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Archive for June, 2008

Monday - June 30, 2008

Heart and Mind and…Toe? Goooooooool for Espana!

EspanaAmericans on average don’t watch much professional soccer on television. However, soccer is popular among Spanish-speakers in the U.S.  If you want to watch a game of soccer on television, you usually have to watch a Spanish language channel in a large city (like Los Angeles, which has several Spanish language TV stations).  Although most Americans don’t watch soccer, they are familiar with what the announcer (the person who describes the game) says when someone scores a goal, because it is usually shouted (said very loudly) and for a very long time: “Gooooooooooooool!” (the Spanish word for goal).  It is something of a joke, actually, in talking about soccer in the U.S.

Even though soccer is not all that popular (not very popular), there were stories today in the newspapers about Spain defeating Germany in the European Championship.  One article in the New York Times said that the Spanish team “did what was unthinkable during the long decades of Spanish failure of heart and mind and toe.”  To do the unthinkable is to do something very difficult, almost impossible.  A decade is 10 years.  The expression “heart and mind” refers to both the emotions (heart) and the intellect (mind or brain).  People sometimes talk about “winning the hearts and minds” of another group, which means convincing a group of people of something both emotionally and intellectually.

So by winning the Euro 2008 championship, the Spanish team did something very difficult, something that has not been done in many years – they united the country.

The funny part of this quote is the “and toe.”  This is not part of the original expression, but it is added since we are talking about soccer, which of course uses the feet to kick the ball.

So congratulations to Spain for winning the Euro 2008 – and good luck to all of the other teams next time!


Thursday - June 26, 2008

A Convict With Many Convictions Has Strong Convictions


The signs say: “Re-elect Krambs (for) District Attorney – A Man of Convictions”

A convict (pronounced CON-vict; noun) is a person who has been found guilty of a crime, usually by a judge or a court of law. To convict (pronounced con-VICT; verb) is the act of officially saying someone is guilty of a crime.

Conviction (pronounced con-VIC-tion; noun) has two meanings. First, it refers to the formal statement that someone is guilty of a crime. Second, it describes someone who has strong beliefs or opinions that are unshakable (others are not able to change) and who believes strongly in what they are doing.

So, this candidate (person wanting to be elected to a public position or job)–Mr. Krambs–is running for district attorney. A district attorney is a public official who acts as the state or federal (national) government’s lawyer in court.

Should we congratulate Mr. Krambs for being unusually honest about his crimes, or is he telling us that he has been a successful lawyer and believes strongly in what he is doing? I guess the voters will have to decide.

~ Lucy

Tuesday - June 24, 2008

More on FREE!

I wanted to clarify (make clear) my comments last week about the value of things that are FREE!  I think some people interpreted my post as saying that we should not buy a product because there is something free that comes with it, or that things that are free are not worth very much.  I am not saying either of those things.

As many of you pointed out in your comments, some of the best things in life are free – even the audio files for ESL Podcast are free!  I am not suggesting that there is a relationship between price and value (how much something is really worth to us).  What I am saying is that when we see something that is FREE!, it has a different effect on us than something with a price on it.  We react differently, and sometimes we react in a way that isn’t rational or  does not make good economic sense.

Sometimes getting something for FREE! is a good idea, a good deal.   But we have to be careful not to get something or buy something just because it is free.  You have to compare the options and decide which is really best.  That’s why I gave the example of the candy, where FREE! wasn’t actually the best deal.


Thursday - June 19, 2008

Predictably Irrational

I love reading popular books about economics.  I’ve always been interested in economics, beginning when I was in college. I took a couple of different economics courses as an undergraduate, and have continued reading books on the topic every few years.

Recently I started a book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or what we commonly call MIT, one of the best universities in the U.S. for science and math. The book is part of a larger movement in economics called behavioral economics, where economists combine psychology with their traditional tools of research to understand how people behave when it comes to (as it relates to) money, work, trade, and other economically-related activities. The book is basically a description of several experiments that Ariely has done in the past several years.

FreeOne section of the book discusses what happens when businesses give away things free (or “FREE!” as Ariely writes it). Everyone likes things that are free, and businesses on the Internet and in the “real” world often will give things away (give things for free) to customers as a way of getting more people to pay attention to their products. But can “free” actually be a bad thing for us?

Ariely conducted some experiments on how people reacted to things that were FREE! He offered a group of students two kinds of chocolates: a small piece of very good, well-known chocolate for 15 cents, and a small piece of chocolate that was not very good quality for 1 cent. The good chocolate piece was probably worth $1.00, so getting it for 15 cents was a very good deal, but the poor quality chocolate was only worth about 5 cents, so getting it for 1 cent wasn’t a great deal (a good bargain, where you get something cheaper than normal).

