Also: A question from Vietnam about the White House. And the latest music by Ben Harper.
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week:
We listen to new music from Ben Harper …
And answer a listener question about the White House ...
But first, a report on entertainers who lend their fame and more to social, political and environmental efforts
Movie stars and musicians are experts at getting the attention of the media and public. More and more of these famous people are using their popularity to bring attention to humanitarian and environmental causes that are important to them. Some people say these famous "diplomats" help to humanize an issue. Mario Ritter tells us more.
Leonardo DiCaprio is best known for his roles as adventurous young men in popular movies including "Titanic," "The Aviator" and "Blood Diamond." But the 34 year old actor has taken on an important role in real life as well.
About ten years ago, he created the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Its aim is to increase public awareness about environmental issues by working with other organizations. Two years ago, DiCaprio worked on a movie called "The Eleventh Hour." It is about the damaging effects of climate change and other environmental problems affecting the planet.
The actress Angelina Jolie is another famous American who has become a social activist. Since 2001 she has worked with the United Nations Refugee Agency to raise public awareness about the serious problems of refugees around the world. She has visited many countries and donated millions of dollars to help refugees and children in need. She says that people should praise refugees for what they have survived. Angelina Jolie has been called the most respected celebrity humanitarian.
Peter Kessler works with the U.N. Refugee Agency. He believes that famous "diplomats" help bring a human face to important causes.
PETER KESSLER: "As we saw with Princess Diana when she first held the hand of an AIDS victim, it's spreading that message that these people are safe. They're not a threat, they're threatened. And you also can reach out to them in your own way. You don't have to be a VIP celebrity."
Some experts say famous people may bring public awareness to an issue. But this increased attention does not mean anything without effective action.
The actress Mia Farrow has traveled to refugee camps in Sudan more than twelve times. She recently took action in a very personal way. Mia Farrow began a hunger strike to protest the situation of refugees in Darfur. She has written messages on her Web site that describe her experience. She links her own situation with the daily experience of millions of hungry and sick refugees in Darfur.
The White House
Our listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Khoa Pham wants to know more about the White House, home of the American president and his family.
The White House was the largest house in the country until after the Civil War in the 1960s. The White House has 132 rooms, including sixteen family and guest rooms, 35 bathrooms and 3 kitchens. There are 6 levels. The first level has many famous rooms. For example, the West Wing of the White House includes the Oval Office.
This is where the president works and meets with his advisers. The president receives guests in the Blue Room. And the State Dining Room can hold 140 people for official dinners in honor of foreign leaders.
The second and third floors are the family's private areas. When it is cold outside, the president and his family can warm up near one of the White House's 28 fireplaces. And when it is hot outside, they can swim in the outdoor pool.
The White House offers lot of things to do for entertainment. The first family can watch a movie in the small theater, play ping-pong in the family game room or bowl in the small bowling alley. Former President Richard Nixon had the bowling alley built in 1969. The White House's newest occupant, Barack Obama, is not much of a bowler. But he is a big fan of basketball. He has already been seen shooting hoops on the basketball court outside. President Obama is said to be considering replacing the bowling alley with an indoor basketball court.
The Obama family recently added an outdoor playground for their two young daughters. It has a swing set, a climbing section, a slide and a tire for swinging. The Obamas can also play tennis on a court on the South Lawn, hit a few golf balls on the putting greens or run around the jogging track.
The White House has been home to 43 presidents. America's first president, George Washington supervised the building process which began in 1792. But he never lived there. John and Abigail Adams became the building's first family in eighteen hundred. Since then, the White House has experienced many changes. And each presidential family has left its own historical mark on America's most famous house.
Ben Harper is back with his own special kind of blues music. His music is a mix of mny different styles. Faith Lapidus has more.
As a boy, Ben Harper spent a lot of time at his grandparents' record store called The Folk Music Center and Museum in California. By the age of 23 he was performing with the famous blues musician Taj Mahal. You can hear the influence of these experiences in his music, a mix of folk, blues, rock and fusion.
That was "Shimmer and Shine," the first release from Ben Harper's new CD, "White Lies for Dark Times. It is Harper's first CD with his new band, Relentless Seven. Harper took his band on the road last year as part of the effort to get young people to vote. The group began many of its performances with this song, "Up to You Now."
The members of Relentless Seven all come from Texas. Guitarist Jason Mozersky worked part-time driving bands back and forth to a performance center in Texas. Mozersky was lucky enough to get Ben Harper as a passenger. He played his music for Harper and the rest, as they say, is history. We leave you with the opening track from "White Lies for Dark Times." Here is "Number with No Name."
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written by Dana Demange and June Simms. Caty Weaver was the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com.
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Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.