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A Million People Get a Life -- a Second Life, in a World Like No Other

Also: Why Democrats and Republicans are represented by a donkey and an elephant, and Sufjan Stevens sings about the states. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


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

We answer a question about the American political party symbols…

Play some music about American states…

And report about a chance for a Second Life!

Second Life


Did you ever wish you could be somebody else? Now you can, within the growing online community of Second Life. Barbara Klein tells us about it.


Second Life is a three-dimensional, online world in which computer users can create a new self and live a different life. Second Life is one of the most popular new online games called "massively multiplayer online role playing games." These games are also called MMOs, for short.

But unlike the other MMOs, Second Life is not about winning or losing. Second Life is technically a computer game. But people involved in it do not consider it a game because the players create everything. Second Life is more for socializing and creating communities.

Users of Second Life are called residents. To take part, they must create an avatar, or an electronic image of themselves. Some avatars look like humans, while others look like animals or imaginary creatures.

Inside the Second Life world, residents live different versions of themselves. They build homes, run businesses, buy and sell things, work, play, and attend school. They even have relationships and get married.

Second Life was created in two thousand three by Linden Lab in San Francisco, California. Linden Lab controls the Web site where the ever-changing world is being created. There are now about one million people around the world who are active in Second Life. The number has grown quickly since the beginning of the year when there were about one hundred thousand users.

The average age of people involved with Second Life is about thirty. However, Linden Lab recently created Teen Second Life for younger users. Second Life has its own economy and its own money, called Linden dollars.

Millions of dollars are made and spent each month in Second Life. Users can enter Second Life for free. But they must pay for a membership if they want to own land or buy and sell goods and services.

Recently, several major companies have become involved with Second Life. They wanted to be part of the growing business world that exists within the made-up reality. The car maker Toyota, music producer Sony BMG, and even Reuters news agency are among businesses now existing within Second Life.

Political Party Symbols


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Bangladesh. Shafiqul Islam asks which animals represent the two major American political parties.

That is a good question to answer now because midterm elections in the United States will be held Tuesday, November seventh. Voters will be choosing among members of different political parties to fill local and national offices, but not the presidency.

The two major political parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. The donkey represents the Democratic Party. The elephant represents the Republican Party.

The reason comes from political cartoons created many years ago. Perhaps the most famous political cartoonist in American history was Thomas Nast. He lived more than one hundred years ago.

Thomas Nast used his drawings to show dishonesty and the illegal use of power in government. His cartoons helped create public pressure on elected officials to make government more honest.

In eighteen seventy, newspapers supporting the Democratic Party denounced a former Republican cabinet member. Thomas Nast drew a cartoon in protest. He called it “A Live Jackass Kicking A Dead Lion”. The dead lion represented the cabinet member who was no longer in power. The jackass represented the Democratic Party. “Jackass” is an old slang word for someone who is stupid or foolish. It is also another word for donkey.

The image of the donkey had been used many years earlier. Democratic President Andrew Jackson used it as his personal political symbol in the eighteen thirties. He did so after his opponents called him a jackass. Later it was used at times to mean the whole Democratic Party. It became established as the party symbol when Thomas Nast used it to represent the Democrats.

Thomas Nast was a member of the Republican Party. He chose the elephant as a symbol for his own Party. He first used it in a political cartoon in eighteen seventy-four. And he continued to use the elephant to represent the Republicans in many other cartoons. Soon, it became the Republican Party symbol.

Sufjan Stevens

Most people know that the United States is made up of fifty states. However, few people know a lot about all fifty of them. Sufjan Stevens is a young American musician. He wants to change this situation. Faith Lapidus has more.


Sufjan Stevens plans to make an album about each of the fifty American states. During college he played in several musical groups and recorded an album of his own music. However, he wanted to be a writer, not a musician. So after college he moved to New York City to study writing.

In New York, Stevens had trouble writing stories. He discovered that he missed music. He also discovered that most of the stories he did write were about his home state of Michigan. So, Sufjan Stevens decided to make an album of songs about Michigan.

“Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State” was released three years ago. Here is the song “Say Yes to Michigan.”


The album was a big success. Many young people and music critics liked it. Before long, Stevens announced that he wanted to make an album for every state. He called it his “fifty states project.”

Stevens chose Illinois as his next state. He read many books about Illinois. He studied police documents and old newspapers. He talked to people who live in the state. The CD “Illinoise” was released last year. Critics loved the album. It won many awards. “Illinoise” became popular at colleges throughout the United States. People said the CD sounded different from anything else they had ever heard. Here is a song called “Chicago.”


Sufjan Stevens is keeping his next state a secret from reporters. People have said that he is writing about Oregon, Rhode Island, or Minnesota. However, no one but Stevens knows for sure. We leave you with the song “Decatur,” or "Round of Applause For Your Stepmother," from the CD “Illinoise.”



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

This show was written by Brianna Blake, Sarah Randle and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was the producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to

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