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566 Topics: Famous Americans – Linus Pauling; The Texaco Star Theater and Milton Berle; squalid versus sordid; on my own versus by myself; postseason competition

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 566.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 566. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com. Become a member of this podcast and download the Learning Guide for this episode. You can also like us on Facebook. Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the only person so far to win two Nobel Prizes by himself – the American scientist Linus Pauling. We’re also going to talk about a famous television show with one of the most famous comedians of the mid-twentieth century, Milton Berle, and the Texaco Star Theater. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Linus Pauling is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century. He was born in 1941 in Portland, Oregon. Oregon is the state just north of California on the west coast of the U.S. Linus was the oldest of three children. He had two sisters. His father was a pharmacist. A “pharmacist” (pharmacist) is a person who prepares medicine to give to people. Linus Pauling, then, grew up in a household that was familiar with medicine and science.

He went to college at what was then called the Oregon Agricultural College. It later became Oregon State University. It was there that he met his wife, Ava. He graduated in 1922 with a degree in chemical engineering. “Chemical engineering” is a part of science that deals with the design and operation of, for example, plants or factories that make chemicals on a large scale.

But Linus Pauling’s interest in chemistry was much deeper. He was interested very much in the theoretical aspects of chemistry, especially what later became called “molecular chemistry.” In fact, Pauling is called by some “the father of molecular chemistry.” After he graduated from the university, he went on to study at one of the best colleges for science and technology right here in Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, more famously known as Cal Tech. He graduated with a PhD from Cal Tech in 1925.

After he graduated, he did some research in Munich, Germany, at the Institute for Theoretical Physics. He was already considered a very talented young scientist. He studied quantum mechanics when he was in Germany. “Quantum (quantum) mechanics” is a branch of science that I will not explain to you, but can describe as a mathematical description of the motion of atoms and energy. Basically, quantum mechanics deals with really, really, really, really, really, really small things in nature.

Pauling returned to the United States in 1927 and began teaching at his old university, Cal Tech. He worked at Cal Tech for the next 36 years, and it was there that he made some of his most important scientific discoveries. His research, among other things, focused him on understanding the structure, the way molecules were put together. He did this in part by using a technology called “X-rays.” An “X-ray” is an electromagnetic wave of high energy.

You’re almost certainly familiar with X-rays. If you go to the doctor and have a problem, for example, with your lungs, the doctor might take an X-ray to look inside your body, if you will, to see what the problem is. Pauling was using X-rays to understand the way that molecules – some of the smallest parts of matter – were put together. He made some important scientific discoveries during the 1930s and published a book about his findings.

In addition to his general work on “chemical bonds” (bonds), or the way that molecules were put together, Linus Pauling also worked on biological molecules. In particular, he got interested, along with another person working at Cal Tech, in the structure of proteins, and in particular in blood. He helped work on several important practical issues as well. When World War II began, he was asked to participate in research on blood.

He was also asked to participate in the most famous scientific venture, or scientific project, of that period – the Manhattan Project, to develop a nuclear bomb. But because he was ill during part of this period, he never participated in that project. He did however, try to develop a substance that would be of practical use during the war – a substance, or a kind of material, that would help blood clot.

“To clot” (clot) means for a liquid to become thick and stick together. It’s a verb that you almost only hear when we talk about blood. Blood clotting is very important because otherwise the person who is injured, for example, might continue to bleed and die. During the war, blood clotting was important for injured soldiers so they wouldn’t continue to lose blood after they had been hurt or shot.

Pauling also worked on a machine that could tell how much oxygen was available in airplanes as well as in submarines. For his work during the war, Pauling received a Presidential Medal of Merit in 1948 recognizing his important scientific contributions during the war. After the war, Pauling continued his research on blood and became interested in a disease called sickle cell anemia. In 1949, he identified the particular problem in the blood – a structural or molecular problem – that caused sickle cell anemia and was one of the first people to work on that important disease.

He was visiting Oxford in 1948 when he became interested in a problem he had studied in the late 1930s related to something called “amino acids.” During this period, there were a lot of scientists trying to find the structure of DNA, which of course stands for “deoxyribonucleic acid” – but you knew that already. This is the material, contained in all living things, that contains their genetic information.

“Genetic information” determines, among many other things, how tall you may be, what you look like, the color of your eyes, and so forth. There were lots of people studying DNA, trying to understand its structure. Although two other scientists, Crick and Watson, discovered the structure of DNA, Pauling’s work in this area was still considered extremely important, and in 1952 he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work.

The Nobel Prize, you may know, is one of five prizes that are given internationally to recognize accomplishments in the areas of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace. There’s a sixth prize in economics which isn’t technically a Nobel Prize. It’s a prize given in honor of Alfred Nobel, but by a different organization. Economists like to say they have Nobel Prizes, but in fact they don’t. How do I know this? Well, because I visited the Nobel Prize museum a few years ago. But they didn’t give me a Nobel Prize. I’m not sure why.

Anyway, Linus Pauling did receive a Nobel Prize for his work in chemistry. During the 1950s, however, he became interested in politics. He was worried, as many people were, about the dangers of nuclear weapons, and so he went around the world trying to get other scientists to sign a petition. A “petition” (petition) is basically a document that asks for something or demands that something be done, and if you agree with whatever this document is asking for, you put your signature – you put your name – on the bottom of it, saying, “Yes, I also believe this.”

Linus Pauling created a petition asking for the nations, the countries, of the world to at the very least stop testing nuclear weapons. He presented a petition signed by more than 9,000 scientists from 44 countries to the United Nations in 1958 and also published a book called No More War. In 1962, because of his efforts to stop nuclear war, he was given another Nobel Prize, this time the Nobel Peace Prize, making him the only person to win two Nobel Prizes by himself – that is, not with another person.

In 1963, in part because of what Pauling had done, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was agreed to by many nations throughout the world. The “Nuclear Test Ban (ban) Treaty” was an agreement that made it illegal, or at least that told countries not to test nuclear weapons in the air, water, or space around Earth. The treaty “went into effect” that year, meaning it became official in 1963.

Not everyone was happy with Linus Pauling’s political work, especially back here in Southern California at his university, Cal Tech. So, Pauling left Cal Tech, and after spending some time at a political academic institute in Santa Barbara, he went and worked at the University of California in San Diego and later at Stanford University, also here in California.

While he was at San Diego and at Stanford, Pauling got interested more in medicine, in particular in a vitamin called vitamin C. A “vitamin” (vitamin) is a natural substance, usually found in food, that is important for growth and nutrition in the body. Pauling got very interested in vitamin C and came up with the idea that perhaps if you took a lot of vitamin C, it would prevent you not only from getting common illnesses such as a cold, a common infection, but could also prevent you from getting more serious diseases such as cancer.

Pauling, in 1973, opened his own research institute in Oregon, back where he was born. Unfortunately, his research was not accepted by many scientists. Many people in medicine said he was simply wrong about vitamin C. Sadly, his own wife died of cancer in 1981. Pauling continued to work on the ideas of vitamin C and cancer. Once again, most scientists did not accept his ideas and findings.

Pauling himself died of cancer in 1994, of prostate cancer. Some people say, “Well, you see, he himself died of cancer even though he took all this vitamin C, and therefore it’s probably not a correct theory.” But to be fair to Pauling, he was 93 years old when he died, so to die of prostate cancer at 93 is not all that unusual, though it’s true – taking vitamin C didn’t stop him from getting cancer. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know whether vitamin C will help you or not. Some people say it will. Some people say it won’t.

In either case, Linus Pauling’s contributions to science go far beyond whether he was right or wrong about vitamin C. He not only contributed to science in the twentieth century, but some say also to peace and to the environment. Oh, and if you’re wondering if the Charles Schulz Peanuts character Linus was named after Linus Pauling, the answer is no.

