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360 Topics: Famous Americans – Ralph Nader; how to become an astronaut; with reference to versus with regard to versus according to; to confront versus to encounter; “In God We Trust”

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 360.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 360. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide by becoming a member of ESL Podcast. You'll improve your English faster than ever and have whiter teeth. Yes, your teeth will become whiter if you read the Learning Guide!

On this Café, we're going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on a political activist, Ralph Nader. We're also going to talk about how to become an astronaut. Yes, you too can be an astronaut! I'll tell you how. And as always, we'll answer a few or your questions. Let's get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on famous Americans. Today, we're going to talk about a political activist by the name of Ralph Nader. A “political activist” would be someone who is involved in the politics of a certain country. They may not necessarily be a government leader, but they try to influence the politics of their country.

Ralph Nader was born in 1934 in the state of Connecticut, which is in the Northeastern part of the United States. Nader is now 78 years old as I record this episode in the year 2012, but he is still very active in politics and in what we might call “social causes.”

Nader studied at two of the best universities in the United States, Princeton and Harvard. He became an attorney or a lawyer. He worked for a while as a professor, but he became most famous for a book he wrote in 1965. It was called Unsafe at Any Speed. Unsafe at Any Speed was a critique of the American automobile industry. When we say something as “unsafe,” we mean it as not safe, and in this book Nader “critiqued” or criticized the American automobile industry. A “critique” is usually a very detailed analysis of the things that are wrong. In this case, Nader discussed one specific car, the Chevrolet Corvair, which was made by the company General Motors.

Nader’s criticism was disputed by some people. To “dispute” (dispute) means to disagree, to say “No, you're wrong.” General Motors, the company, tried specifically to discredit Nader. To “discredit” (discredit) someone means to make other people believe that you are not telling the truth, that you are not credible or believable. However, the general public, the average American, was very interested in his book, and they became worried (in part because of his book) about traffic fatalities. “Fatalities” (fatalities) are deaths, when people die, so “traffic fatalities” are when people die because of a car. It was because people became concerned after Nader’s book that the federal government, our national government, set up something called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an official government organization to help make the highways and freeways of the United States safer. This again is in the mid-1960s when large numbers of Americans were beginning to drive in most areas of the country.

Many other young attorneys, young lawyers, and other activists found Nader’s work inspiring. When we say something is “inspiring” (inspiring), we mean it motivates you to do something. It's a good kind of motivation. You want to do something to help other people and that person might inspire you. Many young people, college students and those in their 20s and 30s, went to Washington, D.C. to work with Nader on other projects. These projects related to a lot of different social causes, efforts to change and improve society. Their projects and the books they published related to things like air and water pollution, government corruption, other things that they wanted to change about the government.

Nader was involved with many of these nonprofit organizations, organizations that aren't trying to make money but are trying to change the world somehow. The most well-known organization that Nader is associated with is something called the Public Interest Research Groups or simply PIRGs. These are nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and now in Canada that are operated or run by (in part) college students. Many of them, however, also have professionals that are the official leaders of the group, often attorneys or lawyers, but the college students are the ones that do most of the work. These PIRGs are lobbying groups. To “lobby” (lobby) means to try to change someone’s opinion, usually a government official, so to lobby your senator or to lobby your representative means to try to get them to agree with you about some political issue, and that’s what the Public Interest Research Groups tried to do.

Many people think of Nader as being primarily a consumer advocate. An “advocate” (advocate) is someone who tries to teach people about certain issues and more importantly help protect people from others that might want to harm them. A “consumer advocate” would be someone who tries to protect the average person who buys things. And that’s what a lot of people associate Ralph Nader with, as someone trying to protect consumers, someone who is, in some ways, going against big businesses to try to protect what we might call the “little guy,” that is the average person.

Nader ran as a candidate to be president of the United States way back in 1972 as a member of something called “The New Party.” Since then, he has been a write-in candidate in many elections. A “write-in” candidate is someone whose name is not on the official list of candidates for a political office, not on what we would call the “ballot” (ballot), which is the document you use to vote. Instead, you have to write that person’s name down and we call that a write-in candidate.

