?

Unhappy Christmas

(P1) Throughout the year there are various occasions that encourage us to respond in particular ways, perhaps to feel excited, positive, or eager to celebrate with others. The most stressful of them all is Christmas.

(P2) For many, this time of year can be difficult.  Instead of a time of fun and celebration, it’s viewed as a ROUTINE to be ENDURED; a time of year DOMINATED by the stress of finding answers to questions such as when to shop, when to send cards, whose family to visit, what time to eat, and so on.

(P3) According to one study, 45 per cent of men feel sad or depressed at Christmas time. 30 per cent cited financial or relationship tensions as the ROOT CAUSE of their low moods.

(P4) One man described the period between mid-December and early January as being “SURROUNDED by people who appear to love me but don’t really know me all that well”.

(P5) As a result, some men feel a strong desire to simply return back to work, where life is HUMDRUM but EXPECTATIONS are not so high.

(P6) It doesn’t need to be this way. It is important to remember that Christmas is merely a season that begins and ends, so be patient about it.

(P7) Many men don’t feel in control of their lives at this time of year, so try to take back some control. Your actions don’t have to be extreme, they just have to be your choice. You could say “No” to a particular invitation. The world won’t end.

(P8) Many of our decisions and moods during this period are controlled by what we think we should be doing, feeling or saying because of the expectations of others.

(P9) If something you’re doing or scheduled to do really doesn’t please you, question it and either a) come up with an alternative plan, or b) SET BOUNDARIES around it that you’re happy with.

WORDS: 317

SOURCE: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/health/how-to-avoid-the-christmas-blues/

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Do you enjoy holidays, or do you find them stressful?
  3. For many, the Christmas season and other holiday times are full of family OBLIGATIONS. Are your own family obligations very heavy, or are they at a REASONABLE level?
  4. Who do you think gets the most enjoyment out of holidays: men, women, or children?
  5. Do you travel to make visits at the holidays, or do others travel to visit you?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Root cause
  • Set boundaries

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A WINTER OLYMPICS WITHOUT SNOW?

[SPORTS ★★]

A WINTER OLYMPICS WITHOUT SNOW?

Beijing Mountain

(P1) Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics means it will become the first city ever to host a summer and winter Games.

(P2) The Chinese capital beat Kazakhstan’s city of Almaty.

(P3) But the lack of snow in Beijing is a major concern.

(P4) So what tipped the vote in Beijing’s favour? And can they host a successful Winter Olympic Games?

(P5) At the start of the bidding process, Beijing was seen as an OUTSIDER, due to its not exactly ALPINE climate and the fact that the 2018 Winter Olympics are also due to be held in Asia, in Pyeongchang in South Korea.

(P6) But a number of European cities, including Krakow, Oslo, and Stockholm, WITHDREW from the race, citing low public support and concerns about the enormous costs of hosting the Games.

(P7) That left just two CONTENDERS: Beijing and Almaty.

(P8) Almaty had many positives: the Kazakh city offers snowy winters and plenty of money from the country’s vast oil reserves.

(P9) But while Kazakhstan has never before hosted a major global sporting event, Beijing was seen as a safe choice, having hosted the 2008 Olympics.

(P10) That was enough to see the Chinese capital win, by a close vote of 44 to 40.

(P11) Beijing is not a mountainous city, so the skiing, snowboarding, and sliding events will be held in Yanqing, 55 miles away from the capital, and Zhangjiakou.

(P12) But even these VENUES have little snowfall. Zhangjiakou averages eight inches of snow per year, while Yanqing gets two inches.

(P13) So, unlike wintry Almaty – whose SLOGAN was ‘Keeping It Real’ – Beijing will be making tons of artificial snow.

(P14) There is a PRECEDENT for this: the organisers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi – one of Russia’s warmest regions – created enough snow to cover 1,000 football fields.

(P15) But there are concerns over the environmental impact of the snow-making process.

(P16) Many international observers were not enthusiastic about the choice of Beijing.

(P17) The New York Times said “serious problems” were posed by the selection of Beijing, adding: “It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even clear one of the LOWEST BARS for choosing the host city for the Winter Games: snow.

(P18) “While the Almaty bid’s slogan was ‘Keeping It Real’, Beijing’s could have been, ‘Keeping It IMPRACTICAL‘. The IOC obviously isn’t AIMING for AUTHENTICITY.”

(P20) The Economist pointed out China’s lack of tradition in skiing, the Winter Games’ BLUE RIBBON event, saying: “The sport is still very much in its INFANCY in China.”