Let’s move now briefly to our second topic, one of the most famous comedians of the mid-twentieth century, Milton Berle – “Uncle Milty” – and the Texaco Star Theater.

Milton Berle was a comedian who was so famous in the 1950s, he was called “Mr. Television” because he was so often on TV. He was born in 1908 in New York City, and he began, as many performers during this period did, acting in what were called “vaudeville” shows. “Vaudeville” (vaudeville) is a type of entertainment that was popular during the early twentieth century in the U.S. It was basically a mix of live performances, including singing, dancing, and comedy.

Berle went on to perform in movies as well and on the radio, but he didn’t find a lot of success professionally until, in 1948, he joined something called the Texaco Star Theater. “Texaco” was, and still is, the name of a popular chain of gas stations, where you can go get gasoline for your car.

Texaco, which stands for “Texas Company,” is an oil company in the U.S. It began very early on, back in 1901, and is still going on today as a company, a successful oil company. Because one of the symbols of Texas is a single star, Texaco used a star as part of its advertising, and when you go to a Texaco gas station, you will see a big star.

One way that companies advertise their products and services is, of course, to have commercials – announcements and advertisements on radio and, nowadays, on television. It was popular in the twentieth century especially for large companies to pay for an entire television or radio program, and that program would have the name of the company. In 1939, Texaco created a radio program called the Texaco Star Theater. It had different entertainers who would sing songs or tell funny stories during the radio show.

In 1948, this show became a television show. Now, television was very new at this time. Only about 5 percent of Americans had a television set in their house. Milton Berle was supposed to be one of the people who would host this new show. “To host” (host) means to be the main person in charge of some event or show.

However, Milton Berle was so popular that instead of being one of several people hosting the show, he became the only host. He was a very funny man. He could sing songs, he could tell jokes, and he was a natural actor. He would often dress up as a woman, for example, in order to tell his jokes and to be funny. This is why he was given the name “Mr. Television,” or as I called him earlier, “Uncle Milty” (“Milty” being a short form of his first name, Milton).

Beginning in 1950, the Texaco Star Theater was the most popular show on American television. In fact, people heard about the show and went out and bought televisions just so they could watch his TV show. The show continued until 1954, and by the time it stopped, more than half of all American households owned a television set, and many of them watched the Texaco Star Theater and Uncle Milty every Tuesday night. My parents would talk about how they used to watch Milton Berle on television as a young married couple back in the early 1950s.

Milton Berle continued acting in television until the 1960s. He wrote books, including a well-known autobiography, or story of his own life. I remember seeing Milton Berle on television even back in the 1970s. Although the Texaco Star Theater was only on TV for six years, it in many ways changed the way people thought about television and the importance of television as a new form of entertainment. I myself don’t think I’ve ever seen the show, but I do remember the commercial that they used to have on television, at least during the ’60s and ’70s, for Texaco that most people my age will remember.

You can trust your car to the man who has the star

the big, bright, red Texaco Star

“You can trust your car,” meaning you can give your car to be repaired or to be serviced, “to the man who wears the star.” All of the employees at Texaco gas stations have a star on their shirt, or at least they used to – “the big, bright Texaco Star.” I don’t know if most Americans under 50 recognize that little commercial “jingle,” we would call it. But now you know something they don’t.

Now let’s answer some of your questions.

Our first question comes from Mikhail (Mikhail) in Russia. Mikhail was recently reading some novels by the British writer H. G. Wells – rather old novels – and he saw a couple of words he didn’t understand: “squalid” and “sordid.” “Squalid” (squalid) is not a common word in English, but you will see it in writing. It means very dirty and unpleasant, often because of poverty – because someone is poor – or simply because someone doesn’t take care of something.