Which would you choose? Most people chose the high quality chocolate for 15 cents, since it was much cheaper than normal. That’s not a surprise. But then Ariely lowered the price of both pieces of chocolate by 1 cent – 14 cents for the good quality chocolate, 0 cents (FREE!) for the low quality chocolate. Remember that the high quality chocolate is still a much better bargain than the low quality one. If people were rational (thinking correctly or intelligently), then they should still choose the good quality chocolate. But that isn’t what happened. The majority of people actually choose the FREE! chocoloate. This doesn’t make sense in our normal way of understanding economic behavior. People should choose the best deal, which is the good chocolate for 14 cents, but they don’t. They choose the FREE! item instead.

What is going on (happening) here? Part of the explanation Ariely gives is that people want to get a good bargain, but they also want to minimize risk. That is, they want to reduce or lower the chance that they will make a mistake. If you pay 15 cents for a piece of chocolate, and then you don’t actually like it when you eat it, you are out (you have lost) 15 cents. But when something is FREE! and you don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything. People would prefer not to take a risk over getting a better bargain.

So remember next time you take something for FREE! instead of paying a little money, you may actually be better off (be in a better situation) by paying for something else.


Wednesday - June 18, 2008

Headlines: Drilling for Oil

Oil RigFollowing up on Lucy’s post yesterday about the cost of traveling and oil, there was a headline today in the New York Times (paper edition) which read “Bush to Seek an End to Ban on Oil Drilling.” I want to explain this headline and a little about the story behind it.

To seek means that someone is looking for something, but here it means Bush intends to or will try to do something. A ban means something is not allowed, not permitted. In most U.S. restaurants, there is a smoking ban. Ban can also be a verb, as in “We banned smoking in our restaurant.” Drilling comes from the verb to drill, which means to make a hole in the ground in order to find something such as oil or gas.

So, what does the headline mean? Many years ago the government decided that it would not allow oil companies to drill for oil in certain areas in the country because of the possible damage to the environment (water, air, etc.). What President Bush is now planning to do is ask the Congress (our elected national representatives in Washington D.C.) to allow oil companies to do more drilling, to end the ban on drilling in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and certain protected areas of the state of Alaska. The president wants to allow “enviromentally-friendly” drilling, meaning drilling that will not cause damage to the environment.

Why all this sudden interest in oil drilling? Well, the price of oil is very high, so people are looking for new sources of oil to lower the price. But there are many politicians and others who think that drilling for more oil is not worth the risk (danger, possible damage). Othes are saying that the U.S. should try to use less energy, and look for sources of energy that do not require oil.


Tuesday - June 17, 2008

Trouble for the Airline Industry

The airline industry (business) is in trouble all over the world, and the U.S. is no exception (the same as everyone else). airport-lines-of-peopletif.jpg

In the U.S. in recent months, four smaller airlines have filed for bankruptcy, which is when a person or company say legally that they cannot pay their bills. Two big airlines–Delta and Northwest–are going ahead with a merger (when two companies combine to become one), even though there are major objections (opposition; disapproval) from the pilots (people who fly the airplanes). The two companies believe that it’s the best way to save money and to keep from going under (failing as a business).

To counter (to act against) the high price of fuel (energy that runs machines, like airplanes and cars), several major airlines are cutting back (reducing) on the number of flights they offer by about 15%, which means there are fewer seats for passengers and tickets are more expensive.

Airlines are also charging more for their services. A few of the U.S.’s largest airlines, including American Airlines and United Airlines, have started to charge for the first piece of luggage that passengers check in (give to the airline to put on the airplane). Most airlines have always charged for the second piece of luggage or for heavy luggage, but this is the first time that an airline is charging for the first piece of check-in luggage. Many people say that with this change, more people will want to bring carry-on luggage (bags a passenger takes onto the airplane him/herself), which will mean longer lines through security.

Fewer flight options (choices), higher prices, longer lines, and more hassle (bother; problems) are just a few of the things air travelers have to look forward to.

~ Lucy

Thursday - June 12, 2008

What Does “Fair Enough” Mean?

Keisuke from Japan wrote us an email and asked,
“What does “fair enough” mean? I saw people saying it many times in movies but I didn’t understand exactly what it meant.”