(P21) British SKELETON gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold said, “Beijing is a relatively warm place, and artificial snow does make a huge difference.”

(P22) Meanwhile, the Kazakhstan bidders accepted the decision GRACIOUSLY. “China has played a significant role in the development of sport in Asia,” said bid vice-chairman Andrey Kryukov. “We know that they will deliver a great Games.”

(P23) Others will need to be CONVINCED that is true.

WORDS: 479

SOURCE: http://www.bbc.com/sport/winter-sports/33747313

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Is the choice of Olympic host cities mainly about sports, or mainly about money and international politics?
  3. Why have so many world cities been withdrawing from the competition to be Olympic host cities? Why are the citizens of those cities not supporting the idea of hosting the Olympics?
  4. China has more experience with international sports events; Kazakhstan has more snow. Which city would you have chosen, Almaty or Beijing?
  5. Do you prefer to watch the Summer Olympics or Winter Olympics?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Low bar
  • Blue ribbon

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HUGE SPIDER TERRIFIES THE INTERNET

[ENVIRONMENT ★]

HUGE SPIDER TERRIFIES THE INTERNET

hugespider1

(P1) Is this the largest spider ever photographed?

(P2) This picture of a huge huntsman spider was posted on REDDIT after a homeowner spotted it LURKING outside their property.

(P3) Complete with a huge body, thick legs, and long hairs, the terrifying image has been viewed more than 20,000 times in just 24 hours.

(P4) Many Reddit users were horrified, with one posting: “Please tell me that’s a fake spider!”

(P5) Others POINTED OUT that this kind of spider was a common find in Australia, and explained it was not VENOMOUS and therefore would cause no harm.

(P6) A spider expert from the Australian Reptile Park in New South Wales confirmed that the picture was of a huntsman spider.

(P7) The creatures, although known to bite humans occasionally, are more likely to run away when CONFRONTED and are not considered truly dangerous, according to the National Museum of Australia.

(P8) One Reddit user joked that maybe the home owner should pack up and leave because the size of the spider.

(P9) He wrote: “It is now time to take your PRIZED possessions and leave the house. Your home now belongs to the spider. If you stay, this spider has now become your new boss.”

(P10) Huntsman spiders can grow to an ASTONISHING size of 12 inches across.

(P11) The spider is INFAMOUS for hiding in cars.

(P12) They have been found hiding in sun visors, behind the dashboard, and under the seats, as well as hiding behind curtains and furniture in homes.

WORDS: 245

SOURCE: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/huge-huntsman-spider-pictured-outside-australian-home-a3138766.html

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What would you do if you saw a spider this size?
  3. Are you very afraid of spiders and snakes, or not especially?
  4. Have you ever had a problem with insects or mice in your home? What did you do about it?
  5. A spider like this could give people NIGHTMARES. Do you ever have nightmares?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Point out

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NEW ZEALAND IS CONSIDERING NEW DESIGN FOR ITS FLAG

[WORLD NEWS ★★]

NEW ZEALAND IS CONSIDERING NEW DESIGN FOR ITS FLAG

New Zealand Votes On Flag Referendum

(P1) The British Union Jack once SYMBOLIZED the reach of a powerful EMPIRE — but it may need to YIELD soon to a DELICATE silver FERN. At least on New Zealand’s flag.

(P2) New Zealand on Tuesday revealed the new flag design chosen by the public to be put up as a CHALLENGER to the current flag in a March vote.

(P3) The question of whether to change a national symbol that has lasted for more than a century and HARKS BACK TO a COLONIAL past has raised plenty of passion, and skepticism, in this nation of 4.6 million.

(P4) People submitted more than 10,000 flag designs, including some BIZARRE ones.

(P5) In the end, it CAME DOWN TO two flags by architectural designer Kyle Lockwood that featured the same design of a silver fern and four red stars, but with different background colors.

(P6) Results announced Tuesday showed that Lockwood’s black and blue flag just EDGED OUT his red and darker blue flag 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent in a RUNOFF VOTE. Even the designer himself found it a tough choice.

(P7) “I AGONIZED OVER the two on my voting form,” Lockwood said. “For a couple of weeks, I’d walk past it and think, ‘Which one?’ I like them both equally.”

(P8) Lockwood, who was born in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, and now lives in Australia, said he didn’t want to say which one he gave his top vote.

