Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[tt] H.L. Mencken: The Forward-Looker

This is my own favorite essay of Mr. Mencken, wherein he famously says
that he never met a socialist simliciter. It's in the public domain, so
use it freely.

H.L. Mencken: The Forward-Looker

Chapter XI of Prejudices, Third Series (1922), pp. 213-231

WHEN the history of the late years in America is written, I suspect that
their grandest, gaudiest gifts to Kultur will be found in the incomparable
twins: the right-thinker and the forward-looker. No other nation can match
them, at any weight. The right-thinker is privy to all God s wishes, and
even whims; the for ward-looker is the heir to all His promises to the
righteous. The former is never wrong; the latter is never despairing.
Sometimes the two are amalgamated into one man, and we have a Bryan, a
Wilson, a Dr. Frank Crane. But more often there is a division: the
forward-looker thinks wrong, and the right-thinker looks backward. I give
you Upton Sinclair and Nicholas Murray Butler as examples. Butler is an
absolute masterpiece of correct thought; in his whole life, so far as
human records show, he has not cherished a single fancy that might not
have been voiced by a Fifth Avenue rector or spread upon the editorial
page of the New York Times. But he has no vision, alas, alas! All the
revolutionary inventions for lifting up humanity leave him cold. He is
against them all, from the initiative and referendum to birth control, and
from Fletcherism to osteopathy. Now turn to Sinclair. He believes in every
one of them, however daring and fantoddish; he grasps and gobbles all the
new ones the instant they are announced. But the man simply cannot think
right. He is wrong on politics, on economics, and on theology. He glories
in and is intensely vain of his wrongness. Let but a new article of
correct American thought get itself stated by the constituted
ecclesiastical and secular authorities by Bishop Manning, or Judge Gary,
or Butler, or Adolph Ochs, or Dr. Fabian Franklin, or Otto Kahn, or Dr.
Stephen S. Wise, or Roger W. Babson, or any other such inspired omphalist
and he is against it almost before it is stated.

On the whole, as a neutral in such matters, I prefer the forward-looker to
the right-thinker, if only because he shows more courage and originality.
It takes nothing save lack of humor to believe what Butler, or Ochs, or
Bishop Manning believes, but it takes long practice and a considerable
natural gift to get down the beliefs of Sinclair. I remember with great
joy the magazine that he used to issue during the war. In the very first
issue he advocated Socialism, the single tax, birth control, communism,
the League of Nations, the conscription of wealth, government ownership of
coal mines, sex hygiene and free trade. In the next issue he added the
recall of judges, Fletcherism, the Gary system, the Montessori method,
paper-bag cookery, war gardens and the budget system. In the third he came
out for sex hygiene, one big union, the initiative and referendum, the
city manager plan, chiropractic and Esperanto. In the fourth he went to
the direct primary, fasting, the Third International, a federal divorce
law, free motherhood, hot lunches for school children, Prohibition, the
vice crusade, Expressionismus, the government control of newspapers, deep
breathing, international courts, the Fourteen Points, freedom for the
Armenians, the limitation of campaign expenditures, the merit system, the
abolition of the New York Stock Exchange, psychoanalysis, crystal-gazing,
the Little Theater movement, the recognition of Mexico, vers libre, old
age pensions, unemployment insurance, cooperative stores, the endowment of
motherhood, the Americanization of the immigrant, mental telepathy, the
abolition of grade crossings, federal labor exchanges, profit-sharing in
industry, a prohibitive tax on Poms, the clean-up-paint-up campaign,
relief for the Jews, osteopathy, mental mastery, and the twilight sleep.
And so on, and so on. Once I had got into the swing of the Sinclair
monthly I found that I could dispense with at least twenty other journals
of the uplift. When he abandoned it I had to subscribe for them anew, and
the gravel has stuck in my craw ever since.

In the first volume of his personal philosophy, "The Book of Life: Mind
and Body," he is estopped from displaying whole categories of his ideas,
for his subject is not man the political and economic machine, but man and
mammal. Nevertheless, his characteristic hospitality to new revelations is
abundantly visible. What does the mind suggest? The mind suggests its dark
and fascinating functions and powers, some of them very recent. There is,
for example, psychoanalysis. There is mental telepathy. There is
crystal-gazing. There is double personality. Out of each springs a scheme
for the uplift of the race in each there is something for a forward-looker
to get his teeth into. And if mind, then why not also spirit? Here even a
forward-looker may hesitate; here, in fact, Sinclair himself hesitates.
The whole field of spiritism is barred to him by his theological
heterodoxy; if he admits that man has an immortal soul, he may also have
to admit that the soul can suffer in hell. Thus even forward-looking may
turn upon and devour itself. But if the meadow wherein spooks and
poltergeists disport is closed, it is at least possible to peep over the
fence. Sinclair sees materializations in dark rooms, under red, satanic
lights. He is, perhaps, not yet convinced, but he is looking pretty hard.
Let a ghostly hand reach out and grab him, and he will be over the fence!
The body is easier. The new inventions for dealing with it are innumerable
and irresistible; no forward-looker can fail to succumb to at least some
of them. Sinclair teeters dizzily. On the one hand he stoutly defends
surgery that is, provided the patient is allowed to make his own
diagnosis! on the other hand he is hot for fasting, teetotalism, and the
avoidance of drugs, coffee and tobacco, and he begins to flirt with
osteopathy and chiropractic. More, he has discovered a new revelation in
San Francisco a system of diagnosis and therapeutics, still hooted at by
the Medical Trust, whereby the exact location of a cancer may be
determined by examining a few drops of the patient s blood, and syphilis
may be cured by vibrations, and whereby, most curious of all, it can be
established that odd numbers, written on a sheet of paper, are full of
negative electricity, and even numbers are full of positive electricity.

The book is written with great confidence and address, and has a good deal
of shrewdness mixed with its credulities; few licensed medical
practitioners could give you better advice. But it is less interest ing
than its author, or, indeed, than forward-lookers in general. Of all the
known orders of men they fascinate me the most. I spend whole days reading
their pronunciamentos, and am an expert in the ebb and flow of their
singularly bizarre ideas. As I have said, I have never encountered one who
believed in but one sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and let it
go at that. Nay, even the most timorous of them gives his full faith and
credit to at least two. Turn, for example, to the official list of eminent
single taxers issued by the Joseph Fels Fund. I defy you to find one
solitary man on it who stops with the single tax. There is David Starr
Jordan: he is also one of the great whales of pacifism. There is B. 0.
Flower: he is the emperor of anti-vaccinationists. There is Carrie Chapman
Catt: she is hot for every peruna that the suffragettes brew. There is W.
S. U Ren: he is in general practise as a messiah. There is Hamlin Garland:
he also chases spooks. There is Jane Addams: vice crusader, pacifist,
suffragist, settlement worker. There is Prof. Dr. Scott Nearing: Socialist
and martyr. There is Newt Baker: heir of the Wilsonian idealism. There is
Gifford Pinchot: conservationist, Prohibitionist, Bull Moose, and
professional Good Citizen. There is Judge Ben B. Lindsey: forward-looking
s Jack Horner, forever sticking his thumb into new pies. I could run the
list to columns, but no need. You know the type as well as I do. Give the
forward-looker the direct primary, and he demands the short ballot. Give
him the initiative and referendum, and he bawls for the recall of judges.
Give him Christian Science, and he proceeds to the swamis and yogis. Give
him the Mann Act, and he wants laws providing for the castration of
fornicators. Give him Prohibition, and he launches a new crusade against
cigarettes, coffee, jazz, and custard pies.