In 1996, Nader was an official candidate, not just a write-in candidate, for the Green Party. He won less than 1% of the votes. More importantly, however, in the year 2000 Nader also was the candidate for the Green Party, a party associated with environmental causes, environmental issues. That election, you may remember, in the year 2000, was mainly between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Well, Bush and Gore basically tied. They had pretty much the same number of votes nationally. However, Nader was also running for President that year, and he won about almost 3% of the vote. Some people believe that because Nader ran for president and Al Gore who’s also someone of more liberal political ideas ran for president, that Gore lost to George Bush because he took away some of the votes from Al Gore. This might have been particularly true in Florida. Florida is the state where the election was the closest for that presidential year. Many people believe that if Nader had told his supporters to vote for Gore instead, Gore would have won Florida, but it's really hard to know.

Nader ran for president again in 2004 and again in 2008. Nader is a very hardworking individual ,even now in his late 70s. He continues to work a lot on his causes, on his political causes. He continues to write. He continues to give speeches and to organize. He’s definitely an important part of American politics especially in the second half of the 20th Century and the early part of this century.

Now, let's turn to our next topic. If you don’t have a job, if you're unemployed and listening to the podcast, I'm going to teach you how to get a job as an astronaut. Yes, an “astronaut” (astronaut) is someone who goes up into what we call “outer space,” outside of the earth, up into the sky, into the stars. An astronaut is an explorer, someone who is going out to get new information about a new area - in this case, outer space.

Until recently, American astronauts were flying into outer space in something called a “space shuttle,” but the last space shuttle was retired. That is, it will no longer be used. In fact, they sent the space shuttles to museums in the year 2011. However, our national organization, government organization, for space exploration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (which we simply call NASA) still trains people to become astronauts, even though we don’t officially now have a program for sending men and women into outer space.

However, there are private companies that are trying to build rockets and vehicles to go into outer space, so there's definitely some jobs out there eventually, someday. According to the NASA website, if you are an aspiring astronaut, you, in order to go through NASA’s training program, have to be a citizen of the United States. You need a college degree. You need to have graduated from the university, usually in areas such as engineering, sciences or mathematics. When I said the NASA website is talking about “aspiring” astronauts, I'm referring to people who want to become astronauts. That’s what “aspire” (aspire) means. You also have to have some experience flying planes, at least 1,000 hours of experience.

So, you need to be a U.S. citizen. You need to have your college degree in engineering, sciences or mathematics. You have to have experience as a pilot, as someone who flies planes and jets for at least 1,000 hours. You also have to take a very difficult physical examination, a test of your health, and there are certain minimum and maximum height requirements. If you're 3 feet, 5 inches, you're probably too short. If you're 8 feet, 7 inches, you're probably too tall. But, you know, most of us are probably about the right height.

A little history about astronauts in the U.S.: The first astronauts were selected in 1959. They were selected or chosen primarily on the basis of their experience as pilots and their training in engineering. The original astronauts were all military pilots. They had been in some branch of the United States Military or Armed Forces. In more recent years, however, astronauts have been selected not for their military experience but for their academic qualifications, especially their experience and education in engineering and the sciences. Today, astronauts can have one of several positions in what we would call the space flight crew. The “crew” (crew) is the group of people who fly the spaceship. “Space flight” just refers to going out into outer space.

There are a number of different positions on the crew. The leader is the “commander.” The commander is responsible for the mission. He’s sort of the captain, we might call him. The “mission” would be the actual flight, the actual going up and coming back. The commander is the leader, as I said, of the other astronauts. You can also be an astronaut pilot. The “pilot” helps the commander control and fly the space vehicle. The pilot is also involved in what are called “remote operations.” “Remote” (remote) means controlling something with a machine or a computer, not by your own hand. When you hear the word remote, you might think of remote control. That’s the little machine you have that controls the television so you don’t have to get up out of your chair and walk two feet in order to change the channel. That’s one of the great inventions of the 20th century, I think.

Well, NASA astronauts, who are pilots, are involved in remote operations, not watching television, but doing other things out in space with their space vehicle. NASA does not have age restrictions for astronauts. They have selected people as young as 26 years old and as old as 46 years old. Let's see 46, I'm 48 – oh well, but the average age upon selection is usually younger. It's about 34 years old. You may be wondering, “Well, Jeff, how much money can I make as an astronaut?” Well, if you work for NASA, you are paid as a federal employee, as someone working for our national government. Typically, you are paid more depending on your qualifications. Astronauts currently earn between $64,000 and $142,000, depending on your skill and experience. So, the pay is pretty good, I would say. So, if you're interested, be sure to contact NASA on their website, meet all of their qualifications, and then email me and maybe we can interview you here on the Café after you become an astronaut.