(P9) His winning design has similarities to the current flag but DITCHES the Union Jack, or Union Flag, in favor of the fern, which has become a national symbol and is worn by many of New Zealand’s sports teams, including the beloved All Blacks RUGBY team.

(P10) Those who want to change the current flag say it’s too similar to Australia’s and REFERS TO a colonial past that it’s time to LEAVE BEHIND.

(P11) But opinion polls taken before the result was announced Tuesday indicated a majority favored keeping the existing flag. Many don’t see the need for change or view the process as an expensive STUNT.

WORDS: 345

SOURCE: http://www.mercurynews.com/nation-world/ci_29255183/new-zealand-flag-this-one-or-old-one

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. What is the design on your country’s flag? Do you like it?
  3. Was your country ever a colony of another country?
  4. Are too many issues turning into a POPULARITY CONTEST these days?
  5. Flags are symbols of PATRIOTISM. Do you consider yourself very patriotic?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Hark back to
  • Come down to
  • Edge out
  • Runoff vote
  • Agonize over
  • Refer to
  • Leave behind
  • Popularity contest

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CULT TV SERIES MAKING A COMEBACK

[CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT ★★★]

CULT TV SERIES MAKING A COMEBACK

MST3K

(P1) The KICKSTARTER fundraising record set by the “Veronica Mars” movie was broken Friday by another CULT CLASSIC making a COMEBACK.

(P2) Fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” known as “MST53K” for short, will see the comedy series return with a new cast and star CAMEOS.

(P3) The KIckstarter campaign, launched by show creator and original star Joel Hodgson, raised $5,764,229 in a month. That money, plus another $425,000 raised outside of Kickstarter, is enough to shoot 14 new episodes.

(P4) Hodgson tweeted afterward that he was “THRILLED and EXHAUSTED.”

(P5) Based on the idea that B MOVIES are better with SARCASTIC comments, the show DEBUTED in 1988 on a local television station in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Its LOW-BUDGET CHARM attracted Comedy Central and, later, the Sci-Fi Channel.

(P6) Hodgson (and later Michael Nelson) starred as a CAPTIVE sent into space by MAD SCIENTISTS and forced to watch CORNY horror and sci-fi movies with his robot companions. Each episode featured a B movie in its ENTIRETY with RUNNING COMMENTARY from the gang on the “Satellite of Love.”

(P7) “Mystery Science Theater 3000” ran for 11 seasons and ended its run in 1999, developing an enthusiastic fan base. Nearly 48,300 people PLEDGED money to the Kickstarter project.

(P8) A campaign to fund a new movie based on the lead character from another cult television show, “Veronica Mars,” set the previous Kickstarter record for most-funded project in film & video at $5,702,153.

(P9) “There’s so much about the concept that’s STOOD UP over time, so there’s not much I want to change,” Hodgson said about the new INCARNATION of “MST3K”.

(P10) Comedian Jonah Ray has agreed to play the new lead character. Comedian Patton Oswalt and actress Felicia Day have also SIGNED ON TO the project.

(P11) Hodgson said he invited Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, Jerry Seinfeld, Mark Hamill, and Bill Hader to do cameos. Hamill tweeted his support for the campaign, and Seinfeld promised to make an appearance if the campaign reached its goal.

(P12) Hodgson said the campaign was not about besting “Veronica Mars” or “Super Troopers 2,” another CROWDFUNDED film. The goal is to revive the series for fans and introduce it to a new generation.

WORDS: 361

SOURCE: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/12/entertainment/mystery-science-theater-kickstarter-feat/index.html

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Are you familiar with Kickstarter and the concept of “crowdfunding”?
  3. Many people enjoy “bad movies” because they can be so UNINTENTIONALLY funny. Do you like bad movies?
  4. A cult classic has a small or medium-sized but very INTENSE fan base. What movies or TV shows are cult classics in your country?
  5. Some people love sarcastic humor, also known as SNARK; other people think it is very ADOLESCENT in tone. Do you like sarcastic humor?
  6. Why do big stars sometimes make small UNBILLED cameo appearances in movies and TV shows?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Cult classic
  • B movie
  • Low budget
  • Mad scientist
  • Running commentary
  • Stand up
  • Sign on to

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UNITED STATES AND CUBA TO RESUME REGULAR COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS

[TRAVEL ★]

UNITED STATES AND CUBA TO RESUME REGULAR COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS

Cuban Airport

(P1) The US and Cuba have reached an understanding on RESUMING regular commercial flights between the two countries.