“Fair enough” is a response we give to someone to mean that whatever the other peson said, it is acceptable to us. It is often said in response to a suggestion or a compromise, where each person gets some of what he/she wants but not everything. We often use it when the suggestion or compromise isn’t exactly what we wanted, but it is good enough for us to accept it or we feel that it is fair (appropriate or okay in this situation).

For example:bull_pin.jpg

A: If you want to work in this office and meet with clients (customers), you’ll have to cut your hair.
B: Fair enough.

Lucy: The boss is coming to the office this afternoon. I’ll hide (put so no one can see) the Wii, if you’ll cover the pinball machine ( –> )
Jeff: Fair enough.

~ Lucy

Wednesday - June 11, 2008

Jury Duty II

Well, it happened: I got called in for jury duty on my last day (Friday). As I described in my previous post, here in Los Angeles you are on call for jury service for one week. Here’s a little diary of my day:

8:15 AM I arrived and went through security, where they make sure you do not have any guns, knives, or anything dangerous that you are bringing into the courthouse. Then I went up to a large room with about 100 people in it. Any citizen can be called for jury duty, so it is a real cross-section (sample of all different types) of Los Angeles. Most people are reading a book or talking quietly on their cell phones as we wait for the day to begin.

8:40 AM Someone from the court comes in and gives us an orientation (an introduction to some event or activity). She tells us that we may be called at any time to go to a courtroom. Once we are in the courtroom, the judge will decide if we will be on the jury for that case (trial) or not. If we are not assigned or selected, then we must return back to the juror room and wait to see if we are needed for another case. We must wait until the end of the day, and could be called more than once to go to a courtroom. However, if we are selected, then we stay in that courtroom until the trial is over, which could be up to seven days.

9:15 AM We watch a video on jury duty and what to expect if we are called. It includes interviews with people who have served as jurors, and tells us how important our service is to our system of government. My favorite line in the video is at the beginning, when it says, “California – the greatest state in the nation!” I’m not sure everyone in the other 49 states would agree with that. Most people watch the video, although some continue reading their books or newspapers. Many – perhaps most of us – have been on jury duty before, so we have seen the video. It is sort of like the video they show you on a airplane about safety. If you have seen it several times, you don’t really pay much attention to it.

10:10 AM There is a television in the room, and someone has decided to turn it on. I find it annoying (irratating, something that you dislike), so I turn on my computer and plug in my headphones. I open iTunes and listen to some music to drown out the noise. To drown out noise means to create another sound (music, talking) so that you won’t hear what you don’t want to listen to.

10:50 AM Still sitting here in the room, waiting.

11:30 AM We are all summoned (ask to go to a certain place) back to the jury waiting room for an announcement. The two trials for that day will not require jurors, so we are officially released (excused, let go) from our duty. That’s it! We can all go home. Everyone applauds (claps their hands together), which is not I guess how we should react to something that is our duty as a citizen, but that’s what happened.


Tuesday - June 10, 2008

ESL Podcast in The China Post Newspaper

Many thanks to Professor Bill Templar of the University of Malaysia for his letter to The China Post last week. Professor Templar recommends ESL Podcast to those interested in improving their English.

You can see his letter published here.


Wednesday - June 4, 2008

Jury Duty

Jury BoxThis has been an unpredictable (uncertain) week for me so far, mostly because I am on jury duty. A jury is a group of people (usually 12 in the United States) who decide whether someone is guilty or innocent in a court case. If someone commits a crime, they may have to go to trial, meaning to go in front of a judge and defend themselves. In most cases in the U.S., the decision belongs not to the judge, but to the jury. To be a juror (someone who sits on or who is a member of a jury), you need to be a U.S. citizen, over 18 years old, and able to speak and understand English. There is no test to determine your English level, however, at least not here in California. That is decided by the judge, which is a strange way to make such an important decision, but that’s the current system.

Potential jurors are chosen at random from the citizens of an area, although you are normally only called once every 12 months, usually less (some people are never called for jury duty). I have been called for jury duty once before, about two years ago. Here in Los Angeles, you are sent a letter – called a jury summons – with a special number to call. For one week, you must call the number each evening. If the court needs jurors for the next day, then you are required to go to the courthouse (the place where trials take place) and report for duty. You are put into a smaller group, and when the judge needs jurors, he or she will ask that group to come into his or her courtroom (the room in the courthouse where the trial is).

Today is Wednesday, and so far I have not been asked to report for duty. I have two more days before my on call service is over. (To be on call means that you must be available to do something when you are called or notified.) I won’t know until tonight whether I have to go tomorrow. If I do, I’ll let you know what happens!