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Archive for April, 2010

Thursday - April 29, 2010

Supermarkets: The New City Square*

When you say “supermarket,” most Americans imagine a large warehouse-like (like a large building for storing things) building surrounded by a large parking lot filled with cars and SUVs (sports utility vehicles) and people pushing shopping carts filled with groceries. Eventually (in the end), the groceries get packed into the trunks of the cars and rear compartments (open area in the back) of the SUVs and taken home. Every day, thousands of people drive to the supermarket, buy their food, and leave. If Mark Hinshaw is right, this may soon change.

Hinshaw, an urban (city) design planner from Seattle, Washington, believes that supermarkets will soon play a dramatically different role in the life of urban America. In an article in Planning magazine, he predicts that supermarkets of the future will become the anchors (centers; places that attract people) of new and walkable (easy to walk in) neighborhoods.

Hinshaw points out that Americans were already beginning to spend less money on personal consumption (buying things) before the recent economic crisis. American families are getting smaller and the population is getting older. Fewer young people are moving out to the suburbs (areas outside of a city); more of them are choosing to live in denser (where many people live close together) urban areas.

Americans are beginning to drive less and walk more to lose weight and improve their health. A growing number of Americans are looking for ways to reduce the amount of gas they consume (use).

Some people are skeptical (doubtful; have questions), but Hinshaw insists that grocery stores are reemerging (being seen again) “as one of the cornerstones (important parts) of great places to live.” He says that many are becoming social places, places for people to gather and spend time with friends. Some grocery stores include coffee shops, espresso bars, and delis (delicatessens; places to buy sandwiches and salads), as well as comfortable indoor and outdoor seating. “People hang out, read the paper or a book, and meet friends,” Hinshaw says, “even when buying groceries isn’t part of the trip.”

Many of the new supermarkets will have just a few parking places, and some will have none. Hinshaw expects the pattern of shopping to change. He predicts that people will walk to the market every few days, buy two bags of fresh groceries, and walk home again. Today, many people drive to the supermarket once a week or twice a month and buy many bags of groceries.

Cities will have to change if Hinshaw’s dream is going to come true. He thinks people will walk more only if the areas they walk through have public spaces, like parks and gardens, and interesting stores to glance (take a quick look) in. If the walk is interesting, he believes that people will walk farther, especially for food!

The writer of an article I read thinks this is a great idea. He says that “Hinshaw’s … vision (idea or dream) of walkable neighborhoods centered around our most-used facility of all – our food markets – is not just a nostalgic (sentimental; from the past) idea.” He believes that it “makes sense (it’s practical, understandable) for planning the next generation of American neighborhoods and remaking the ones we have.

What do you think? Will supermarkets become the social gathering places of the future?

* A city square is an open area commonly found near the center of a traditional town, a place where people frequently gather.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of www.successfulenglish.com, where you can learn more about improving your English and preparing for tests, like the TOEFL.

Tuesday - April 27, 2010

Star Sightings

One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you can rub elbows with (to mix socially with) celebrities from television and film.  Okay, so we don’t actually rub elbows with celebrities, at least I don’t, but we do catch a glimpse of them, or see them briefly, now and them.

Having lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen some major and some minor celebrities.  Many of the minor celebrities are those you recognize as being on TV or in movies, but can’t really place them (know where you’ve seen them before).  When I see a major celebrity, though, there’s no doubt about it.

If you see a celebrity and you’re an Angeleno (someone from Los Angeles), the thing to do is to play it cool (not appear excited; stay calm).  You may want to go up to that person and get their autograph (signature) or just talk to him or her.  If you’re an Angeleno, though, you don’t do this.  You pretend you don’t recognize him or her, or that it’s an everyday occurrence (event) that you see celebrities.

That’s what an Angeleno would probably do, and that’s what I’ve done, although whether it’s because I respect their privacy (right not to be bothered by other people) or I’m just too chicken (cowardly; not brave enough) to speak to them, I’m not sure.  However, even though I try to play it cool, when I see a major star, I still get very excited–on the inside.  Here are a few of my major star sightings, or occasions when I’ve seen a major star:

  • Julia Roberts – I saw her running along the beach and also in a large bookstore with her (current) husband.
  • Queen Latifah – I saw her at a restaurant in Beverly Hills.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  I don’t eat at fancy restaurants often, but this was a special occasion with a group of friends and colleagues (co-workers).
  • Barbra Streisand – I saw her at a restaurant in Malibu with her husband.
  • Denzel Washington – I saw him at a Lakers basketball game.  He had floor seats (seating on the ground level) and so did the friends who invited me to join them.

I’m happy to have seen these and other celebrities.  Still, there are many more I’d like to catch a glimpse of, including actors Johny Depp, Michael Kitchens, David Suchet, and Julianne Moore, and the First Family (President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their children).

Which celebrities would like to rub shoulders with, or at least catch a glimpse of?  Would you play it cool or would you try to talk to them and/or ask them for their autograph?

~ Lucy

Tuesday - April 20, 2010

The Gourmet Lunch Truck

You drop out of law school. You’re a disappointment to your parents. You spend your days sitting on the couch (sofa) watching TV.  That doesn’t sound like the start of a successful business, does it?

However, it is the beginning of the unlikely road to success for Roy Choi.  Back in 1996, Roy didn’t know what he would do with his life.  Then, one day while watching the Food Network, a cable TV station devoted to (focused on) cooking and food, he got an inspiration (sudden idea).  He wanted to become a chef (professional cook).  He enrolled in a good culinary (cooking) school, and eventually worked his way up to chef at the Los Angeles Beverly Hilton Hotel, where many celebrity events take place.  After he was fired from his next job, he decided to try something different.

After cooking gourmet (high quality, made with a lot of skill) food in some of the best restaurants, he decided to take his cooking on the road — in a lunch truck.  The lunch truck is a large truck with a simple kitchen that travels from place to place to sell food.  Traditionally, in the U.S., lunch trucks sell inexpensive food, such as sandwiches and burgers, and travel to places with a lot of workers, such as near large business buildings or construction sites, where workers are doing the physical work to put up a building.  Roy wanted to turn (change; replace) that traditional lunch truck food into gourmet food.  Instead of unhealthy fast food, he would serve quick, cheap, and convenient gourmet food, and his specialty was a new type of cuisine that combined Korean and Mexican food.  From these lunch truck, he sells unusual dishes such as kimchi quesadillas and (Korean) short-rib tacos.

Soon after the Kogi trucks began traveling around Los Angeles, they became a cult hit (very popular with a small group of people).  The owners of the lunch trucks used viral media to tell people where the trucks would park and serve.  Viral media includes Twitter and Facebook, and is any type of electronic communication that can get information to a lot of people in a very short amount of time.  An announcement would go out on Twitter about the time and location of the next appearance of the truck and people would flock to (many people would move quickly to) that location.  Good food, cheap prices, cooked by a top chef — visiting these lunch trucks become the in thing (trendy; popular thing) to do.

Even though I live in Los Angeles and have heard about these lunch trucks for over a year, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting one yet, but I hope to soon.  I want to know what Korean-Mexican food tastes like!

Are lunch trucks popular in other countries?  If not, are there special restaurants or food stalls (table or stands on the street) where people can go for a quick meal?

~ Lucy

Thursday - April 15, 2010

Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

In our recent poll, you selected The Beatles as your favorite group, but coming in a close second place (position) is Michael Jackson.  As you probably know, Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop (popular music),” died last year at the age of 50.

Michael Jackson started early as a performer.  He was only six years old when he began performing with his brothers in the group Jackson 5.  He went solo (became an individual performer) when he was 13 years old, and released (made available to the public) 10 albums. His most successful album was Thriller, released in 1982.  Thriller broke records (become the first or best) by selling 110 million copies, and it remains today the best-selling album in history.

That is why I chose the single (individual song) “Thriller” from that album.  A thriller is a type of novel, play, or movie that has a very exciting plot (story; storyline).  That is certainly true of this scary (frightening) and loooong song!

~ Lucy

Thriller
by Michael Jackson

It’s close to midnight and something evil‘s (very bad) lurking (hidden, waiting to attack) in the dark
Under the moonlight, you see a sight (something you see or can see) that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror (extreme fear) takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze (become so cold or afraid that you can’t move) as horror looks you right between the eyes
You’re paralyzed (unable to move)

You hear the door slam (close loudly with force) and realize there’s nowhere left to run
You feel the cold hand and wonder if you’ll ever see the sun
You close your eyes and hope that this is just imagination (product of your mind; not real), girl!
But all the while (during this time) you hear the creature (animal or monster) creeping up (moving close while trying not to make noise) behind, you’re out of time

They’re out to (with the intention to) get you, there’s demons (bad, evil force or creature) closing in (getting closer and closer) on every side
They will possess you (have complete power over you) unless you change that number on your dial
Now is the time for you and I to cuddle (for two people to hold each other to show love or affection) close together, yeah
All through the night, I’ll save you from the terror on the screen, I’ll make you see

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand (nearly here)
Creatures crawl (move forward on one’s hands and knees) in search of blood
To terrorize y’alls (you all’s; informal version of “all of yours”) neighborhood

And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul (spirit) for getting down (enjoying oneself completely)
Must stand and face the hounds (dogs) of hell
And rot (decompose; decay) inside a corpse‘s (dead body’s) shell (hard outer covering)

The foulest (most terrible) stench (bad smell) is in the air
The funk (bad smell and atmosphere) of forty thousand years
And grizzly (with a lot of hair) ghouls (ghosts; appearance of dead people) from every tomb (place in the ground where people are buried after they die)
Are closing in (coming closer; nearly arrived) to seal your doom (to make sure you die)

And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver (shake because of cold or fear)
For no mere mortal (average person) can resist (prevent)
The evil of the thriller

‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one’s gonna save you from the beast (dangerous animal) about to strike (attack)
You know it’s thriller, thriller night
You’re fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller…

Thriller, thriller night
‘Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost (appearance of a dead person) would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a
Killer, diller (not a real word), chiller, thriller here tonight

‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
Girl, I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a
Killer, diller, chiller, thriller…

Tuesday - April 13, 2010

Changing Your Name After Marriage

In the United States, when women marry, they have a few options regarding their last name. We’ve received a couple of questions from listeners about this issue so I thought I would explain it here.

When we talk about a last name, we are referring to the family name or surname, not the given name of a child when he or she is born.  In the U.S., we almost always use the term “last name,” and only rarely use “family name” or “surname,” and when we talk about our given name, we use the term “first name.”  When you fill out forms in the U.S., there is usually a space for your “first name,” “last name,” and “middle name” or “middle initial (first letter of the middle name).”  Both the first name and the middle name are given to a child when he or she is born, but the last name is usually taken from the father, although there are a number of exceptions.

In terms of a woman’s last name after she marries, she has several options.  The tradition (something done for a long time in the same way) is for the wife to change her last name to the man’s. One reason for this is that people in the past kept track of (followed; recorded) family relations through the father’s family name. This is still the most common choice today in the U.S.
Example:  If Annie Lang got married to Sven Ramirez, her name would be Annie Ramirez.

Another option is for women to keep the last name they were given at birth. In this case, she is keeping her maiden name, the name that she had before she got married. She may do this because in her job, her last name is already well known (like with famous actors or singers, or professionals), because she doesn’t believe in a male-dominated (men in charge; men making the rules) society, or because she simply prefers it that way. This means she has a different last name than her husband.
Example:  If Annie Lang and Sven Ramirez married, she would still be Annie Lang.

Some women keep their last name, but add their husband’s last name to it. The new last name can come before the old one or after it, with a hyphen or without. You may see any of these and it is not uncommon in the U.S.
Example:  So with our old friend Annie Lang, she could become Annie Lang Ramirez, Annie Ramirez Lang, Annie Ramirez-Lang,  or Annie Lang-Ramirez.

Finally, some men and women who get married decide to create a new last name from combining their two last names, or by using a completely new last name that they both agree on. Doing either of these things is not very common, but you do see it now and then.  One example is the last name of the current mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa.  When he married his wife, his name was Antonio Villar and his wife’s name was Corina Raigosa.  They decided to combine their names and created the new last name Villaraigosa.  (He has since divorced, but has kept this last name.)

These are just a few of the most common options, and we won’t get into (begin discussing) how children are named or what happens in same-sex marriages (when a man marries a man, or a woman marries a woman).  We need another blog post for these issues!

One final word on this topic:  What happens if a woman divorces?  There are a couple of common options and the choice is the woman’s.  Some women change their name back to their previous name (maiden name). Some women choose to keep their husband’s last name after a divorce.

Now, aren’t you glad you’re a man?

Do people change their names after they marry in other countries?  What do you think of these traditions?

~ Lucy

Thursday - April 8, 2010

Wanted: Cool Nerds

America will need more “cool nerds” in the future. That’s what a recent New York Times article says. Cool (fashionable, impressive) nerds? The word “nerd” first appeared when I was in school, and it wasn’t cool! No one wanted to be a nerd.

When I was growing up, a nerd was someone who studied all the time and often became very good at mathematics or some other intellectual (mental, thinking) activity. Nerds didn’t usually participate in sports or social activities, like going to school dances or parties. There were usually very few nerds in school and they usually hung out (spent time, relaxed) together.

Another, similar word came around (appeared) a few years later. The word is “geek.” Sometimes geek and nerd are used to mean the same thing. However, there are usually some subtle (not easy to notice) differences. Probably the most common use of geek is to refer to someone who has a special interest in technology, like computing. Here in the U.S., there is a business called the “Geek Squad.” If you have trouble with your computer, you can call them, and they will come to your house and fix it.

Not everyone is happy about these words. One American professor thinks they should be avoided (stayed away from). He says that using words like geek or nerd perpetuates (preserves, keeps alive) a negative stereotype (a popular, often wrong, belief about someone). The photograph above is a popular stereotype of what a nerd looks like.

Other people think the words are okay. They say that the meanings of words often evolve (develop, change) as the social context (situation) changes. According to the New York Times article, being called a “cool nerd” is a compliment (praise). It identifies someone who is smart, does well in school, and does well in other things, too.

The professor insists, however, that in most of America, geek and nerd still have a negative image. He believes that most people will try to avoid geeks and nerds. The best thing to do, in his opinion, is to “put them to bed” (stop using them).

I have to smile when I read that because I discovered that this same professor has written a book. Would you like to guess the title? It’s called Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them.

Now, back to my part of the story. While I was researching this post, I went online, Googled “nerd” and “geek,” and discovered that there is a test that will tell me what I am. It’s called the Geek? Nerd? or Dork? Test (a dork is someone who is not very smart, not good with people, and not aware of what’s happening in the world).

I took the test, and when I got the results, this is what I learned: “You scored better than (more than) half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.”

I couldn’t believe it! Me, a pure nerd? Impossible!

I continued reading, hoping I would find some good news, and I finally found it. The test results also said that being exceptionally (very) smart led to being unpopular in the past, but not today, especially as someone gets older. And then came the best news of all: “Eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely (probably) be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.”

Wow! I sure hope they’re right!

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach; creator of www.successfulenglish.com where you can learn more about how to improve your English.

Photo by My Blue Van used by permission.

Tuesday - April 6, 2010

Will Obama’s Healthcare Plan Make Us a Nation of Girlie Men? Part 2

Last week I presented the findings (results) of a psychology experiment in which women from healthier countries preferred men with a more feminine look, while women from less healthy countries preferred more masculine-looking, “manlier” men.  Now I will give you the researchers’ explanations or theories on why this is the case.

The key to (solution, main point of) this finding can be found in evolutionary psychology.  Evolutionary refers to the process by which life forms (such as animals and humans) on earth change or “evolve” slowly over time, a theory proposed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century.  Part of the theory of evolution says that organisms (life forms) that are better adapted (better matched, more suited) to their environment are better able to survive and therefore to have descendents (children, offspring).  Over many thousands (and perhaps millions) of years, organisms that have the characteristics and qualities that are the best “fit” for their environment will be the ones that survive.  Evolutionary psychology tries to explain the way people act today by looking at the characteristics of those actions which might have contributed (helped) in the past to the survival of the human race (human beings).

There can be no future for any organism that does not reproduce — that is, have children.  But men and women have significant differences when it comes to (related to) reproduction.  A man can have several sexual partners each year, and with each partner (woman, in this case) have a child.  In other words, he can have as many children as he has sexual partners.  A woman, however, can only have one child (excluding twins for the moment) every nine months, regardless of how many sexual partners she has had.  A woman therefore has a strong motivation (a good reason) to be much more selective, much more careful about choosing her sexual partners if she wants the father of her children to help support and protect her and her offspring.  It is in a woman’s best interest (beneficial or advantageous to her) to find a high-quality sexual partner who will be a good father to her children.  While modern society has attempted to separate the sexual act from procreation (having children), evolutionary psychology shows that women (and men) are still guided today by these basic instincts or tendencies that we have inherited from our ancestors (our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.).

So what does the health of a society have to do with all of this?  The answer is found in the hormone (certain chemicals that regulate your body’s activities) testosterone.  More masculine-looking men tend to have more testosterone, and are often in better physical shape, look more healthy, are more fertile (able to produce more children), and are perceived as being “stronger” than men with less testosterone.  If you are woman living in a society where illness and disease are common (that is, a less healthy society), physical health is an important part of your survival.  You will want to find a man who you believe is himself very physically healthy, who won’t easily get sick, and who will thus (therefore) be able to protect you and your children.

High levels of testosterone can have some negative effects as well, however.  Men with high levels of testosterone are more likely to be aggressive and unfaithful (have sex with someone other than his or her husband/wife/partner).  The more “manly” man is more likely to get divorced, have problems in his marriage, be less interested in parenting (taking care of the children), and be physically abusive to (hit or harm) his wife.  (Of course, these are just generalizations, and it does not mean that all men with high testosterone are unfaithful and hit their wives.)  In healthier societies, where physical health is not as important for survival, women are more likely to be attracted to the more feminine-looking men, who are generally kinder, more faithful, and more interested in being a father.  These women thereby (by doing that) avoid the negative aspects that come with being with men who have high testosterone levels.

Countries that are considered to be on average the healthiest by the World Health Organization, such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria, are more likely to have women who will choose the more feminine-looking men for a husband or partner.  The United States is one of the least healthy countries, and women here tend to prefer the more masculine-looking men.  Based on this information, we can presume (guess, assume to be true) that if Obama’s healthcare plan is successful in making Americans healthier, women will start preferring more feminine-looking men — that is, girlie men!

One potential problem in this study is that some countries have a wide disparity (difference) in their population when it comes to how healthy the environments are in which people live.  The United States has some very rich areas, but it also has many very poor areas.  It is possible, then, that the “average” level of healthiness is not a very good indication of what a “typical” American woman might prefer in a man.  It may be, for example, that women from richer, healthier places in the U.S. prefer more feminine-looking men, and those in the poorer, less healthy areas prefer more masculine-looking men.  The study did not look at this issue.

~Jeff

Thursday - April 1, 2010

Will Obama’s Healthcare Plan Make Us a Nation of Girlie Men? Part 1

Our governor here in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, once famously used the phrase, “Don’t be girlie men!”  This phrase actually comes from a comedy show called Saturday Night Live, on which two actors played bodybuilders (people who try to make their muscles as large as possible) with strong Austrian accents, an obvious reference to former bodybuilder Schwarzenegger himself.  A “girlie man” would be a man who acted more like a woman, and it is meant as an insult in the sense that girlie men are not strong and courageous.  But does being a girlie man actually make a man more attractive to women?  New research seems to suggest that might be true, depending on where you live.  And yes, there is a connection here to healthcare (being healthy, getting medical care).  I’ll get to that in a moment.

The research, which was recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, comes from an experiment at Faceresearch.org, an online project of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.  In the experiment, nearly 5,000 women in their early to mid-20s (20 to 26, approximately) from all over the world were shown 20 pairs of men’s faces.  For each pair (each two), the women selected the picture of the man they found most attractive.  But the pairs did not show two different men but rather the same man’s face that was digitally altered (changed using computer software) to look either very masculine (manly, like a man) or more feminine (womanly, like a woman).  A more masculine face had slightly thinner (skinnier) lips, eyes that were farther apart, and/or thicker (heavier, with more hair) eyebrows (the line of hair on your face above your eyes).  The more feminine faces had slightly rounder eyes and a narrower jaw (the V-shaped, bottom part of your face that controls the lower part of your mouth).  In addition to recording the women’s preferences, the experiment also determined where the women were from by using their Internet IP address.  Your IP address is sort of your specific address on the Internet and can be used to identify your location.  The women were then grouped together by country and the “National Health Index” from the World Health Organization was calculated for each country.  The National Health Index is an indication of how healthy on average people are in different countries throughout the world.  (The “on average” part is especially important, as we’ll see in Part 2 of this post.)

After crunching the data (doing the statistical, numerical calculations), the researchers found that women from healthier countries tended to prefer the more feminine-looking men, while those from the least healthy countries preferred men who looked more masculine.

In order to control for (to eliminate the effects of, the possible bias due to) skin color and racial preferences, only white women were used in this experiment, looking at pictures of white men.  It is not clear what the results would be if they had included men and women of different races and skin colors.  However, the results are still very interesting and lead us to ask the question: Why would women from healthier countries prefer, well, girlie-looking men?  The researchers presented some possible theories, along with additional information about how a woman chooses the man she wants to have a romantic relationship with.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll tell you what the researchers’ theories were and how all of this relates to President Obama’s health care plan which was approved recently here in the United States.  But I’ll first let some of you give your theories, and it would be good to hear from both men and women!  I’ve also put a sample pair of men’s faces below so you can see what the women were looking at; the photo on the left side of the screen is the more masculine one.

~Jeff

Photo Credit: The Royal Society