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0930 Fearing Bioterrorism

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 930 – Fearing Bioterrorism.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 930. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there and become a member of ESL Podcast today. This episode is a dialogue between Natalie and Anton about the unhappy topic of bioterrorism. It sounds like a lot of fun. Let's get started.

[start of dialogue]

Natalie: Why are you wearing that gas mask?

Anton: I’m getting used to it. If we ever have a bioterrorist attack, I’ll be ready. Want to try one on?

Natalie: No, thanks. If we get involved in biological warfare, I think we’ll have some warning.

Anton: That’s what you think. Airborne toxins, bacteria, or viruses could be in the air right now, and you and I wouldn’t be able to detect it. It could infect you in the blink of an eye.

Natalie: Then I’ll be sick or dead anyway. So who cares?

Anton: I said we wouldn’t be able to detect it, but there are agencies with early detection equipment that could. As soon as they sound the alarm, we can put on our gas masks and take other precautions.

Natalie: If we’re really attacked by bioterrorists, what good is early detection? It’s not like you can really escape the toxins.

Anton: Don’t pooh-pooh these preparations. They could be the difference between life and death when the time comes.

Natalie: Right. In the meantime, I think I’ll just get dressed – without the stylish gas mask.

[end of dialogue]

Today we talk about a popular topic in the history of the world: war. We begin our dialogue with Natalie saying, or asking Anton, “Why are you wearing that gas mask?” A “mask” (mask) is something, usually, that goes over your face. A “gas mask” is a special kind of mask that is supposed to help protect you from dangerous air that you might breathe. Anton says, “I'm getting used to it.” I'm getting used to the gas mask.

He says, “If we ever have a bioterrorist attack, I'll be ready.” “Bioterrorist” (bioterrorist) is an adjective referring to someone using biological weapons – that is, weapons that are made to usually make other people sick, physically sick. The term “bioterrorism” refers to political groups or military groups that use these weapons in order to frighten other people in order to get them to change their political policy.

Of course, terrorism is something that we live with in the modern world. “Terrorism” is basically an attempt by a group of people to change the policies or politics of another group of people, or another country, by using violence. Anton is worried about a “bioterrorist attack.” An “attack” is when you try to hurt or kill another person. A “bioterrorist attack” would be an attack that involved biological weapons.

Anton asked Natalie if she wants to “try one on” – that is, if she wants to try the gas mask on, if she wants to put it on her face. Natalie says, “No, thanks. If we get involved in biological warfare, I think we'll have some warning.” “Warfare” (warfare) just refers to actions in a war. Natalie is saying that if we are involved in biological warfare, we’ll have some warning. “Warning” (warning) is advance notification that something is going to happen. When someone tells you in advance about something bad that is going to happen in the near future – that's the definition of a “warning.”

Anton says, “That's what you think.” That expression, “that's what you think,” is used to show when you don't agree with what the other person has just said. For example, someone says to you, “If you don't study, you will fail your examination” – you will not pass your test. And you say, “Well, that's what you think. I never study for exams, and I always pass them.” That never happened to me, but you could imagine someone saying that. “That's what you think” is used when you disagree with what the person just said. Anton disagrees with Natalie. He does not think they will get any warning if they are involved in a biological war.

Anton then gives some examples of biological weapons, things that terrorists or others could use on people in order to make them sick or kill them. He says, “Airborne toxins, bacteria, or viruses could be in the air right now, and you and I wouldn't be able to detect it.” Let's start with “airborne toxins.” A “toxin” (toxin) is something that is poisonous, something that will hurt living creatures – living beings like human beings. “Airborne” (airborne) means something travels through the air. “Airborne toxins” would be toxins that travel through the air and that, of course, you could breathe in accidentally.

“Bacteria” is the plural of “bacterium,” which is a single-celled organism – a very small living thing that can make you sick. A “virus” (virus) is also very small thing that can reproduce itself. It can get bigger inside of another living thing such as a plant or an animal. A virus can also make you sick. Anton says, “Airborne toxins, bacteria, or viruses could be in the air right now, and you and I wouldn't be able to detect it.” “To detect” (detect) means to notice, to identify, to find something.

Anton says that these things “could infect you in the blink of an eye.” “To infect” (infect) means to make someone sick, usually by giving them some sort of bacteria or virus. Anton says that these terrible biological weapons “could infect you in the blink of an eye.” That expression, “in the blink (blink) of an eye,” means very quickly, very rapidly. To blink your eye is to move your eyelids up and down across your eyes. That, of course, is something that happens very quickly. That's why we have this expression, “in the blink of an eye.” It means something happens very quickly, very rapidly.