I have a wide acquaintance among such sad, mad, glad folks, and know some
of them very well. It is my belief that the majority o r them are
absolutely honest that they believe as fully in their baroque gospels as I
believe in the dishonesty of politicians that their myriad and amazing
faiths sit upon them as heavily as the fear of hell sits upon a Methodist
deacon who has degraded the vestry-room to carnal uses. All that may be
justly said against them is that they are chronically full of hope, and
hence chronically uneasy and indignant that they belong to the less sinful
and comfortable of the two grand divisions of the human race. Call them
the tender-minded, as the late William James used to do, and you have
pretty well described them. They are, on the one hand, pathologically
sensitive to the sorrows of the world, and, on the other hand,
pathologically susceptible to the eloquence of quacks. What seems to lie
in all of them is the doctrine that evils so vast as those they see about
them must and will be laid that it would be an insult to a just God to
think of them as permanent and irremediable. This notion, I believe, is at
the bottom of much of the current pathetic faith in Prohibition. The thing
itself is obviously a colossal failure that is, when viewed calmly and
realistically. It has not only not cured the rum evil in the United
States; it has plainly made that evil five times as bad as it ever was
before. But to confess that bald fact would be to break the
forward-looking heart: it simply refuses to harbor the concept of the
incurable. And so, being debarred by the legal machinery that supports
Prohibition from going back to any more feasible scheme of relief, it
cherishes the sorry faith that somehow, in some vague and incomprehensible
way, Prohibition will yet work. When the truth becomes so horribly evident
that even forward-lookers are daunted, then some new quack will arise to
fool them again, with some new and worse scheme of super-Prohibition. It
is their destiny to wobble thus endlessly between quack and quack. One
pulls them by the right arm and one by the left arm. A third is at their
coat-tail pockets, and a fourth beckons them over the hill.

The rest of us are less tender-minded, and, in consequence, much happier.
We observe quite clearly that the world, as it stands, is anything but
perfect that injustice exists, and turmoil, and tragedy, and bitter
suffering of ten thousand kinds that human life at its best, is anything
but a grand, sweet song. But instead of ranting absurdly against the fact,
or weeping over it maudlinly, or trying to remedy it with inadequate
means, we simply put the thought of it out of our minds, just as a wise
man puts away the thought that alcohol is probably bad for his liver, or
that his wife is a shade too fat. Instead of mulling over it and suffering
from it, we seek contentment by pursuing the delights that are so
strangely mixed with the horrors by seeking out the soft spots and
endeavoring to avoid the hard spots. Such is the intelligent habit of
practical and sinful men, and under it lies a sound philosophy. After all,
the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes
on in it, save within very narrow limits. Going outside them with our
protests and advice tends to become contumacy to the celestial hierarchy.
Do the poor suffer in the midst of plenty? Then let us thank God politely
that we are not that poor. Are rogues in offices? Well, go call a
policeman, thus setting rogue upon rogue. Are taxes onerous, wasteful,
unjust? Then let us dodge as large a part of them as we can. Are whole
regiments and army corps of our fellow creatures doomed to hell? Then let
them complain to the archangels, and, if the archangels are too busy to
hear them, to the nearest archbishop.

Unluckily for the man of tender mind, he is quite incapable of any such
easy dismissal of the great plagues and conundrums of existence. It is of
the essence of his character that he is too sensitive and sentimental to
put them ruthlessly out of his mind: he cannot view even the crunching of
a cockroach without feeling the snapping of his own ribs. And it is of the
essence of his character that he is unable to escape the delusion of duty
that he can't rid himself of the notion that, whenever he observes any
thing in the world that might conceivably be improved, he is commanded by
God to make every effort to improve it. In brief, he is a public-spirited
man, and the ideal citizen of democratic states. But Nature, it must be
obvious, is opposed to democracy and whoso goes counter to nature must
expect to pay the penalty. The tender-minded man pays it by hanging
forever upon the cruel hooks of hope, and by fermenting inwardly in
incessant indignation. All this, perhaps, explains the notorious ill-humor
of uplifters the wowser touch that is in even the best of them. They dwell
so much upon the imperfections of the universe and the weaknesses of man
that they end by believing that the universe is altogether out of joint
and that every man is a scoundrel and every woman a vampire. Years ago I
had a combat with certain eminent reformers of the sex hygiene and vice
crusading species, and got out of it a memorable illumination of their
private minds. The reform these strange creatures were then advocating was
directed against sins of the seventh category, and they proposed to put
them down by forcing through legislation of a very harsh and fantastic
kind statutes forbidding any woman, however forbid ding, to entertain a
man in her apartment without the presence of a third party, statutes
providing for the garish lighting of all dark places in the public parks,
and so on. In the course of my debates with them I gradually jockeyed them
into abandoning all of the arguments they started with, and so brought
them down to their fundamental doctrine, to wit, that no woman, without
the aid of the police, could be trusted to protect her virtue. I pass as a
cynic in Christian circles, but this notion certainly gave me pause. And
it was voiced by men who were the fathers of grown and unmarried

It is no wonder that men who cherish such ideas are so ready to accept any
remedy for the underlying evils, no matter how grotesque. A man suffering
from hay-fever, as every one knows, will take any medicine that is offered
to him, even though he knows the compounder to be a quack; the
infinitesimal chance that the quack may have the impossible cure gives him
a certain hope, and so makes the disease itself more bearable. In
precisely the same way a man suffering from the conviction that the whole
universe is hell-bent for destruction that the government he lives under
is intolerably evil, that the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer,
that no man's word can be trusted and no woman s chastity, that another
and worse war is hatching, that the very regulation of the weather has
fallen into the hands of rogues such a man will grab at anything, even
birth control, osteopathy or the Fourteen Points, rather than let the foul
villainy go on. The apparent necessity of finding a remedy without delay
transforms itself, by an easy psychological process, into a belief that
the remedy has been found; it is almost impossible for most men, and
particularly for tender-minded men, to take in the concept of the
insoluble. Every problem that remains unsolved, including even the problem
of evil, is in that state simply because men of strict virtue and
passionate altruism have not combined to solve it because the business has
been neglected by human laziness and rascality. All that is needed to
dispatch it is the united effort of enough pure hearts: the accursed
nature of things will yield inevitably to a sufficiently desperate battle;
mind (usually written Mind) will triumph over matter (usually written
Matter or maybe Money Power, or Land Monopoly, or Beef Trust, or
Conspiracy of Silence, or Commercialized Vice, or Wall Street, or the
Dukes, or the Kaiser), and the Kingdom of God will be at hand. So, with
the will to believe in full function, the rest is easy. The eager
forward-looker is exactly like the man with hay-fever, or arthritis, or
nervous dyspepsia, or diabetes. It takes time to try each successive
remedy to search it out, to take it, to observe its effects, to hope, to
doubt, to shelve it. Before the process is completed another is offered;
new ones are always waiting before their predecessors have been discarded.
Here, perhaps, we get a glimpse of the causes behind the protean appetite
of the true forward-looker his virtuosity in credulity. He is in all
stages simultaneously just getting over the initiative and referendum,
beginning to have doubts about the short ballot, making ready for a horse
doctor s dose of the single tax, and contemplating an experimental draught
of Socialism to morrow.