We might use the phrase “squalid living conditions” to describe, say, a house where everything is dirty or where there is no running water and therefore things are not very clean. That might be described as being a “squalid house” or a “squalid place to live.” We might also, less commonly, describe someone’s behavior as being “squalid.” There it would mean more “immoral” or “dishonest.” However, a more likely adjective would be the other word that Mikhail mentioned when it comes to talking about behavior, and that is “sordid” (sordid).

To describe someone’s behavior or someone’s character as being “sordid” means this person is dishonest or bad, perhaps even doing things of a sexual nature that you don’t really want to hear about. You might talk about a man who has an affair with a woman as having a “sordid affair.” An “affair” (affair) is when a man or woman who is married has sexual relationships with another man or woman to whom they are not married. So that’s “squalid” and “sordid.”

Our next question comes from Piotr (Piotr) from Poland. The question has to do with two expressions or two phrases, “on my own” and “by myself.” Both of these expressions are quite similar. They can both mean without being helped by anyone else, or without the help of other people. “I’m going to do this on my own” means I’m going to do it without anyone helping me.

“I’m going to do this by myself” can mean the same thing – I’m going to do it without the aid or assistance of another person. It can also mean simply “alone.” “I am here on my own.” There is no one else with me. “I am here by myself.” I’m the only person in this room. You could say someone lives “on his own” – he lives without anyone else in the same house or apartment – or you could say, “He lives by himself.” There is no one else with him in that particular house or condominium or wherever it is he lives.

Some people use “on my own” in cases where you’re doing something without anyone helping you, but you might expect someone to help you – so, in situations where someone could help you but you decide not to ask anyone for help or allow anyone to help you. “I’m fixing my car on my own.” I’m not asking anyone’s permission. I’m not getting any help. I’m doing it because I want to do it without anyone helping me.

“By yourself” is often used when we are talking about a situation more than whether someone is helping you do something. “I am here by myself” – no one is with me. These are subtle differences that aren’t always observed in conversational English. I wouldn’t worry about them too much. Sometimes “by myself” or “on my own” could also mean “lonely,” especially “by myself.”

You may remember the song “All by myself. Don’t want to be all by myself, anymore.” That was a song from the 1970s, sung by the not-very-great singer Eric Kerman, whom none of you have heard of, I’m sure. I didn’t remember who sang the song. I had to look it up on the internet. But I do remember the song. It was quite popular back in 1975. Interesting story (well, maybe not that interesting), part of the music for the song is based on one of the works by Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer. The things you learn here on the English Café – am I right? All right.

Final question comes from Bruno from Brazil. Bruno from Brazil – we had Piotr from Poland and now we have a Bruno from Brazil. I mean how likely is that? We needed a question from Francois from France or, I don’t know, Sergio from Spain. Where are those questions, I ask? Anyway, Bruno from Brazil wants to know the meaning of “post-season competition.”

A “competition” is when two people try, or more than two people try, to win a certain prize. A competition is the process of trying to win a prize. If you go to a soccer game, what you guys would call “football” in most of the world, that is a competition. It’s a game. Two teams are trying to win the game. “Post-season” means “after a season.” The prefix “post” (post) means “after” something. “Season” refers to the regular period of time when, in this case, a sport is typically played.

So, to take the world’s greatest sport as an example, baseball, the regular season is roughly between the months of April and September, or rather from April to September. October is the “post-season.” What happens in the post-season? Well, you have games between the very best teams that competed or played during the regular season. So if there are, say, 30 teams, you may only have eight or 10 that play in the post-season competition to determine who is the very best team.

Most popular sports in the U.S. have a regular season and then post-season games. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey all have a regular season and post-season play. In baseball, there 162 regular season games for each team, and then only the best teams compete to become the champion of that year.