(P2) Unnamed officials in Cuba and the US said an announcement was IMMINENT.

(P3) It is unclear when the flights would start because NEGOTIATIONS between the Cuban government and the US airlines could take months.

(P4) The move is a significant step nearly a year after the former enemies began restoring DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS.

(P5) The US reopened its EMBASSY in Havana in August after a 54-year absence.

(P6) A State department spokesperson said the two countries “are making progress but still negotiating” on resuming flights.

(P7) The understanding is a key development as Cuba and the US continue to negotiate over a number of issues which could ultimately see the US TRADE EMBARGO lifted.

(P8) The news comes as travel between the US and Cuba SURGED by an estimated 50% this year.

(P9) Thousands of Americans are already visiting the island and hotels are booked for months.

(P10) But those travelling have to do so using CHARTER FLIGHTS or by way of third countries.

(P11) A formal agreement could mean more than a dozen flights arriving into Cuba from the US a day, officials said.

(P12) In some regards, the move to restore commercial flights is one of the most significant steps of the past 12 months in that it will increase the number of American visitors to Cuba.

(P13) With tourism increasingly becoming the main economic motor for the communist-run island, it comes as little surprise that the Cuban government was as KEEN ON this particular measure as the U.S. government.

WORDS: 266

SOURCE: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35117319

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Do you know why the United States and Cuba became enemies IN THE FIRST PLACE?
  3. Cuba would enjoy great economic benefits from American tourist dollars; it is already popular with Canadians and Mexicans. Does your country’s economy depend much on tourism?
  4. Cuba is a large island. Have you ever taken a vacation on an island?
  5. Florida and Cuba are only 90 miles apart. What countries are closest to your country? Have you ever visited them?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Diplomatic relations
  • Trade embargo
  • Charter flight
  • Keen on
  • In the first place

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DONALD TRUMP WANTS TO SHUT OFF THE INTERNET (IN SOME COUNTRIES)

[TECHNOLOGY ★★]

DONALD TRUMP WANTS TO SHUT OFF THE INTERNET (IN SOME COUNTRIES)

Donald Trump

(P1) If terrorists are using the Internet, then take the Internet away.

(P2) That’s what Donald Trump, the FRONT-RUNNER to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States, suggested last night at the final DEBATE of the year.

(P3) Trump TEMPERED the remark by saying the US should shut down the Web in ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq, but his idea could still be a LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE.

(P4) It was one of many suggestions last night from candidates making grand claims about what they’d do to keep the Internet from helping terrorists and other BAD GUYS. From expanding the NSA‘s collection of phone call data to hacking China, everything was ON THE TABLE.

(P5) Trump’s idea might have been the most ambitious. Experts say it would be nearly impossible to IMPLEMENT.

(P6) Remember that the Internet is a vast and interconnected network of computers. To cut people out, you have two options: Internet providers on the ground and in the sky would all have to COOPERATE, or the US would have to send in troops just to destroy all the Internet connections. Even if US soldiers destroyed on-the-ground INFRASTRUCTURE like towers and computers, there’d still be satellites orbiting the planet and beaming down information.

(P7) REGARDLESS OF the technical hurdles, experts say it’s also just a terrible idea.

(P8) “Preventing entire populations from getting access to basic information would be a HUMAN RIGHTS CATASTROPHE, particularly for areas of the world that are already WAR-TORN,” said Thomas Ristenpart, a computer science professor at Cornell Tech. The ability to find information with Internet-connected smartphones is VITAL to REFUGEES fleeing ISIS in Syria, for example.

(P9) We REACHED OUT TO multiple companies that provide the backbone of the Internet, including Amazon, Cisco and Akamai, to learn more about the difficulties of turning the Internet off. They all either declined to comment, did not immediately respond, or asked not to be mentioned in this story because they didn’t believe it was a MEANINGFUL discussion.

WORDS: 333

SOURCE: http://www.cnet.com/news/donald-trump-wants-to-shut-down-the-internet/

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. In politics, there is a lot of POSTURING – putting forward ideas that are not actually serious – and little meaningful discussion. Why is this true?
  3. Do you think that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for U.S, President in 2016? Do you think he could win the election?
  4. Do you think the idea of cutting off the Internet to terrorist groups is good, bad, or simply IMPRACTICAL?
  5. Could you live without the Internet, or are you very DEPENDENT on it?

EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:

What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Front-runner
  • Logistical nightmare
  • On the table
  • Regardless of
  • Human rights
  • War-torn
  • Reach out to

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