What is to be done for him? How is he to be cured of his great thirst for
sure-cures that do not cure, and converted into a contented and careless
backward-looker, peacefully snoozing beneath his figtree while the
oppressed bawl for succor in forty abandoned lands, and injustice stalks
the world, and taxes mount higher and higher, and poor working-girls are
sold into white slavery, and Prohibition fails to prohibit, and cocaine is
hawked openly, and jazz drags millions down the primrose way, and the
trusts own the legislatures of all Christendom, and judges go to dinner
with millionaires, and Europe prepares for another war, and children of
four and five years work as stevedores and locomotive firemen, and guinea
pigs and dogs are vivisected, and Polish immigrant women have more
children every year, and divorces multiply, and materialism rages, and the
devil runs the cosmos? What is to be done to save the forward-looker from
his torturing indignations, and set him in paths of happy dalliance?
Answer: nothing. He was born that way, as men are born with hare lips or
bad livers, and he will remain that way until the angels summon him to
eternal rest. Destiny has laid upon him the burden of seeing unescapably
what had better not be looked at, of believing what isn't so. There is no
way to help him. He must suffer vicariously for the carnal ease of the
rest of us. He must die daily that we may live in peace, corrupt and

As I have said, I believe fully that this child of sorrow is honest that
his twinges and malaises are just as real to him as those that rack the
man with arthritis, and that his trusting faith in quacks is just as
natural. But this, of course, is not saying that the quacks themselves are
honest. On the contrary, their utter dishonesty must be quite as obvious
as the simplicity of their dupes. Trade is good for them in the: United
States, where hope is a sort of national vice, and so they flourish here
more luxuriously than anywhere else on earth. Some one told me lately that
there are now no less than 25,000 national organizations in the United
States for the uplift of the plain people and the snaring and shaking down
of forward-lookers societies for the Americanization of immigrants, for
protecting poor working-girls against Jews and Italians, for putting
Bibles into the bed rooms of week-end hotels, for teaching Polish women
how to wash their babies, for instructing school-children in
ring-around-a-rosy, for crusading against the cigarette, for preventing
accidents in rolling-mills, for making street-car conductors more polite,
for testing the mentality of Czecho-Slovaks, for teaching folk-songs, for
restoring the United States to Great Britain, for building day-nurseries
in the devastated regions of France, for training deaconesses, for fight
ing the house-fly, for preventing cruelty to mules and Tom-cats, for
forcing householders to clean their backyards, for planting trees, for
saving the Indian, for sending colored boys to Harvard, for opposing
Sunday movies, for censoring magazines, for God knows what else. In every
large American city such organizations swarm, and every one of them has an
executive secretary who tries incessantly to cadge space in the
newspapers. Their agents penetrate to the remotest hamlets in the land,
and their circulars, pamphlets and other fulminations swamp the mails. In
Washington and at every state capital they have their lobbyists, and every
American legislator is driven half frantic by their innumerable and
preposterous demands. Each of them wants a law passed to make its crusade
official and compulsory; each is forever hunting for forward-lookers with

One of the latest of these uplifting vereins to score a ten-strike is the
one that sponsored the so-called Maternity Bill. That measure is now a
law, and the over-burdened American taxpayer, at a cost of $3,000,000 a
year, is supporting yet one more posse of perambulating gabblers and
snouters. The influences behind the bill were exposed in the Senate by
Senator Reed, of Missouri, -but to no effect: a majority of the other
Senators, in order to get rid of the propagandists in charge of it, had
already promised to vote for it. Its one intelligible aim, as Senator Reed
showed, is to give government jobs at good salaries to a gang of nosey old
maids. These virgins now traverse the country teaching married women how
to have babies in a ship-shape and graceful manner, and how to keep them
alive after having them. Only one member of the corps has ever been
married herself; nevertheless, the old gals are authorized to go out among
the Italian and Yiddish women, each with ten or twelve head of kids to her
credit, and tell them all about it. According to Senator Reed, the
ultimate aim of the forward-lookers who sponsored the scheme is to provide
for the official registration of expectant mothers, that they may be
warned what to eat, what movies to see, and what midwives to send for when
the time comes. Imagine a young bride going down to the County Clerk s
office to report herself! And imagine an elderly and anthropopagous
spinster coming around next day to advise her! Or a boozy political

All these crazes, of course, are primarily artificial. They are set going,
not by the plain people spontaneously, nor even by the forward-lookers who
eventually support them, but by professionals. The Anti-Saloon League is
their archetype. It is owned and operated by gentlemen who make excellent
livings stirring up the tender-minded; if their salaries were cut off
to-morrow, all their moral passion would ooze out, and Prohibition would
be dead in two weeks. So with the rest of the uplifting camorras. Their
present enormous prosperity, I believe, is due in large part to a fact
that is never thought of, to wit, the fact that the women s colleges of
the country, for a dozen years past, have been turning out far more
graduates than could be utilized as teachers. These supernumerary lady
Ph.D s almost unanimously turn to the uplift and the uplift saves them. In
the early days of higher education for women in the United States,
practically all the graduates thrown upon the world got jobs as teachers,
but now a good many are left over. Moreover, it has been discovered that
the uplift is easier than teaching, and that it pays a great deal better.
It is a rare woman professor who gets more than $5,000 a year, but there
are plenty of uplifting jobs at $8,000 and $10,000 a year, and in the
future there will be some prizes at twice as much. No wonder the learned
girls fall upon them so eagerly!

The annual production of male Ph.D s is also far beyond the legitimate
needs of the nation, but here the congestion is relieved by the greater
and more varied demand for masculine labor. If a young man emerging from
Columbia or Ohio Wesleyan as Philosophies Doctor finds it impossible to
get a job teaching he can always go on the road as a salesman of dental
supplies, or enlist in the marines, or study law, or enter the ministry,
or go to work in a coal-mine, or a slaughter-house, or a bucket-shop, or
begin selling Oklahoma mine-stock to widows and retired clergy men. The
women graduate faces far fewer opportunities. She is commonly too old and
too worn by meditation to go upon the stage in anything above the grade of
a patent-medicine show, she has been so poisoned by instruction in sex
hygiene that she shies at marriage, and most of the standard professions
and grafts of the world are closed to her. The invention of the uplift
came as a godsend to her. Had not some mute, inglorious Edison devised it
at the right time, humanity would be disgraced to-day by the spectacle of
hordes of Lady Ph.D s going to work in steam-laundries, hooch shows and
chewing-gum factories. As it is, they are all taken care of by the
innumerable societies for making the whole world virtuous and happy. One
may laugh at the aims and methods of many such societies for example, at
the absurd vereins for Americanizing immigrants, i.e. degrading them to
the level of the native peasantry. But one thing, at least, they
accomplish: they provide comfortable and permanent jobs for hundreds and
thousands of deserving women, most of whom are far more profitably
employed trying to make Methodists out of Sicilians than they would be if
they were try ing to make husbands out of bachelors. It is for this high
purpose also that the forward-looker suffers.
tt mailing list

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

[tt] Economist: Bilingual brains: Variety makes you (mentally) fit

Bilingual brains: Variety makes you (mentally) fit
Oct 17th 2014, 16:31 by R.L.G. | BERLIN

FOR years, researchers in bilingualism have been touting striking
findings about how bilingualism affects the brain. Two of the most
memorable involve "executive control" and delayed dementia. With
the first, bilinguals have shown that they are better able to focus
on demanding mental tasks despite distractions. In other studies,
it has been estimated that bilinguals see the onset of dementia, on
average, about five years later than monolinguals do.

This week comes new evidence* for the pile: researchers led by
Roberto Filippi of Anglia Ruskin University have found that young
bilingual pupils did a better job answering tricky questions with a
noisy voice in the background than a monolingual control group did.
The study was small (just 40 pupils, only 20 in each group). But
its robustness is helped by the diversity of the bilinguals, who
spoke Italian, Spanish, Bengali, Polish, Russian and others in
addition to English. The experimenters tried to distract the pupils
with random unrelated recordings in English (which all the pupils
spoke) and Greek (which none of them did). The bilinguals did
significantly better at ignoring the Greek distraction. (They did
just a bit better with the English one.)

The researchers in this line of inquiry tend to share a common
hypothesis: that being bilingual is a kind of constant inhibitory
mental exercise. With two languages in the mind, nearly everything
has two labels (words) and nearly everything can be expressed in
two different kinds of sentences (grammar). Every time a thing is
named, an alternative must be suppressed. Every time a sentence is
constructed, the other way of constructing it must be suppressed.
Blocking out distracting information is exactly what researchers
find that bilinguals do well. And as for dementia, the effect seems
to be a kind of analogue to physical activity over the course of a
lifetime keeping a body fit. Mental exercise keeps the brain fit,
and bilingualism is just that kind of exercise. (Crucially, the
most striking findings relate to native bilinguals. The effects are
weak to nonexistent for those who merely have a passable ability,
infrequently used, in a second language.)