Natalie, however, is not worried by what Anton says. She says that if something infects me, I'll be dead or sick anyway, “So who cares.” In other words, there's nothing you can do about it. Anton said, “I said we wouldn't be able to detect it, but there are agencies with early detection equipment that could.” What Anton is saying is that even though you and I cannot detect these poisonous toxins in the air, there are groups – government agencies, government organizations – that have special equipment that could detect these poisonous bioterrorist weapons.

Anton says, “As soon as they” – these agencies – “sound the alarm, we can put on our gas masks and take other precautions.” “To sound the alarm” means to let other people know about some problem or some danger. To let other people know about some dangerous situation – that's the meaning of “to sound the alarm.” Anton says when the agencies “sound the alarm” – when they let people know – “we can put on our gas masks and take other precautions.” A “precaution” (precaution) is an action that you take to try to prevent something bad from happening to you, to try to protect yourself.

Natalie says, “If we’re really attacked by bioterrorists” – people who use biological weapons – “what good is early detection?” Natalie is saying here it won't matter if someone is able to detect or figure out that we are being attacked. She says, “It's not like you can really escape the toxins.” Natalie is saying that we can't get away from these biological weapons. We can't escape the toxins. “To escape” means, usually, to run away from something. Here, it means not to be affected by something.

Anton says, “Don’t pooh-pooh these preparations.” That expression, “pooh-pooh,” is a weird expression. “To pooh-pooh” something means to indicate that something is not important or even that it's a little silly. We also have another verb, “to belittle” (belittle). “To belittle” an idea is to pooh-pooh something, to pooh-pooh an idea. Anton is saying, “Don't pooh-pooh these preparations.” You should take them seriously, is what Anton is saying. “They could be the difference between life and death.”

When we say something is “the difference between life and death,” or “it's a matter of life and death,” we mean that it's so important that you could actually die if you don't pay attention to it or if things don't turn out the way you'd like. Anton is saying that being able to have early detection could save our lives, and therefore, it would be the difference between life and death. I should mention here, also, that we say “life and death,” but the original expression back in the early 19th century was “life or death.” However, in the last hundred years or so, people use both “a matter of life or death” and “a matter of life and death.” You can use either one.

Natalie says, “Right.” She says this, however, in a way that indicates she doesn't really believe Anton. She says, “Right. In the meantime, I think I'll just get dressed without the stylish gas mask.” “In the meantime” means until this happens, until there is a biological attack. “I think I'll just get dressed without the stylish gas mask” – “stylish” (stylish) means fashionable. It is used to describe clothing or things you wear that make you look good, that everybody else thinks looks good. Natalie is making a joke here. Gas masks, of course, would never be considered stylish. They wouldn't be considered things that would make you look better. That, of course, is not their function.

Now let's listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Natalie: Why are you wearing that gas mask?

Anton: I’m getting used to it. If we ever have a bioterrorist attack, I’ll be ready. Want to try one on?

Natalie: No, thanks. If we get involved in biological warfare, I think we’ll have some warning.

Anton: That’s what you think. Airborne toxins, bacteria, or viruses could be in the air right now, and you and I wouldn’t be able to detect it. It could infect you in the blink of an eye.

Natalie: Then I’ll be sick or dead anyway. So who cares?

Anton: I said we wouldn’t be able to detect it, but there are agencies with early detection equipment that could. As soon as they sound the alarm, we can put on our gas masks and take other precautions.

Natalie: If we’re really attacked by bioterrorists, what good is early detection? It’s not like you can really escape the toxins.

Anton: Don’t pooh-pooh these preparations. They could be the difference between life and death when the time comes.

Natalie: Right. In the meantime, I think I’ll just get dressed – without the stylish gas mask.

[end of dialogue]

I thank our scriptwriter, the always stylish Dr. Lucy Tse, for today's wonderful – if somewhat depressing – script.

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

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
gas mask – a device worn over one’s mouth and nose that seals tightly to one’s face and head to clean the air so that it is safe to breathe

* Make sure you wear a gas mask before applying the pesticides to the plants and flowers, because it’s highly poisonous.

bioterrorist attack – an event where a person or a small group of people tries to hurt and frighten a much larger group of people by using a microscopic (too small to be seen with the eyes) living creature to make them sick or to kill them, usually because of a disagreement over politics or ideas

* What is the government doing to protect citizens from a bioterrorist attack that targets the water supply?

biological warfare – a type of fighting between two countries that uses microscopic (too small to be seen with the eyes) living creatures to sicken or kill the people of the other country

* The problem with biological warfare is that there’s no way to protect your own country’s population from the weapons, since the biological agents can affect anyone and everyone.

warning – advance notification that something bad is going to happen; a statement to be careful that allows people to prepare for a bad thing

* Do you think scientists will ever be able to give warnings long before earthquakes happen?

that’s what you think – a phrase used to show one’s disagreement with what another person has just said

* A: If you don’t study, you’re going to fail the test.