Now, let's answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from “Gabriel” (Gabriel) from Germany. Gabriel wants to know the meaning of the following expressions: with reference to, with regard to and according to. All three of these examples, all three of these phrases can be used in a similar way.

Let's start with reference to. “With reference to” means in connection with or in relation to. For example, the economy’s problems can be explained with reference to the recent bad weather in our state. In other words, there's a connection, there's a relationship between the bad weather and the bad economy.

“With regard to” means considering something while paying attention to it, or with respect to: Thomas made his decision with regard to his wife. That means the same as Thomas made his decision regarding his wife, or concerning his wife, or simply about his wife.

“According to” is a little different. “According to” means as mentioned by. It refers to the source of your information, where you got your information from. According to ESL Podcast, there are 500 million elephants in Texas, in the state of Texas in the United States, 500 million elephants. I'm just kidding. There's not 500 million elephants, but you could say to someone, “Well, according to Jeff on ESL Podcast, there are 500 million elephants in Texas.” Now, they’ll probably not believe you, and that would be smart. “According to” is the source of your information. According to a book I read last night, people born in the month of September are a little more intelligent than people born in other months - according to the book I read last night. I wrote the book, of course, and I was born in September, but you get the idea.

So, “with reference to” which means the same as “in reference to,” means in connection with, in the context of, in relation to. “With regard to” usually means about or concerning. “According to” means this is the source of information, this is where I got this information.

Our next question comes from “Rasoul” (Rasoul) in Iran. The question has to do with the difference between the words “confront” (confront) and “encounter” (encounter). Both of these words can be verbs. “To confront” means to meet or to face a certain problem or issue. We need to confront the problem of our bad economy. We need to address it. We need to do something about it. Confront can also be when you go up to someone and you tell them about some problem you have or you tell them about some complaint you have. I need to confront my neighbor about their barking dog. I need to confront them. I need to say, “Hey, your dog is barking too much!” That would be to confront someone.

“To encounter,” however, means to meet someone usually unexpectedly, by chance. You weren't expecting that to happen. While I was driving to Las Vegas, I encountered some problems. My car had some problems or there were problems with the road. They were fixing the road and it took a long time. I encountered these problems. I met them. I came upon them. I wasn’t expecting them. So, to confront means to take some sort of action, to talk to someone about a problem or to do something about a problem that you have. To encounter means to have an unexpected experience with something. Encounter can also be used as a noun and that would mean a meeting, again, usually an unexpected meeting. I had an encounter with my neighbor at the grocery store. I wasn’t expecting to see him there. That would be an encounter.

Finally, Y.T. – I don’t have the actual name, just the initials. Maybe someday we'll be getting emails from people and they’ll say “Anonymous.” “Anonymous” means you don’t give your name at all. But Y.T. has given us his or her initials. He or she is from Taiwan. The question has to do with a phrase that you will find on every U.S. or American bill; that is, a piece of money, a dollar bill, a five-dollar bill, a 10-dollar bill. You'll also find it on most of our coins. The phrase is “In God We Trust”. Well, “In God We Trust” means we put our faith in God, we put our trust in God, the divine, Supreme Being that some people refer to God as.

“In God We Trust” is actually the official motto of the United States. A “motto” (motto) is a short sentence or phrase or saying that sort of describes the belief or the attitudes of a certain organization or a certain team or a certain, in this case, country. You could have a company, a business, and their motto is “The customer is always first.” We worry about our customers before anything else. That’s their motto. That’s sort of their belief. Well, the U.S. has an official motto, and it's “In God We Trust.”

This expression is a very old one. In fact, you can find it on American currency, American coins, back as early as 1864. It became the official motto of the United States in 1956. There have been some people who have complained about the use of the word “God” in the official motto of the United States. Some people think that the American Constitution should prevent the government from saying something like “In God We Trust.” This is not a majority opinion, and no one that I know of has successfully challenged this motto. No major ruling or decision has been made by the court system to not allow the government to use this phrase, but there are still some people who don’t like it, who think that we shouldn’t use the word “God” in any official U.S. government publication, or it shouldn’t be our official motto. I don’t think the majority of Americans are too interested in that question. Most of them believe in God and think it's probably just fine. But there are some people who believe the Constitution prevents and says you cannot use an expression like that.