Why bilinguals seem to do better in quite a few differently
designed studies does, however, need more research. Another paper
published earlier this year** failed to replicate a cornerstone
2004*** study of the bilingual-advantage research. The new study,
using elderly participants, found that Asian-language-plus-English
bilinguals in Scotland, as well as Gaelic-English bilinguals, did
no better than monolinguals on a task that required ignoring a
visual distraction. The authors of the 2014 study speculate that
the 2004 study used a crucially different kind of bilingual. Those
studied in 2014 in Scotland were not frequently required to switch
between their languages. The Gaelic-English bilinguals had not been
educated in Gaelic, and presumably spoke it to a small group of
friends and family, and only in certain settings. The
Asian-language speakers had been educated earlier in their Asian
tongues, but in Scotland spoke their heritage language only at
home, and used English more outside home and family circles. The
researchers in the 2004 study tested pupils educated in both
languages, those more likely to have two ready labels for a wide
range of vocabulary, and who were forced to switch often.

If the advantage accrues to those who switch more often--and
especially those who use more than one language with the same
people (like Puerto Rican New Yorkers who rapidly switch back and
forth between Spanish and English in the same two-person
conversation)--then we are left with a refined version of the
"fitness" analogy. Just as recent exercise trends stress variety
over repetition, moving between languages, not just knowledge of
two of them, may be a key part of the bilingual advantage.
Amazingly, some parents still think bilingualism might harm a
child's development. Perhaps selling bilingualism as an elite,
varied exercise--a kind of Crossfit of the mind--might convince
more parents to give it a try.

* Filippi, R., Morris, J., Richardson, F., Bright, P., Thomas,
M.S.C, Karmiloff-Smith, A., and Marian, V., "Bilingual children
show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken
language comprehension", Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 2014.

** Kirk, N., Fiala, L., Scott-Brown, K.C. and Kempe, V., "No
evidence for reduced Simon cost in elderly bilinguals and
bidialectals", Journal of Cognitive Psychology 2014.

*** Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Klein, R., and Viswanathan, M.,
"Bilignualism, aging and cognitive control: evidence from the Simon
task", Psychology & Aging, 2004.


tuscanalien Oct 20th 2014 18:25 GMT
I do not suppress one language (English) in my brain when I express
myself in the other (Italian) and vice-versa; what happens from
time to time if my next interlocutor is of the other language, say
Italian, I keep on talking in English until I notice the quizzical
expression on his face, then my brain adjusts immediately ed
incomincio in italiano,

Forthview Oct 20th 2014 9:23 GMT
There's a further wrinkle on this I think. How far had the study
sujects gone through some degree of formal education in both
languages? I have a good friend who is the child of post-1956
Hungarian exiles. Laura was born and grew up in the north east of
England Both she and her parents were in effect learning English
together in her childhood; obviously she would count as a native
bilingul but she was never formally taught her first spoken
language and has to work out the rules of grammar and syntax from
first principles every time she tries to write Hungarian. On some
very basic levels, though, she doesn't always know what language
she's speaking- I've had the surreal experience of being talked to
in Hungarian (admittedly at times when she had had a few drinks or
was a bit jet lagged). I suppose that may be an example of the
processing system "blocking out" the alterative language breaking
down- but how far does someone like Laura (and I suspect there are
quite a lot of them around who're bilingual ,say, because one
parent speaks a different language and encourages their offspring
to learn it in a completely informal way)mentally experience the
"other", orally-transmitted, language as a syntactical system?

SJP NZ in reply to Forthview Oct 20th 2014 15:44 GMT
Almost any bilingual I have known & I have known English/Polish ,
English/ German & English/Danish combos will at some point
"accidentally" speak to you in the "wrong" language. In some cases
they learnt both languages at home & in others they learnt one
language as a child & one as an adult. It usually happens when they
have recently been speaking whichever is their less spoken
language. In fact my father (who has lived in Switzerland for 40+
years) & my step mother will sometimes flip back & forth from one
to the other without even realising it. You remind them & they just
flip back.

Anjin-San Oct 20th 2014 0:50 GMT
There is an obvious follow-up research that can be carried upon a
specific group:
What is the occurrence of dementia and their age of onset in a
group of professional interpreters? There should be extremely low
occurrence if the findings of this research has any value.

markgendala Oct 19th 2014 12:51 GMT
QUOTE: "Variety makes you (mentally) fit..."
Utter bilge... Why?
Name one language in which the IDEA that "Variety makes
you (mentally) fit..." cannot be expressed.
You can't... Therefore, it follows that it's IDEA itself that
counts -
not this or that language expressing it.
Back to the drawing board, eh...?
Mark Gendala
Melbourne, AU

Anjin-San in reply to markgendala Oct 20th 2014 0:36 GMT
Actually, there are only TWO non-European languages with which you
can study to gain Doctorates in Science or Engineering. (Japanese
and, to a lesser extent, Chinese)
This is because most other languages do not have the words to
describe these scientific or engineering terms in their dictionary,
leading the speakers of those languages to use English to study
those subjects from early years.
Only Japan and China have so far succeeded in digesting the
concepts behind those imported terms to produce accurate
translations and conduct their own research in their native tongue.
Kobayashi-Maskawa Hypothethis remains the only example of a
Nobel-grade scientific research conducted entirely in a
non-European language.

Artemio Cruz in reply to markgendala Oct 20th 2014 7:53 GMT
Actually, it is quite surprising how difficult it can be to express
common bon mots in other languages.

markgendala in reply to Artemio Cruz Oct 20th 2014 14:11 GMT

"Actually, it is quite surprising how difficult it can be to
express common bon mots in other languages"

I'm sure if I gave you a million dollars for doing so - you'd very
quickly find a way to express the
IDEA just quoted above in every language on Earth.


murozel Oct 19th 2014 11:32 GMT
Though admittedly it makes sense that the command of more than one
languages is a kind of brain exercise, the aforementioned research
findings may require additional control over the other factors that
can have effect on the outcomes of the experiment. For example, is
being bilingual or not the sole important discriminating factor
between the two groups of individuals? If those bilingual also have
higher IQ levels, for example, then how can we be sure about the
outcome was due to being bilingual and not due to one group already
being naturally advantageous over the other? A similar example
would be like this: Suppose a study finding that Japanese speaking
people live longer than-say- English speaking ones. Now does this
outcome necessarily lead to a conclusion that Japanese language is
the factor that enables people to live longer?
Most probably the researchers at the University had already taken
such factors into consideration, but I wanted to write anyway since
this aspect is not normally explicit in the TE article above.

abxtrans Oct 18th 2014 5:31 GMT
Most members of the Mennonite communities in Paraguay are active
bilinguals, constantly code-switching between Spanish and German.
The Mennonites are also engaged in intralangual diglossia, using
different varieties of German in different situations: Standard
German in church and Lower German as a conversational vernacular.
As regards the Latinos of Paraguay (who are the majority of the
population), almost 50% of this group are constantly switching
between Guarani and Spanish (both official languages of the
Republic). Therefore, Paraguay is the ideal region for dementia
studies because half its population is actively bilingual.

bampbs Oct 17th 2014 22:20 GMT
The suppression of the alternative doesn't always work. I was in a
conversation with several English speakers, when I came out with
the French word convenable, but pronounced as if it were an English
word. It meant exactly what I wanted to say, but it was followed by
strange looks and silence until I realized what had happened and

bampbs in reply to bampbs Oct 18th 2014 20:01 GMT
I was unclear above. I am a native English speaker, as were the
others involved in the conversation.

