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398 Topics: American Authors - Ayn Rand; Adirondack Park; to get versus to gain versus to obtain; to have (someone) do (something) versus to get (someone) to do (something); giving an apple to a teacher

Complete Transcript
You are listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 398.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 398. 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 and see what other interesting courses we have for you in business and daily English.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on American authors, on American writers, focusing on a 20th century writer, Ayn Rand. We’re also going to talk about a famous park, Adirondack Park. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

This Café begins with the continuation of our series on American writers. Today, we’re going to talk about Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was born in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her original name was Alisa Rosenbaum. Ayn Rand, as she was later known, became one of the first female students at Petrograd State University. But in 1925, a few years after the Russian Revolution, she decided to go to the United States to visit relatives and stayed there. She did not return to Russia.

After spending some time in Chicago, Illinois, in the central part of the United States, she came here to California, specifically to Hollywood, to Los Angeles. She began to use the name “Ayn Rand” for her writing. She wrote a few plays and, since this was Hollywood after all, she began to write screenplays. Screenplays are scripts written for movies. She also began writing novels, but the novels didn't get very much attention until, in 1943, she published a novel called The Fountainhead. A “fountainhead” is the source of something, more specifically, it's the source of a small river, what we would call a “stream.” The Fountainhead, as a novel, is about an architect who does what he believes is right and wants to create the kind of structures he likes despite what other people in the society expect him to do.

The novel is about the triumph of the individual over collectivism. “Triumph” (triumph) is a win, a success. Rand believed that the needs and desires of the individual should always be more important than those of the group. That's one of the ideas in her novel. She strongly disliked, then, the idea of “collectivism.” “Collectivism” is the idea that everyone should be working with everyone else.

Collectivism, although it doesn't have to be associated with a communist idea, was certainly at that time, in the 1930’s and 40’s, associated with the communist government of the Soviet Union. Rand’s novel The Fountainhead is both philosophical and romantic. It's also very long. It's more than 750 pages. So, you probably don't want to start reading that before you go to bed. You might never get to sleep. The book was very popular, despite its length, and a rather philosophical outlook or philosophical perspective. The book brought fame to Ayn Rand. “To bring the fame to someone” means to make someone famous, and Rand certainly became famous because of this novel, The Fountainhead.

The novel was so popular it was made into a movie in 1949. Rand, however, said she didn't like the film version of her novel. Around this time, Ayn Rand, who, remember, was born in Russia and grew up in Russia, became politically active as an anti- communist. She opposed communism. She was against the government of the Soviet Union. She also started receiving, during this period, a lot of letters from people who admired her work, who thought her novel was very powerful and important. A small group of her admirers, people who liked her work, began to meet in her apartment and discuss philosophy. One of them was a young man by the name of Alan Greenspan. Alan Greenspan later became an important political figure in the United States. He was chairman of what we call our Federal Reserve, which is sort of like our national bank. I talked about that back in English Café 258.

Anyway, this group met regularly and began to read drafts or parts of Ayn Rand’s next novel, after The Fountainhead, called Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s fourth novel. It was also her last one. She considered the novel her “magnum opus.” “Magnum (magnum) opus (opus)” is a Latin phrase meaning “great work” or the best thing that an artist has created. Some people consider Mozart's Requiem to be his magnum opus, his greatest work, or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to be his magnum opus.

Ayn Rand considered her fourth novel, Atlas Shrugged, to be her magnum opus. Atlas Shrugged is set in what we would call a “dystopia.” When we say a novel is “set” (set) in a particular place or time, we mean that that's where the story takes place, at that place or at that time. The novel by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, is set in Oklahoma and California, two states of the United States. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is set along the Mississippi River. Atlas Shrugged is set in a dystopia. You might be familiar with the word “utopia” (utopia), which describes an imaginary place or an imaginary time when everything is perfect. A dystopia is the opposite. It's an imaginary place and time when everything is terrible. Many novels in the 20th century use this concept of a dystopia – 1984, for example, by George Orwell.

Ayn Rand also used a dystopia for her novel Atlas Shrugged. She tried to use the novel to show the importance of the contributions of individuals, an idea similar to what she discussed in The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged was even longer than The Fountainhead. It was almost 1200 pages. That's one thousand, two hundred pages!