If you have a question or comment, if your name is George from Greece or Charlie from Chad, email us. 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’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

chemical engineering – the branch of engineering that deals with the design and operation of chemical plants, a type of factory where chemicals are made on a large scale

* When they built the new plant, the company hired experts in chemical engineering to oversee the project.

quantum mechanics – the branch of science that deals with the mathematical description of motion and interaction of atoms and energy, trying to understand what makes up the smallest things in nature and how they work

* Students interested in understanding waves of light must study quantum mechanics.

x-ray – an electromagnetic wave of high energy that is able to pass through many materials that light cannot pass through

* This machine uses x-rays to help doctors look at broken bones under the skin’s surface.

substance – a kind of matter; a type of material

* Honey is a sticky substance that is made naturally by bees.

to clot – for liquid to become thick and to stick together in a ball, especially blood

* After getting a cut, it’s important to apply firm pressure on the injury to stop the bleeding.

nuclear bomb – an explosive device that uses the chemical reaction within the nucleus of an atom to generate the explosion

* This new treaty attempts to reduce the number of nuclear bombs that each nation possesses.

DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid; the material contained in all living things that carries their genetic information

* Both of her parents have blue eyes, so she knew it was in her DNA to also have blue eyes.

petition – a formal written request to an authority, usually signed by many people, asking for a particular action or outcome

* Students were concerned about the number of crimes on campus and presented a petition to the university president to increase security.

to go into effect – to be required by law or regulation and to start to be followed or obeyed

* The street is closed for repairs on Monday, so the no-parking rule goes into effect Sunday at midnight.

vitamin – a mixture of natural substances usually found in foods that is important for growth and nutrition

* Many people take vitamin pills every day so they can stay healthy, especially if they don’t typically eat nutritious meals.

vaudeville – a type of entertainment that features a mix of performances such as singing, dancing, and comedy, popular in the early 20th century

* A number of popular actors in the early 1900s got their start in vaudeville, touring the country performing.

to host – to be the main person in charge during an event or show, starting and ending the event and introducing others

* Carmine will host the talent show because he’s very organized and is a good speaker.

squalid – very dirty and unpleasant, especially because of poverty or lack of care

* Giovanni’s parents were shocked to see college students living in such squalid conditions.

sordid – very bad or dishonest; describing a person’s character or actions that are not honest or moral

* Tabloid newspapers are full of sordid stories about cheating spouses and lying politicians.

on (one’s) own – without being helped by anyone or anything; without anyone or anything else

* I figured out how to fix my car engine on my own without any help from a mechanic.

by (oneself) – with nobody else; alone; without any help from other people

* Julian went to see the movie by himself when his friends said they couldn’t go with him.

postseason competition – the series of many games played after the regular season of a particular type of sport that determines which among the top performing participants should win a championship or the ultimate prize

* Sixteen teams play in postseason competition to determine each year’s champion.

What Insiders Know
Six Flags Over Texas

Six Flags Over Texas is a popular “theme park” (amusement park; a large area that people visit to go on rides and enjoy other types of entertainment) near Dallas, Texas. Six Flags is now a “chain” (many related businesses) of theme parks throughout North America, but the first one was Six Flags Over Texas, which was opened in 1961.

The name refers to the flags of the six nations that have “governed” (had governments in charge of) Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. The six flags appeared in the original “logo” (a small image representing a company), and the original park had six “sections,” one “corresponding to” (matching with) each of the flags. Today, there are additional park sections, but the original six are still there.

For example, the areas for Mexico and Spain have rides with names in Spanish. The Texas area of the park “emphasizes” (gives importance to) “rodeos” (shows and contests of cowboy skills), “saloons” (old-fashioned Western bars), and foods like hot dogs and “corn dogs” (hot dogs covered in a corn-based batter, fried, and served on a stick).

The area of the park representing the “Confederacy” (the southern part of the United States that fought in the Civil War) is now referred to as the Old South and used to have “reenactments” (acting out what happened in the past) of the American Civil War, fought between the northern and southern states between 1861 and 1865.