Artemio Cruz in reply to bampbs Oct 20th 2014 8:00 GMT
But that it precisely the point - it is an exercise that sometimes
fails. I find this happens to me occasionally with German when
speaking English (my mother tongue).

Of course, you're also describing how language is negotiated by the
speakers and how one word might "jump" from one language to
another. In another room with more French speakers the "slip" would
not be noticed. I think of this every time I come across "modality"
(transliterated directly from the French instead of form).

But I'm not sure if the bilingual conversations count of

guest-ljwnale Oct 17th 2014 19:35 GMT
Some one who speaks two languages is called bilingual,
some one who speaks three languages is called multilingual,
But some one who speaks one language is called American

Saul0100 in reply to guest-ljwnale Oct 17th 2014 20:20 GMT
Why that prejudice? :p

Not to demean my own country, but the percentage of people who
speak with FLUENCE a second language here in Brazil doesn't even
reach 5%, so we're not so behind Americans.

In Europe the culture of speaking 2, 3, 4 languages is largely
widespread. The thing with Americans is that their mother tongue is
by accident the most spoken in the world, besides being the 2nd
language normally taught in the majority of nations. They simply
doesn't have the same motivations to learn more languages as others
do. I look up to those US citizens who do, though :)

James AntiBr in reply to guest-ljwnale Oct 18th 2014 3:02 GMT
One language = American?

Montel Williams was an Intelligence Officer before he
had a TV show. Years ago, I watched one of his motivational pep
talks with school children in Chicago. The man can speak
Russian, Chinese and Arabic fluently. I understand that Condoleeza
Rice could chat with Putin without a translator.

These two are not isolated cases. There are many people who
look Irish speaking better Spanish than Mexicans from Michocan.

Update yourself buddy!


guest-ojmimao in reply to Saul0100 Oct 18th 2014 20:37 GMT
It's not just some vague outside unchangeable notion of
"motivations" that keeps many US citizens from being multilingual.
It's systematic that bilingualism is unsupported in our educational
and other public institutions. Also, keeping most us monolingual
(i.e. English-speaking only), especially through assimilation of
2nd and 3rd generation immigrants through both cultural and
language immersion into American pop/consumer culture and
English/attrition of their first language, is
politically-motivated. For instance, there used to be bilingual
private and public German/English schools in Pennsylvania for the
first 150 years of our country's existence, up until after the turn
of the 20th century (i.e.) and (contrary to current public opinion
about bilingualism today) the students were known to be more
successful at learning English than German children in monolingual
English schools. However, these schools were changed to all-English
learning through anti-German public policy change, especially
during/after World War I.

In any case, we have plenty of motivations to learn other languages
here, such as the number of Spanish-speaking people, including
those who are a part of our citizenry, that we should all be able
to communicate with not just in English. Obviously their children
are learning English, but they should be able to retain/complete
their Spanish learning as well (which studies have shown helps them
learn English better), rather than having to abandon it once they
reach school age. But now the political will is anti-Latino
immigrant, and thereby anti-Spanish/bilingual policies.

guest-ojmimao in reply to Saul0100 Oct 18th 2014 20:41 GMT
[Sorry to repost this, but I needed to edit what I said about
German bilingual schools, but it wouldn't let me edit my original
post for some reason.]It's not just some vague outside unchangeable
notion of "motivations" that keeps many US citizens from being
multilingual. It's systematic that bilingualism is unsupported in
our educational and other public institutions. Also, keeping most
us monolingual (i.e. English-speaking only), especially through
assimilation of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants through both
cultural and language immersion into American pop/consumer culture
and English/attrition of their first language, is
politically-motivated. For instance, there used to be bilingual
private and public German/English schools in Pennsylvania until
after the turn of the 20th century (i.e.), and (contrary to current
public opinion about bilingualism today) the students were known to
be more successful at learning English than German children in
monolingual English schools. However, these schools were changed to
all-English learning through anti-German public policy change,
especially during/after World War I.
In any case, we have plenty of motivations to learn other languages
here, such as the number of Spanish-speaking people, including
those who are a part of our citizenry, that we should all be able
to communicate with not just in English. Obviously their children
are learning English, but they should be able to retain/complete
their Spanish learning as well (which studies have shown helps them
learn English better), rather than having to abandon it once they
reach school age. But now the political will is anti-Latino
immigrant, and thereby anti-Spanish/bilingual policies.

guest-ojmimao in reply to Saul0100 Oct 18th 2014 21:33 GMT
It's not just some vague outside unchangeable notion of
"motivations" that keeps many US citizens from being multilingual.
It's systematic that bilingualism is unsupported in our educational
and other public institutions. Also, keeping most us monolingual
(i.e. English-speaking only), especially through assimilation of
2nd and 3rd generation immigrants through both cultural and
language immersion into American pop/consumer culture and
English/attrition of their first language, is
politically-motivated. For instance, there used to be bilingual
private and public German/English schools in Pennsylvania up until
after the turn of the 20th century (i.e.), and (contrary to current
public opinion about bilingualism today) the students were known to
be more successful at learning English than German children in
monolingual English schools. However, these schools were changed to
all-English learning through anti-German public policy change,
especially during/after World War I.

In any case, we have plenty of motivations to learn other languages
here, such as the number of Spanish-speaking people, including
those who are a part of our citizenry, that we should all be able
to communicate with not just in English. Obviously their children
are learning English, but they should be able to retain/complete
their Spanish learning as well (which studies have shown helps them
learn English better), rather than having to abandon it once they
reach school age. But now, unfortunately, the political will (at
least the will that seems to have the most power) is often
anti-Latino immigrant, and thereby anti-Spanish/bilingual policies.

Richard Lancaster in reply to guest-ljwnale Oct 19th 2014 10:32 GMT
The British on the other hand are renowned for their take up of
foreign languages.

Artemio Cruz in reply to Richard Lancaster Oct 20th 2014 8:02 GMT
The British on the other hand are renowned for their take up of
foreign languages.
There's almost no situation where speaking slower and louder won't
help even the most ignorant foreigner to understand!

Richard Lancaster in reply to Artemio Cruz Oct 20th 2014 12:16 GMT
Like this you mean?
"I-ON-ING, no, I-ON-NING, have..."

Doug Pascover Oct 17th 2014 19:01 GMT
If the benefit is related to switching and not to knowledge, then
parents deciding to educate bilingually are kind of doing it in
vain, right?

guest-ojmimao in reply to Doug Pascover Oct 18th 2014 21:30 GMT
No, they are NOT doing it in vain, at least if their first language
is a minority language in the area in which they are living (and
would otherwise go to a monolingual school in their second
language). Reason being that they will learn their second language
better and faster if they learn in a bilingual environment. Why?
Overwhelmingly, studies show that full of acquisition of a first
language helps children learn their 2nd language, particularly with
academic language and written skills in their second language. Good
bilingual education (along with enough opportunities of natural use
of both) helps them reach full acquistion of both languages.

Incidentally, as an adult ESL teacher/administrator I have also
found through experience that allowing learners to use their first
language in class for certain purposes usually helps them learn
their first language better and faster, which is also backed up by

guest-ojmimao in reply to guest-ojmimao Oct 18th 2014 21:39 GMT
sorry I meant to say that adult learners are helped to learn their
SECOND language better and faster, not their first language (which
presumably they have already fully acquired0.

Richard Lancaster in reply to Doug Pascover Oct 19th 2014 10:36 GMT
Well, if the only benefits to learning a foreign language were a
decreased chance of dementia, then yes.

The Last Conformist Oct 17th 2014 18:55 GMT
"Crucially, the most striking findings relate to native bilinguals.
The effects are weak to nonexistent for those who merely have a
passable ability, infrequently used, in a second language."