The novel, however, was popular. Many people liked it, but many professional book critics give it very negative reviews. For many years, people have worked on television and film adaptations. They’ve tried to make this novel into a movie. In 2011, there was the first of a three-part movie released. Part two was released in 2012 and part three will be released in 2014. However, the first two movies did not make very much money, were not very popular. They were so unpopular that I had never heard of them before until researching this Café. Nevertheless, the novel, Atlas Shrugged, was popular, and it made Ayn Rand even more popular. She began, after her novel, to give speeches, to go out and talk to people about her philosophy that she expresses in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, which she called “objectivism.” Objectivism says that, among other things, the most important purpose in life is the pursuit of happiness, of trying to be happy – that producing and achieving is the best thing a person can do. The way to be able to do that is to respect each person's individual rights. Objectivists do not want the government to be involved in their action or in the economy in general. Rand was someone often associated with what we would call “free-market economics.” However, there were many people who agreed with some parts of Ayn Rand’s ideas but disagreed with her general philosophical view about objectivism.

Many members of the American conservative movement of the 1950’s rejected Ayn Rand’s philosophy, a philosophy that, in addition to talking about economic freedom, was also considered an atheist philosophy, a philosophy that had no room for God in it. That was certainly one reason that many conservative leaders rejected Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. There are still people who like Ayn Rand’s philosophies. Her novels are still read. I haven't read any of them, to be honest, but they are still popular and someday, when I have a lot of time on my hands, I have a lot of time to read, maybe I will sit down and read one of her long, long novels…probably not, but maybe.

Ayn Rand died in 1982. Her movement was never mainstream, in that is it was never one of the most popular political movements in the U.S. There were people who liked her ideas but they were always pretty much a minority, a small group of people. At Ayn Rand’s funeral, interestingly enough, there was a six-foot tall arrangement of flowers in the shape of a dollar sign. Ayn Rand’s philosophy was very much in support of capitalism and the free market. This six-foot tall flower was supposed to show how that was part of her values, part of her philosophy – her support for capitalism. There is an Ayn Rand Institute that has worked to promote her ideas and her novels.

Today, if you asked people which books have had a strong influence on their lives, it isn't unusual to hear some people, especially young people, mention one of Rand’s novels. Some academics have shown interest in her work, some university professors have shown interest in her work and her philosophy, but many people believe that her philosophy does not “merit” or is not good enough for serious academic study, at least in departments of philosophy.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is a large park in the state of New York, in the northeastern part of the United States, called Adirondack Park. Adirondack Park is located in the Adirondack Mountains, which are in the northern part of New York state. The park itself is quite large. It is 6.1 million acres, so it's larger than some of the national parks that we've talked about in other English Cafés, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

The area was made into a park in part to protect it from people who wanted to use the land for economic and commercial reasons. Business people in New York became worried about the amount of logging that was taking place in this area of the Adirondack Mountains. “Logging” (logging) is cutting down trees. People realized that if too many trees were cut down, the soil, the earth on the mountains, would erode, would be washed down into the streams, into the rivers, especially the Hudson River, and this would cause problems for transportation along the river. So, in 1885, more than a hundred years ago, the governor or leader of New York state signed a law to protect the land so that it would never be sold or given to businesses.

People have worked hard to maintain the land to preserve it. The park has more than 3,000 lakes, which is sort of amazing. It also has many different streams and rivers, which are considered very beautiful to go and see. I, myself, have never seen them, but I have seen pictures.

About 130,000 people actually live in the park. So, it's quite unusual. It is a park that has both humans living in it and what we would call “wilderness,” where there are no humans. There are just animals and trees and plants and bugs. (Yeah, you get the idea.) What's interesting about the park is that, within about a day's drive of the park, there are more than 60 million people who live in that area. New York City, of course, is one of those places.

As you would expect, the park has a lot of hiking trails – places where you can go and walk, but it also has golf courses – 32 golf courses. So Adirondack Park is very different from the parks that we've talked about in the past. It's seen as a model, as a way, of demonstrating how humans can live in an area without hurting the area around it. The park also includes two museums, including one about Native Americans or American Indians, who used to live in that area. It is estimated that somewhere between seven and ten million people visit Adirondack Park every year.

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

Our first question comes from Nadya (Nadya) in Russia. Nadya wants to know the difference between “get,” “gain,” and “obtain.” “Get” has a lot of different meanings in English. Let me start with “gain” and “obtain” and then we’ll go back and talk about “get.”

“To gain,” as a verb, means to receive something as result of an effort. Because you did A, you get B. So, if you work hard at your job, you will “gain” recognition. People will say, “Oh, wow. You did a great job.” “To gain” can also mean to increase. “I gained five pounds over the Christmas holidays.” That means my weight went up by five pounds. I got fatter, basically.