If you have an expression that you want to use, I won't prevent you from using it. If you don’t know what it means though, you might want to email me and ask. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. We get lots and lots of questions every week. I apologize, we can't answer everyone’s question, and when we do it will usually be several months later. However, we will try to answer as many as we can here on the café.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. I thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on The English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

critique – a detailed analysis or assessment of something, usually written

* Julianna was angry at the food writer’s critique of her restaurant’s food.

to discredit – to make other people believe that a person is not telling the truth and cannot be believed

* In court, the lawyer tried to discredit the witness by showing her bias.

traffic fatality – death caused by moving cars; death resulting from cars or other vehicles on the road

* Traffic fatalities along this section of the busy road went down after the new stoplight was installed.

inspiring – giving one ideas about what to do or how to do something; causing one to have an urge to do something, often something creative

* Monterro’s story about leaving his job and starting his own business was so inspiring that Louisa decided to do the same thing.

social cause – an effort to change and improve society and make it better in some way

* The new mayor doesn’t care about social causes. He only cares about bringing more money to the city.

to lobby – to change the opinions and voting decisions of important government officials through educational campaigns, research, applying pressure, and cooperation with the media

* Drug and tobacco companies spend millions of dollars each year lobbying members of Congress.

consumer advocate – someone who educates people and helps them make good buying decisions

* This blog is written by a consumer advocate who calls attention to problems with popular cars and other vehicles.

write-in candidate – a person whose name is not listed on the ballot (document people use to vote), but whose name is written on the ballot by people who want to vote for that person, instead of those listed

* Voters were so unhappy with the candidates on the ballot that write-in candidates received 10% of the vote!

astronaut – an explorer and scientist who travels into outer space

* Melinda is a skilled pilot who hopes one day to become an astronaut.

aspiring – wanting and hoping to become something or to achieve something

* Los Angeles is a city that attracts aspiring actors, musicians, and writers.

crew – a group of people who work together on a ship, boat, aircraft, spacecraft, or train; a group of people who work together on a task or job

* As soon as the film crew arrives, we’ll start shooting this TV commercial.

remote – operating something from a different location; moving objects without actually touching them

* The power plant is here, but our remote operations are a half a mile away.

with reference to – in relation to; in connection with; in the context of

* With reference to your complaint letter, we’ve forwarded it to our top manager.

with regard to – related to; considering

* With regard to my children and my family obligations, I won’t take any job that would require a lot of traveling.

according to – based on as the source of information; as mentioned by

* There will be no rain this entire week, according to the weather report.

to confront – to meet or face a problem/issue; to stand up to something

* Lorenzo confronted his neighbor about the damage her dog had done to his front yard.

to encounter – to meet something unexpectedly; to experience by chance

* During their trip to New England, they encountered a dangerous ice storm.

“In God We Trust” – the official motto (a short sentence or phrase that describes the beliefs and attitudes of an organization, business, team, or nation) of the United States

* The motto “in God We Trust” has appeared on U.S. paper money since 1957.

What Insiders Know
H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells is known as one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction,” because his novels and essays “paved the way” (made opportunities available) for the science fiction writers who came after him. Interestingly, H.G. Wells wrote in many other “genres” (types of writing), such as history and politics, but he is now known best for his “science fiction,” a style of writing that usually deals with “imaginary” (not real) things such as ghosts, aliens, or future worlds that are written about in a way that makes them seem possible to the reader.

Wells was born in 1866 in England and lived through several wars, which inspired much of his writing. One of his most famous works, The War of the Worlds, is based on the idea that “Martians” (people who live on the planet Mars) have come to Earth and are “attempting” (trying) to destroy the human race by starting a violent war. The book was published in 1898, but it was made famous in 1938 when it was read on the radio and caused a huge panic in New York City. The story was so “convincing” (believable) that “New Yorkers” (people who live in New York) who heard it on the radio truly believed that aliens were landing in their city. (The radio production was directed by Orson Welles, later to be one of America’s greatest film directors.)

War of the Worlds started a “trend” (popular movement) in literature. Suddenly, books and stories about invasions were everywhere, and the science fiction genre grew more and more popular because of Wells’ work.

Wells also wrote many other novels, such as The Time Machine and The War in the Air. He wrote several short stories and “non-fiction” (based on facts or true stories) books as well. He was not only a writer, but also a “historian” (person who studies history), a teacher, a “journalist” (news writer), a “socialist” (supporter of the Socialist political party), and a “futurist” (a type of scientist that tries to predict the future and writes about it). However, he will always be most famous for being one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction.”