So where does that leave people like me? I'm certainly not a native
bilingual, but I write, speak, and think in a second language
(English) almost daily.

Saul0100 in reply to The Last Conformist Oct 17th 2014 20:28 GMT
Same to me here. I also speak, write, think, listen to and read
English on a daily basis despite having Portuguese as 1st language.
Don't worry, we're included in the statistics mentioned in the
article. You doesn't have to be a native bilingual so as to have a
fit brain according to the text. Researches from the University of
Chicago have showed that people who think fluently in a
(non-native) second language, are more prone to make decisions more
rationally than monolinguals. The research also claims that your
personality traits vary when speaking different languages. So, when
facing a dilemma, think in a second language, haha. Your odds of
pulling it off are higher!
Just google it. It's quite interesting ;)


sanmartinian in reply to Saul0100 Oct 18th 2014 11:42 GMT
to both Saul0100 and Last conformist

I've often explained my case here so briefly not to bore anyone.

According to my mother I spoke English before Portuguese(European).
I'm native in both except that WW2 intervened during may accent
formative years (up to 14?), only went to England on my own after
the war and developed a peculiar accent not unlike native

Later I learned French and Spanish and am taken for native
everywhere the languages are spoken.

When on my own, I switch from one language to another depending on
the subject that I'm dealing at the moment: daily chores in the
language of the country I am at the moment; business, finance,
design and research engineering, English; maths definitely
Portuguese; shop floor eng'g French, Portuguese, English
indifferently; and to the amusing comment of other posters here,
Spanish when I am annoyed.

I also dabble in German, Italian, Dutch and Afrikaans but not
enough to think for longer than one sentence...

The most peculiar thing is I switch language not noticing it in the
vast majority of cases.

To the point of having more than once, when talking to other
people, suddenly switched to another language.

If they know me well they just say "there he goes again!". If they
don't know me, they think I'm showing off.

Not much I can do.

Incidentally, I am 83 and from the above example you can see
languages have not slowed down dementia in me...

HP70 Oct 17th 2014 18:47 GMT
It would be interesting to see how plurilinguism correlates with
scientific achievement.

carpus Oct 17th 2014 17:52 GMT
Thank you for citing the papers. I hope this will continue.

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[tt] Economist: Palaeontology: Girls and boys come out to play

Palaeontology: Girls and boys come out to play

Copulation is older than most biologists suspected
Oct 19th 2014

SEX is ubiquitous, but sexual intercourse is not. Many of the
world's creatures live in the oceans, and a lot of them simply
broadcast eggs and sperm into the water and hope that these will
meet. Even those marine animals that do come together to mate--bony
fish, for example--often employ external fertilisation. That has
led researchers to assume that copulation, in which a male's sperm
are inserted into a female's reproductive tract, and fertilisation
takes place therein, is a derivative rather than an original
characteristic of the vertebrate line that leads from the first
jawed, bony fish to mankind.

But an extinct species with the name, perhaps unfortunate in
context, of Microbrachius dicki, suggests otherwise. As they report
in a paper just published in Nature, John Long of Flinders
University, in Adelaide, and his colleagues, examined many
specimens of this 385m-year-old fish, including newly discovered
ones. They decided that some (presumably male) have special bony
claspers that would, when the animal was alive, have held a female
close for mating, while others (presumably female) have dermal
plates corresponding to these claspers that would have allowed
their paramours to get a good grip. The picture above shows two
well-preserved examples, a male on the left and a female on the
right. The female's dermal plates stick straight out behind her,
while the male's claspers curve away from the centre-line of his

In those modern fish that do copulate (there are some, including
all sharks), claspers of one sort or another are commonplace, since
female fish are slippery individuals. Dr Long and his team
therefore think their observations are pretty strong evidence
that M. dicki went in for copulation too. Further confirmation is
provided by their discovery that M. dicki's putative claspers have
a central groove, which probably served to carry sperm to the
female's reproductive tract, and also the finding in one fossil bed
of an isolated dermal plate with a clasper attached to it.

What makes the team's discovery significant from the human point of
view is that M. dicki is (or, rather, was) a placoderm. The
placoderms were among the first jawed vertebrates to evolve, and
are ancestral to human beings. M. dicki is a member of the most
primitive sub-group of this primitive group. Its possession of
claspers (already known from more advanced types of placoderms, but
thought to have evolved specifically in those groups) suggests that
copulation truly is a primitive affair.
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[tt] Economist: Architects in Europe: The Stirling prize goes to the Everyman theatre

Architects in Europe: The Stirling prize goes to the Everyman theatre
Oct 16th 2014

AT A glitzy £180 ($288) a head reception held on October 16th, the
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) declared that
the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool (pictured) by Haworth
Tompkins had won this year's Stirling prize, Britain's most
prestigious award for architects' buildings. It had fought off a
tough set of competing designs, which included Zaha Hadid's London
Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic games and the Shard, Britain's
tallest skyscraper. The glamour of the six buildings shortlisted
for the award may at first make the architecture business seem that
it is going from strength to strength. But behind the glitz is an
industry suffering from shrinking demand and rapid structural

The market for architectural services in Britain and across Europe
has been hit hard since the financial crisis. Between 2008 and 2012
the sector shrank by 28% according to the Architects Council of
Europe (ACE), an industry body--much faster than falls in GDP or
construction output. In Britain, architects suffered much worse, as
the demand for their services shrank by as much as 40%, the RIBA

Since 2012, even as Europe's construction sector began to grow
again, the demand for architectural services has flatlined.
Structural factors unrelated to construction volumes seem to
explain the profession's relative decline. Other professionals
offering similar services, such as engineers and surveyors, have
continued to poach some of their workload since the recession.
Worse still, their main business--designing new buildings--has come
under threat from a shift towards cheaper system-building methods,
minimising the need for their pricey bespoke design services. Many
commercial buildings, such as the latest generation of hotels built
by Travelodge, a budget chain, are now made of prefabricated
containers in order to cut down on designers' fees. Governments are
also promoting modular construction, which requires less input from
architects, partly because of the technique's eco-friendly
credentials. The European Commission has said that by 2020 it wants
5% of new buildings to be built out of prefabricated panels made of

In spite of falling workloads, the number of architectural
practices across Europe has increased since 2008. But this has
substantially been the result of architects at small- and
medium-sized firms being forced to go freelance: 80% of practices
now comprise of less than five people, reckons Ian Pritchard of
ACE. To survive, larger practices, such as those that normally win
the Stirling prize, have had to look abroad for design work in
countries with building booms, such as China and Dubai.

Architects have also been forced to adopt more ingenious ways to
cut costs. The use of remote-controlled drones to conduct surveys
and take aerial photos has slashed the costs of inspecting tall
buildings. The time taken to draw up plans has been reduced by
computerised-design systems, such as CAD and BIM. Others have
outsourced drawing work to countries including India and Peru to
save money.

But even with deep cost-cutting, architects are still struggling to
attract clients. In Poland, in spite of construction output growing
over the past year, demand for design services has continued to
shrink. And in Britain, RIBA data suggest that Britain's booming
construction sector has yet to benefit architects as much as it has
builders. Long-term prospects also look dismal. Even in 2025 the
construction market in Western Europe will be 5% below its 2007
peak, according to Global Construction Perspectives, a consultancy.

Taken together, this has damaged animal spirits in the industry. At
a recent conference in London, one architect said that the
traditional small-practice model will face "extinction" within the
next decade--a common feeling in some parts of the profession. Put
off by the poor job prospects, only about a third of architecture
students in Europe now qualify to practise; in the past, the vast
majority did. Although builders--and even those using factory-built
systems--will always need help with design, fewer architects than
ever sit comfortably at the glamorous pinnacle of the construction
industry. As Herman Hertzberger, a prize-winning Dutch architect,
wryly noted of the profession's future in 2011, "we're not buried
next to the king any more".

Monday, October 20, 2014

[tt] WSJ: Swedish Forces Continue a Search for Foreign Underwater Activity Outside Stockholm

Anyone following this?

Swedish Forces Continue a Search for Foreign Underwater Activity Outside
Kjetil Malkenes Hovland. Wall Street Journal, 19 Oct 2014.

Sweden continued Sunday a major military operation launched Friday to search
for foreign underwater activity outside Stockholm, Swedish armed forces

The armed forces said Friday it had employed military vessels, aircraft and
personnel to look for foreign underwater activity in the sea in the
Kanholmsfjärden area, some 40 kilometers east of Stockholm, following a
visual observation by a "credible source." The Stockholm archipelago
stretches some 60 kilometers to the east of the city center.

"At the moment we are conducting an intelligence operation in the
archipelago of Stockholm with optical reconnaissance as well as with naval
vessels equipped with qualified underwater sensors," said Erik Lagersten,
Director Communication and Public Affairs of the Swedish Armed Forces on
Sunday. "The operation is conducted in order for the Armed Forces to
establish if there are or has been foreign underwater activities in the

Commander Jonas Wikström, who leads the military operation, said Saturday
that he had decided to increase the number of vessels with sensor
capabilities in the area, as the source was still regarded as very credible.

The armed forces didn't confirm local media reports about the interception
of a Russian distress call. The Svenska Dagbladet daily reported late
Saturday that Swedish authorities Thursday intercepted a distress call in
Russian, on a radio frequency reportedly used by Russia for emergency calls,
and that Sweden also detected encrypted radio traffic between a location
outside of Stockholm and Russia's Baltic enclave Kaliningrad. The daily said
the information indicated a damaged Russian submarine in Swedish waters. It
didn't name its sources, but said the information came from "persons with
knowledge about the ongoing surveillance."

The armed forces said Sunday it was "not in a position to deny or verify
media news or speculations recently published about a missing foreign

Russian authorities said that no Russian vessel was in trouble, and that the
country's navy vessels were carrying out their tasks according to plan.

"There are no and have been no out-of-the-ordinary, let alone emergency
situations, involving Russian military ships," a spokesperson for Russia's
defense ministry said Sunday, state Russian news agencies reported.

Speculation about Russian submarines in Swedish waters brings back memories
of the Cold War era, especially an incident in 1981 when a Soviet submarine
stranded in Swedish waters.

It also follows a number of recent incidents when Russian military aircraft
have entered Swedish airspace. Last month, the Swedish government protested
to Russia's ambassador to Sweden about a "serious violation" of Swedish
airspace by two Russian fighter jets on Sep 17.

[tt] NYT: Daniel Mendelsohn and Pankaj Mishra: Do We Read Differently at Different Ages?

Daniel Mendelsohn and Pankaj Mishra: Do We Read Differently at Different Ages?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world
of books. This week, Daniel Mendelsohn and Pankaj Mishra discuss
whether we read differently at different stages of life.

By Daniel Mendelsohn

Daniel Mendelsohn is the author of seven books, including the
international best seller "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six
Million"; two collections of essays on books, film, theater and
television; and a translation of the poetry of Cavafy. His essays
and reviews have appeared frequently in The New Yorker, The New York
Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review. Mendelsohn has
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for memoir and the NBCC's
Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Book Reviewing; the
National Jewish Book Award; and the George Jean Nathan Prize for
Drama Criticism. His most recent book, "Waiting for the Barbarians:
Essays From the Classics to Pop Culture," was a finalist for the
NBCC award in criticism and the PEN Art of the Essay prize. He
teaches at Bard College.

When I reread "The Catcher in the Rye" a few years ago, I was
unmoved by the emotional ferocity that had enthralled me in 1974.

Halfway through the American classic "The Catcher in the Rye,"
Holden Caulfield, the emotionally fragile teenage hero, who is by
this point well on his way to a nervous collapse, finds solace in a
visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he
gazes longingly at the life-size dioramas of Native American life.
What appeals to him isn't anything anthropological; rather, it's the
fact that the "life" within the elaborately detailed displays is
frozen--comfortingly, to him--in time:

"The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always
stayed right where it was.... You could go there a hundred
thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished
catching those two fish, ... and that squaw with the naked bosom
would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. The
only thing that would be different would be you."

The all-too-evident regret in that last sentence is striking--one
of the novel's many markers of Holden's problem, which is a refusal
to grow up. The allergy to change, the inability to countenance
compromise and the self-congratulatory contempt for anyone who has
done so (the "phonies" and "jerks" whom Holden so loudly "hates"):
These typical symptoms of the teenager's emotional absolutism also
help explain why Salinger's novel has long stood at the apex of the
Y.A. canon.

And why it can be so irritating to read once you do grow up. When I
reread "Catcher" a few years ago, I found myself totally unmoved by
the emotional ferocity that had enthralled me in 1974. But then, why
not? Considering how we evolve intellectually and emotionally over
the course of a lifetime, how "different" we do become, our
reactions to what we have read--to the figures in the diorama, as
it were--should change and evolve, too. One of the strange and
sometimes disconcerting pleasures of getting older is, in fact,
finding how radically your opinion of once favorite (or hated)
characters can change.

This is true even of literature written for grown-ups. Fifteen years
ago, when I was working on an essay on Stendhal's "Charterhouse of
Parma," I reread that author's earlier novel, "The Red and the
Black." I had last read it in college, 20 years before, and back
then, the novel's cynical antihero, Julien Sorel--a brilliant
lower-class youth who uses his brains and dashing charm to advance
his ambitious dreams of success in the church as well as in various
bedrooms--struck me as admirable: heroically unsentimental,
defiant of class conventions. I was shocked, in 1999, at how
repelled I was by a figure I now saw as a cad whose vision of
success was pathetically narrow.

So, too, when I teach Sophocles' "Antigone." My students, who are in
their late teens and early 20s, tend to identify with the fiercely
idealistic young heroine, who stands up for family and religion--
for freedom of conscience, as we often see it today--against the
decrees of her uncle, the autocratic new ruler of the state. But
over the past quarter-century I have increasingly appreciated the
validity of the uncle's claims: the necessity for order, the
incoherence of a state that consists of individuals who cannot
recognize the views of others.

However much Holden Caulfield's helplessness and sensitivity may
move us, it's important to remember that what is problematic in "The
Catcher in the Rye" is its hero's aversion to negotiation and
compromise--not the negotiations and compromises themselves, which
are simply part of adult life. Whatever else it may mean, the Museum
of Natural History scene in Salinger's beloved classic can be read
as a powerful allegory of how not to read beloved classics. Like
Holden, we can and do keep revisiting them; but when we do, we
should always be seeing something new, because the eyes with which
we read should have changed.

Otherwise, we may as well be inside the diorama. Which is, as we
know, just where Holden wanted to be--and, come to think of it,
precisely where he has remained.

Db Db Db

By Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra is the author of several books, including "The
Romantics: A Novel," which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum
Award for First Fiction, and "From the Ruins of Empire," a finalist
for the Orwell and Lionel Gelber Prizes in 2013. He is a fellow of
the Royal Society of Literature and contributes essays on politics
and literature to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The
Guardian of London and The London Review of Books.

Kierkegaard's arguments had seemed overwrought when I was younger
because my own perception was shallow.

"In fashioning a work of art, we are by no means free," Proust
wrote. "We do not choose how we shall make it." But are we free to
choose how we shall comprehend it? After all, we bring to our
readings an ever mutating mix of desires, memories, prejudices and
fears--what Buddhists call the "no-self."