“Obtain” (obtain) means to take possession of something, to acquire something, also through effort. “I obtained a better income for my family.” That means I got more money for my family, or “We obtained permission to use the car.” I got permission. I was asking for it and it was given to me because I asked for it. So “gain” and “obtain” both are used in cases where you make some effort, you do something, and you get something in return for what you did. Both “gain” and “obtain” are not exactly formal, but not words that you would use, perhaps, with your closest friends. I would say “obtain” is probably even more formal than “gain.”

Now let's talk about “get” (get). “Get” can mean the same thing as gain and obtain. It can mean to receive something. The biggest difference is that when you say you “get” something, it may be because you worked for it, or it may also be because you were given it as a gift. “I got a bicycle for my birthday.” You didn't work to get it. You didn't have to do anything. You just had to have a birthday and someone who would give you a bicycle for it.

So, “get,” can mean “to receive” and can be used in many of the same sentences as “gain” and “obtain.” In fact, you could probably substitute “get” for “gain” as a verb, and “obtain” in most cases.

“Get,” however, has a lot of other meanings as well. “To get” can mean to go out and bring something back. “I need to get some milk.” I need to go to the store, buy it, and bring it back to my house. “Get” can also mean to do something. “I'm going to get a haircut.” I'm going to go to the barber and he's going to take all my hair off. That's just hypothetical, theoretical, of course, since I don't have any hair.

“Get” can also mean to hear something. “I didn't get your name” means I didn't hear your name when you told me. It could also mean you didn't tell me your name. “Get” can mean to understand. “Do you get it?” Do you understand it? “Yes. I get it.” If you say about a person, “He gets it,” you mean he understands whatever it is that you're talking about. He understands something. He really understands it. “He gets it.” Finally, “get” can also mean to arrive. “What time did you get home last night? What time did you get to work this morning?” It means there “to arrive” at that place.

“Get” can also be used in a number of different expressions. You could say to someone, “Get lost!” meaning, if you say it to a person – it means get out of here, leave, or if you're describing your own situation, it means that you don't know where you are. “I was driving around the streets of Manhattan in New York and I got lost.” Actually it's not that difficult to get lost in Manhattan because traffic moves so slowly. You have plenty of time to look around and see where you are.

Our next question comes from Mahsa in Iran. The question has to do with two expressions, one of them using “get.” “To get someone to do something” versus “to have someone do something.” “To get someone to do something” means to convince someone to do something, often by either tricking them, deceiving them, not telling them the truth, or by begging them, by going, “Oh, please, please, please, please do this!” “I got my brother to give me a ride to the store.” I asked him, I begged him, and finally he said okay. I convinced him to do something.

“To get someone to do something” could also mean to pay someone to do something for you, usually a single job. You need to have your car washed. You “get someone” to do that for you. You pay them ten dollars or whatever you would pay someone. I always wash my own car. I don't pay someone to wash my car. It's really not that difficult people. I mean water, soap, right?

Now, “to have someone do something” is a little different. It means to gives some work to someone as an employee, or as someone who works for you, or who you can give work to and has to do it. You could say, for example, “I'm going to have my attorney” – my lawyer – “call you.” I'm going to call him up and tell him that he should call you. I'm not going to beg him. I'm going to tell him, but of course, I'm paying him to do that. You can use the expression with a colleague, with someone you work with as well. “I'm good to have John work on this project.” I'm not John’s boss, but John has agreed to do it for me.

The two expressions then, “to get someone to do something” and “to have someone to do something,” are similar. The difference is the relationship you have between yourself and the other person, how you give that task to that person. “To get someone to do something” means you don't have any authority. You don't have any power to get them to do it because you're the boss, for example, or you're the parent and you're talking about your children. “To have someone do something,” usually means you have some power to get them to do it. They work for you or they’re your children. We could also use that with teachers. The teachers have their students do homework. They don't “get” their students to do homework. That would mean they would beg them or ask them nicely. Teachers just tell their students and the students are supposed to do it. (They don't always do it, but they're supposed to do it.)

Finally, Dan in Italy wants to know about a tradition or practice that students have with teachers. Since we were talking about teachers, this is a good question to answer. The practice or custom or tradition is that a student will bring a teacher an apple. Why an apple? And why would the student bring the teacher an apple?

This tradition is not very common anymore. It's more of an expression than anything else. However, it does relate to something that was very popular, at least in small American schools many years ago, especially in small towns. In many of these small towns, these small communities, the teachers did not receive a lot of money. So, it was not unusual for the students to bring the teacher a small gift. It may be something that was grown on the farm where the student was living. The parents would give the teacher food because they knew the teacher wasn't making a lot of money working in that school. Paying for things with food was not an uncommon practice in farming communities, where people had extra food and didn't have a lot of extra money.

We’re not exactly sure why apples are used or were used as gifts, perhaps because there were apples in many different parts of the United States, perhaps because apples are a fruit that lasts a long time. It doesn't go bad easily or quickly. However, the tradition of giving the teacher an apple, as I mentioned earlier, is not very common anymore, although it's not uncommon for teachers to receive small gifts from their students at, say, Christmas time.

Even though the tradition is no longer very popular, an apple is still a symbol of schooling, still a symbol of education, and often when you see books about education, you may see an apple. That's representing that tradition.

I was a teacher. I never had a student bring me an apple. Maybe they didn't like me very much. That’s probably it.

We like you and we hope that you'll email us your question. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

screenplay – a play that is used for making a film; the written part of a film that includes what the actors say

* Ron is writing a screenplay about the Civil War that he hopes will be made into a film.

fountainhead – the source of something, especially the place where water comes from or the place where a very small river begins

* We tried to follow the river to the fountainhead, but it is too high up in the mountains and we couldn’t reach it.

triumph – a win over someone or something; a great victory or achievement

* Many Hollywood movies are about the triumph of good over evil.

collectivism – the idea that people need to stay together and work together, sharing what they have and doing what is best for the group

* We live in a unique community where people feel a strong sense of collectivism, helping each other especially during difficult times.

magnum opus – a Latin phrase meaning great work, or the best thing that an artist, musician, or writer has created

* Do you think Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is his magnum opus?

to be set in – the time period and/or location a story takes place in

* Juan likes reading novels and watching television shows set in the future.

dystopia – an imaginary place and time where everything is terrible and unpleasant

* Why do you keep writing stories about dystopias, rather than happier subjects?

objectivism – the idea that the most important purpose in life is trying to be happy and that producing and achieving is the best thing a person can do, and that individual rights must be respected

* If you believe in objectivism, you probably don’t want the government to limit what people are allowed to do.

pursuit of happiness – trying to be happy; attempting to find what will be good and fulfilling for oneself

* In the pursuit of happiness, Jolene moved her family out of the big city and to a small town to lead a simpler life.

to merit – to be deserving of attention or praise; to be good enough to notice or appreciate

* Were there any new ideas at the employee meeting that merit further discussion?

logging – the act of cutting down trees to use the wood for building or for other purposes

* There used to be beautiful forests in this region, but they’ve disappeared due to logging.

to erode – for wind, water, or other natural forces to make something disappear little by little over time

* The side of this mountain has eroded because of strong winds.

to get – to receive; to bring something; to do or have something done; to hear or understand something; to arrive

* Did you get the package of books I sent you two weeks ago?

to gain – to receive something as a result of effort; to increase

* The boss gained a lot of respect when she took responsibility for the failure of the last project in order to protect her employees’ jobs.

to obtain – to acquire or take possession of something through an effort or request

* Students are not allowed to go on this school trip unless they obtain their parents’ permission.

to get (someone) to do (something) – to convince someone to do something by fooling them, paying them, exchanging work, or begging; to hire someone for a single job

* How did you get all of your teenage children to stay home to help clean the house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?

to have (someone) do (something) – to give or assign a task to someone, often an employee or colleague

* I’ll have my assistant email the documents to you no later than Friday.

What Insiders Know
Famous Immigrant Writers

At the age of 20, Ayn Rand arrived in the United States for a visit and decided that she wanted to stay in the U.S. Although her first language was not English, she wrote and “published” (had writings printed or produced for a larger audience) in English.

Very few writers who learn English as an adult become successful writing in English. One notable exception is Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian “emigre” (person who leaves to live in another country, usually for political reasons) who spent many years living and teaching in the U.S.

Born in 1899, when he arrived in the U.S., he was already in his 40’s. He wrote his famous novel Lolita in English during his years living in the U.S. and while traveling through the western United States each summer to collect “butterflies” (insects with large wings, often admired for their beauty). Nabokov eventually returned to Europe and died in Switzerland.

Another “prominent” (important; famous) writer who became successful after learning and publishing in English as an adult is Joseph Conrad. Born in 1857, Conrad was a Russian citizen born in Ukraine. He eventually “settled in” (went to live in) England and “sought” (asked for) and was given British citizenship in 1866. He did not become fluent in English until his 20’s, but he was “prolific” (produced many works) in his new “adopted” (not original) language. Among his most famous novels are Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim.