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AMERICAN MOSAIC
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Broadcast: Friday, February 04, 2005

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

Grammy-nominated music from the hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas …

 
 
Answers to questions about the American flag ...

And a look at some unusual laws.

Unusual Laws

Most laws are meant to make life safer or better in some way. Lawmakers usually have a good reason for approving a law. Or, as Faith Lapidus tells us, maybe it only seemed like a good reason at the time.

FAITH LAPIDUS: There are lots of Web sites with old laws that sound stupid, or at least they do today. But who knows which laws are real, so why repeat them here? All we will say is, if you ever want to take a lion to the movies in Maryland, better investigate the local laws. Really, who would want to take a lion to the movies?

Now, here is one case you might have heard about. In nineteen ninety-nine, a man in Michigan was in a small boat that hit a rock. He fell into the water and became very angry. He said some words that we cannot repeat.

The man was arrested for using offensive language in front of women and children. He was tried and found in violation of a law dating back to eighteen ninety-seven. His sentence was a seventy-five dollar fine and four days of doing community service.

He appealed -- and won. In two thousand two, a higher court said the Michigan law violated the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech.

Other states have done away with similar old laws protecting women, but not all such laws. In Washington state, in the Pacific Northwest, a person who makes false statements about a woman may be guilty of a crime. It is not illegal, though, if the woman is what this law calls a "common prostitute."

The law is from nineteen oh nine. It has not been enforced for many years. But some people see no reason to keep it.

State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles first proposed a bill two years ago to end the law. Her bill got nowhere. Now, she is more hopeful with a new Legislature. Jeanne Kohl-Welles teaches women's studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. She argues that the law is out of date in modern society. She says it raises constitutional issues of free speech and equal protection.

Her new bill comes as the state faces a serious budget deficit. The Seattle Times called her "sense of fairness" understandable. But the newspaper questioned the urgency of the bill, given the problems facing the Legislature. It said the last record of an appeal related to this crime was ninety years ago.

American Flag

DOUG JOHNSON: Two listeners have sent us questions about the same thing: the American flag. Lawrence Akingbulugbe from Ondo, Nigeria, wants to know the meaning of the red, white and blue colors of the Stars and Stripes. And M.S. Haque in Bangladesh wants to know the history of the flag.

The history goes back to the thirteen British colonies that became the first American states. Each colony had its own flag. But, during the Revolutionary War against Britain, all the colonies fought together under a common flag. It had red and white stripes, thirteen in all, one for each colony. And it had a blue square in the upper left corner. Red was for honor, white for innocence and blue for justice. Inside the blue square were the red cross and white stripes of the British flag.

The American colonists declared their independence on July fourth, seventeen seventy-six. Then, on June fourteenth, seventeen seventy-seven, the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag. Thirteen red and white stripes remained. But now thirteen white stars replaced the British Union Jack inside the blue area. The stars were meant to represent "a new constellation."

Two more stripes were added when two more states joined the Union after the Revolutionary War.

In eighteen eighteen, Congress passed a law to require that the flag return to thirteen stripes, to honor the first colonies. But the number of stars increased as new states joined the Union. Today there are fifty states, and fifty stars.

A delegate to the Continental Congress, Francis Hopkinson, took credit for the flag design. And tradition says a committee led by George Washington asked a woman with expert sewing skills, Betsy Ross, to make the first flag. Betsy Ross lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Black Eyed Peas

 
(Photo - Marina Chavez)
The Black Eyed Peas are enjoying much success. That hip-hop group will perform just before the Super Bowl of the National Football League on February sixth. And they have four Grammy Award nominations. Shep O'Neal tells us about the Black Eyed Peas.

SHEP O'NEAL: The four members call themselves Will I.Am, Apl.de.Ap, Taboo and Fergie. Their real names are William Adams, Allen Pineda, Jaime Gomez and Stacey Ferguson.

Their newest album is called "Elephunk." They say the name describes the sound inside. The music mixes traditional hip-hop with live instruments. This popular single is performed with Justin Timberlake: "Where Is the Love?"

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One song on the "Elephunk" album is nominated for three Grammys: Record of the Year, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, and Best Rap Song. The song is "Let's Get It Started."

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The Black Eyed Peas are competing with themselves for the Best Rap Song Grammy. Another song on "Elephunk" is nominated in that category, too. We leave you with the Black Eyed Peas and "Hey Mama."

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DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program this week. This show was written by Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson, who was also the producer. Our engineer was Efeem Drucker.

Send your questions about American life to mosaic@voanews.com. Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.