This kind of mental conditioning reveals itself most clearly over
time. More than 20 years ago, I read, or more accurately, set out to
read, Soren Kierkegaard's "Two Ages"; the Danish thinker, along with
Simone Weil, made Christianity interesting, even attractive, to a
heathen like myself. I remember being struck, too, by his
frictionless experiments with literary forms: "Two Ages" is an early
example of a book review that disguises an essayistic tour d'

In it, Kierkegaard deplores the mass society that in the mid-19th
century was coming into being across Europe, and what he saw as the
general diminishment of the individual by the very means--public
opinion, press--devised to enlighten and unify individuals into an
equitable society. He doubts if the unmoored individual can be saved
by the new "idea of sociality, of community," and fears that
unreflexive envy was "the negatively unifying principle" of the new

When I first read the book, there seemed something haughty about his
analysis. Kierkegaard often appeared cantankerous about the "crowd"
that presumably dissolved organic social structures and undermined
traditional values. His search for "inwardness" also seemed to me
symptomatic of the general withdrawal from public life of artists
and intellectuals--one that was to prove politically
counterproductive as demagogues helped by the popular press rose to
power in Europe. And his dislike of newspapers sounded eccentric, if
not irrational.

I have since gone back to the book this summer, with different
results. My earlier adverse reading, I now recognize, was
conditioned by liberal platitudes: that mass media promotes literacy
and political awareness, and that the communications revolution is
bringing together people from different parts of the world.

In our own age, the new "unity of the world," as Hannah Arendt
called it, has proven to be "an unbearable burden" for many,
provoking, as she predicted, "political apathy, isolationist
nationalism, or desperate rebellion against all powers that be."

My beliefs have not fared well during the past decade's lowering
display of disingenuous political and business leaders; meek, if not
blinkered, journalists; and easily frightened and manipulated
publics. The last few months alone have confirmed Arendt's fear of a
"tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal
irritability of everybody against everybody else."

Kierkegaard's arguments about the modern world's negatively unifying
principles had seemed overwrought because my own perception was
shallow. The process of leveling has reached an advanced stage,
accomplished not only by the imagined communities of the
nation-state and the statistical majorities of public-opinion polls
but also the idea of sociality and community promoted by the digital

Kierkegaard anticipated the confining fun-house mirrors of Facebook
and Twitter when he wrote that the seeker of true freedom must
"break out of the prison in which his own reflection holds him," and
then out of "the vast penitentiary built by the reflection of his
associates." And though I am as far from being a Christian as ever,
I am better prepared to comprehend Kierkegaard's insistence that a
genuine union of human beings required a greater spiritual
strenuousness from "the single individual": that he or she establish
"an ethical stance" regardless of general opinion. "Otherwise," he
warned, with steely accuracy, "it gets to be a union of people who
separately are weak, a union as unbeautiful and depraved as a
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[tt] TLS 5819: Jeremy Mynott: Many happy returns

TLS 5819: Jeremy Mynott: Many happy returns
Published: 8 October 2014

Jeremy Mynott is the author of Birdscapes: Birds in our imagination and
experience, which appeared in 2009, and a founder member of New Networks
for Nature.

Bernd Heinrich
The story and science of migration
352pp. HarperCollins. £16.99. 978 0 00 759405 4

The migration of birds has always been a source of wonder. The earliest
reference to birds in European literature comes in Homer's Iliad where he
compares the clamour of migrating cranes and wildfowl to the movement of a
great army. Cranes appear, too, in the first chapter of Bernd Heinrich's
new book, The Homing Instinct, in this case a pair of sandhill cranes
returning to the same small boggy patch in the vastness of Alaska, and
arriving punctually on April 28, after a journey of some 5,000 kilometres
from Texas or Mexico. Heinrich is there to greet them and watch the pair
re-establish their home and their relationship, which they do by making
music and dancing together. How could we fail to feel some affinity with
this? And how could we not be amazed by the navigational systems that make
these homecomings possible?

This very readable book is in large part a popular account of what science
can now tell us about the cognitive mechanisms and biological explanations
behind such migratory feats. Birds feature strongly, of course, as the
most conspicuous and familiar examples. We still celebrate our seasons,
after all, with the annual arrival of marker species like the cuckoo,
swift and swallow (though, disappointingly for a British reader, none of
these is dealt with in the book, despite much recent and revealing
research into their migrations). We are, however, given many other
arresting examples of the ways birds use sensory clues from the sun, moon
and stars as well as from magnetic fields to achieve performances that for
centuries seemed impossible - because we used our own capacities as the
standard. We are also invited to marvel at the ultra-marathoners of the
bird world (perhaps particular favourites of Heinrich, since he, too,
excelled in that sport) - trans-global migrants like the arctic tern
(travelling from one pole to the other) and the bar-tailed godwit (from
Alaska to Australia non-stop). The physical cost of such journeys only
serves to emphasize the strength of the migratory instinct. Godwits use up
not only the body fat they have laid down before departure, but also a
considerable amount of protein, which comes from muscles and organs,
including every part of the body except the brain, the organ that drives
the birds onwards over some 11,000 kilometres of open ocean without food,
water or sleep.

We learn about the homing instincts of many other creatures, each with its
own twist to the story: bees make a "beeline" back to the hive and desert
ants an "antline" to their holes in the sand (to minimize the time spent
in the searing heat of the desert surface); butterflies can travel
thousands of kilometres, most famously the monarch butterflies that winter
in their shimmering millions in dense fir groves near Mexico City (though
in this case, the ones that travel back to New England are not the ones
that left); eels also go on a one-way journey to spawn and then die in the
Sargasso Sea (but why do they leave home at all?); grasshoppers and
locusts make massive migratory movements, co-ordinated by what seems to be
a crowd consensus; sea turtles return to the same beaches they were born
on after roaming the oceans for twenty years or more; and aphids,
ladybirds, dragonflies, moths and amphibians all perform their own
versions of the same miracle.

All this makes for a fascinating narrative, which Heinrich tells with
great ease and verve. But alongside this scientific story is a human one.
Heinrich makes frequent reference to human parallels in behaviour,
responses and even in emotions, though he accepts that he is then heading
into tricky metaphorical territory. He talks of attachment, love and
belonging. He fears, though, that human evolution is itself changing our
relationship to place. Our very success is destroying our grounded sense
of home as a particular locality defined by its natural features and
wildlife. Population expansion is turning us into an urban species, and
our technological advances are making the whole world our interconnected
but distanced home. We are severing ourselves from the Earth, physically
and psychologically.

Heinrich is also telling a personal story, in which he starts by welcoming
the cranes home and ends by returning to the area of Maine where he grew
up. These three homing themes - the animal, the human and the personal -
are intended to reinforce one another, but the strands are loosely twined
and none of them is quite satisfactory on its own. A purely scientific
popularization would probably have needed more reportage from the front
line of research, where things are moving faster than the list of "further
reading" at the end perhaps suggests. A conservation manifesto would
develop the environmental arguments further and ponder their political
implications. Our problem, Heinrich says bluntly and without elaboration,
is "massive overpopulation" - well, and so? By contrast, the
autobiographical material is rich and detailed but begins to ramble
towards the end, so that the last five "chapters" (irritatingly, they are
not numbered) could probably have been reduced to just one or two, thereby
sharpening their relevance and impact. The book's subtitle suggests that
Heinrich is trying to cater for everyone, but does he instead risk
becoming a victim of his own facility and breadth of interests?

These defects are well outweighed by the merits of the book, however.
Heinrich is not only a distinguished biologist; he is also a natural
storyteller. His many past publications include such bestselling titles as
Mind of the Raven (2007), The Snoring Bird (2008), Winter World (2009) and
Life Everlasting (2013), and his zest for authorship seems to continue
undiminished. There can be no one who would not find something new and
interesting in the present work, or who would fail to be inspired by it to
learn more, to notice more and to care more.