B: That’s what you think! I never study for tests.

airborne – traveling or transmitted by air; being passed among people through the air they breathe

* HIV and AIDS aren’t airborne, so it’s perfectly safe to talk to people who are sick in that way.

toxin – something that is poisonous and harmful to living creatures

* It’s important to keep cleaning supplies and other toxins away from children.

bacterium – a microscopic (too small to be seen), single-celled organism, including one that can cause disease

* How many bacteria live inside the digestive system of a typical human adult?

virus – a microscopic (too small to be seen) agent that can reproduce only inside the cell of a living host (plant or animal), including one that can cause illness

* Most often, the flu is caused by a virus, so an antibiotic can’t help to cure the problem.

to detect – to find or identify something; to find evidence of something

* Smoke detectors are designed to detect a small amount of smoke, so that people can get out of the building before the fire gets too big.

to infect – to make someone sick through exposure to a disease

* Let’s wash that cut on your leg before it gets infected.

in the blink of an eye – very quickly or rapidly; almost immediately

* In the blink of an eye, Rimma lost control of the car and crashed into a tree.

to sound the alarm – to alert other people to a problem or danger; to let others know of a bad or dangerous situation

* Let’s keep this quiet and avoid sounding the alarm for as long as possible.

precaution – an action intended to prevent something from happening or to protect oneself while something happens

* In the weeks before their baby was born, they covered all the outlets and locked away cleaning supplies as a precaution.

to escape – to run away from something so that one is not affected by it

* No one can escape death or taxes.

to pooh-pooh – to belittle an idea; to indicate that something is unimportant, unnecessary, or silly

* Ana Maria was highly offended when the bank’s loan officer pooh-poohed her business plan.

the difference between life and death – something that is critically important and could save one’s life under certain circumstances

* Wearing a seat belt can mean the difference between life and death in a car accident.

stylish – fashionable; trendy; describing clothing or accessories that most people agree look good

* Where did you buy that stylish purse?

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these is poisonous?
a) Toxins.
b) Bacteria.
c) Viruses.

2. Why does Anton say, “Don’t pooh-pooh these preparations”?
a) Because Natalie doesn’t think they’re very good.
b) Because Natalie is ready to move to another apartment.
c) Because Natalie isn’t paying enough attention.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
mask

“Gas mask,” in this podcast, means a device worn over one’s mouth and nose that seals tightly to one’s face and head to clean the air so that it is safe to breathe: “Leo’s fridge smells so bad, I think I’d need a gas mask to clean it out!” A “mask” is anything that is put over one’s face as a disguise: “The robber used an old ski hat with eye holes cut into it as a mask while he stole money from the bank.” Or, “For Halloween, Trent wore a Spiderman mask and red clothing.” A “masquerade” is a party where everyone wears a mask: “People enjoy masquerades because they like having a secret identity.” Finally, as a verb, “to mask (something)” means to cover something up or to hide something: “There isn’t enough perfume in the world to mask the smell of those cows!”

to escape

In this podcast, the verb “to escape” means to run away from something so that one is not affected by it: “It’s a miracle that they escaped injury in the house fire.” The phrase “to escape (someone’s) notice” means for someone not to notice something or not to realize that something has happened: “How did it escape our notice that our competitors were planning to do the same thing?” The phrase “(something) escapes (one)” means that one cannot remember something: “Let’s go to that new restaurant. Do you know which one I’m talking about? The name escapes me.” Finally, the phrase “there’s no escaping the fact that” means that something is inevitable and will definitely happen: “There’s no escaping the fact that the company is going to have to fire employees next year.”

Culture Note
The Bioterrorism Act of 2002

In June 2002, the United States government “enacted” (made into law) the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act, “commonly known as” (most often referred to as) The Bioterrorism Act of 2002. The law is “intended” (meant; planned) to protect Americans from bioterrorism by requiring individuals and organizations to “register” (officially state in writing that one has or owns something) certain “agents” and toxins that could “pose a threat” (potentially create problems for) to the health of “living organisms” (plants and animals, including humans).

The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 also “restricts” (limits; does not allow) certain individuals from “possessing” (having) agents and toxins. These individuals include people who have broken certain laws in the past, people with mental health problems, “illegal aliens” (people living in the country without legal permission), and anyone who has been “dishonorably discharged” (told to leave the Army, Navy, or Marines due to poor behavior) from the U.S. “Armed Services” (military). One of the more “controversial” (with differing opinions about whether something is good or bad) “aspects” (parts; components) of the law is that the restricted individuals include aliens (non-U.S. citizens) who are “nationals” (people originally from a particular country) of specific countries that have been determined to support international terrorism.

The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 also “addresses” (talks about) how “emergency rooms” (the parts of a hospital that provide urgent care for serious problems) are prepared for terrorist attacks. In addition, the law “tightened” (made more restrictive) food inspections and tried to improve protection of country’s water supply.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - a