Keith Chen, an economist from Yale, makes a startling claim in an unpublished working paper: people’s fiscal responsibility and healthy lifestyle choices depend in part on the grammar of their language.
Here’s the idea: Languages differ in the devices they offer to speakers who want to talk about the future. For some, like Spanish and Greek, you have to tack on a verb ending that explicitly marks future time—so, in Spanish, you would say escribo for the present tense (I write or I’m writing) and escribiré for the future tense (I will write). But other languages like Mandarin don’t require their verbs to be escorted by grammatical markers that convey future time—time is usually obvious from something else in the context. In Mandarin, you would say the equivalent of I write tomorrow, using the same verb form for both present and future.
Chen’s finding is that if you divide up a large number of the world’s languages into those that require a grammatical marker for future time and those that don’t, you see an interesting correlation: speakers of languages that force grammatical marking of the future have amassed a smaller retirement nest egg, smoke more, exercise less, and are more likely to be obese. Why would this be? The claim is that a sharp grammatical division between the present and future encourages people to conceive of the future as somehow dramatically different from the present, making it easier to put off behaviors that benefit your future self rather than your present self.
Update: Language Log’s take on these claims, here and here. (H/t: commenter Brian)
On the 10th year anniversary of the communal riots in Gujarat, Vinod Jose profiles Narendra Modi in Caravan:
MODI HAD NOT GOTTEN OFF to a good start with India’s leading business figures. Nine years ago, in February 2003, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)—the country’s biggest and most important business trade association—held a special session at its auditorium in New Delhi: “Meeting with Narendra Modi, the New Chief Minister of Gujarat”. The meeting was organised after a special request from Modi: he had just won a resounding victory in state elections in the wake of the riots, but he was still facing public condemnation from national business leaders and dealing with an economy reeling from the impact of the violence.
The mobs who ran wild in the streets of Gujarat did not confine their rage to local Muslims: more than 1,000 trucks were set afire, and the torching of a shipment of Opel Astra cars from a General Motors factory made international headlines. One estimate suggested that industry in Gujarat had lost 20 billion ($409 million) in the riots. The spectre of communal violence made international investors jittery—new foreign direct investment inflows had all but dried up by September 2002—while Indian industrialists openly feared further chaos in what was, even before Modi’s arrival, one of the most critical states for their business operations.
In the months after the riots, some of corporate India’s biggest names had publicly voiced their anger and concern. Deepak Parekh, the CEO of HDFC Bank, said that India had lost its face as a secular country, and that he was ashamed of what had happened in Gujarat. Cyrus Guzdar, the CMD of the shipping company AFL, compared the violence against Muslims in Gujarat to “a genocide”. Two of Bangalore’s biggest IT chieftains, Narayana Murthy of Infosys and Azim Premji of Wipro, issued strong public condemnations. At a CII national meeting in April 2002, the chairwoman of the energy major Thermax, Anu Aga, received a standing ovation after delivering an impassioned speech about the suffering of Muslims in Gujarat.
Modi knew he was under pressure. But he also knew that he had won an overwhelming electoral mandate from the voters of Gujarat—and that Gujarat, riots or no riots, was of critical importance to the chieftains of Indian business. He came to Delhi to mend his image with the captains of industry, but he would do so, as always, on his own terms.
[The movement] 15-M has evolved to become a new political subject, distinct from the original Internet-based group—Democracia Real Ya, or Real Democracy Now (DRY)—that organized the mobilization of May 15, when about 20,000 people gathered in Puerta del Sol. Three months earlier, on a Sunday night in February, ten people met in a Madrid bar to began planning the event. They had already been exchanging opinions online about the political and economic situation in Spain. Their meeting ended with both a slogan—“Real Democracy Now: we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers”—and plans to hold a demonstration the week before the municipal elections of May 22.
Although DRY targeted unemployment and mortgage reforms, the main message was not about the economic crisis but about the breakdown of political accountability and representation. Some commentators on the left criticized this message as insufficiently radical, but more than 500 organizations and movements supported the May 15 event, even though DRY rejected official collaboration with any political party, union, or other expression of institutionalized political ideology.
The gathering was a success. The widespread disaffection of Spanish citizens took center stage at one of the nation’s most visible sites.
That was supposed to be it.
But not all of the participants left the plaza. Initially about 50 decided to stay. By midnight, this group had dwindled to just over twenty. They decided to spend the night in the square. Most of the holdouts did not belong to any social movement; they were not seasoned activists or even members of DRY. They stayed, some of them said, because they were “tired of demonstrations that finish happily and then: nothing.”
It was the early twentieth century, and the world had already changed tremendously compared to the world of their parents and grandparents. Slavery had ended in America more than half a century earlier. While African Americans still faced tremendous economic and social obstacles in both the northern and southern states, there were more opportunities than there had been. After the Civil War (and beginning slightly before, especially in the North), education for black Americans — and black and white women — had become more common. Many were not able to attend or complete school, but a substantial few were able not only to attend and complete elementary or secondary school, but college. Professional education opened up to blacks and women. Some black men became professionals: physicians, lawyers, teachers, businessmen. Some black women also found professional careers as teachers, librarians. These families in turn saw to the education of their daughters. Some saw the returning black soldiers from World War I as an opening of opportunity for African Americans. Black men had contributed to the victory, too. Surely America would now welcome these black men into full citizenship. Black Americans were moving out of the rural South, and into the cities and towns of the industrial North. They brought “black culture” with them: music with African roots and story-telling. The general culture began adopting as its own elements of that black culture: this was the Jazz Age! Hope was rising — though discrimination, prejudice and closed doors on account of race and sex were by no means eliminated. But there were new opportunities. It seemed more worthwhile to challenge those injustices: perhaps the injustices could be eliminated, or at least made less. In this environment, a flowering of music, fiction, poetry and art in African American intellectual circles came to be called the Harlem Renaissance. A Renaissance, like the European Renaissance, in which moving forward while going back to roots generated tremendous creativity and action. Harlem, because one of the centers was the neighborhood of New York City called Harlem, by this time predominantly peopled by African Americans, more of whom were daily arriving from the South. Below are women who played key roles in the Harlem Renaissance — some are well-known, and some have been neglected or forgotten.
How long does it take to make the woods? As long as it takes to make the world. The woods is present as the world is, the presence of all its past and of all its time to come. It is always finished, it is always being made, the act of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction. It is a part of eternity for its end and beginning belong to the end and beginning of all things, the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.
What is the way to the woods, how do you go there? By climbing up through the six days’ field, kept in all the body’s years, the body’s sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through the narrow gate on the far side of that field where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way to the high, original standing of the trees. By coming into the shadow, the shadow of the grace of the strait way’s ending, the shadow of the mercy of light.
Why must the gate be narrow? Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened. To come into the woods you must leave behind the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes. You must come without weapon or tool, alone, expecting nothing, remembering nothing, into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf. .
When the young Mao Tse-tung agitated for revolution, he found a vivid way to get his point across to an uneducated audience: He picked up a single chopstick and snapped it in two. Then he picked up a handful of chopsticks: They would not break. Thus he showed that so long as everyone stood side by side, no force could withstand the tide of revolution. By gathering together China’s scattered, indignant chopsticks, Mao finally was able to ascend Tiananmen—the Gate of Heavenly Peace — on Oct. 1, 1949, and announce the establishment of his republic. Whether chopsticks come singly or in a handful is now an issue in China again. Mao’s successors, however, do the opposite of what he advocated, mobilizing immense resources to keep chopsticks from gathering together. The government knows that angry chopsticks are everywhere, but as long as they stay scattered, it believes it can break them in two, whatever their numbers. Thus it is that “stability maintenance” has become a key term in contemporary China. The government does not make public what it spends to maintain stability, but popular estimates go as high as 600 billion yuan. As mass protests become more frequent, that figure can only increase.
Abraham Lincoln’s courtship of Mary Todd was anything but smooth. At one point it helped bring on a bout of severe depression that left the future president nearly dysfunctional for a brief period and caused him to avoid Springfield’s social world for several months. In a letter to an absent friend, the future Mrs. Lincoln lamented this state of affairs and wished “that he would once more resume his Station in Society, that ‘Richard should be himself again.’ ” The expression she used is clear enough in meaning, but Lincoln’s biographers have been less certain about its source. In fact, the expression “Richard’s himself again” was in vogue in antebellum America, deriving from one of the best-known speeches in the most performed of all Shakespeare plays, Richard III. But that speech, as Lincoln himself would later point out, was not written by Shakespeare. This curious state of affairs is surprisingly emblematic of the undernourished state of our knowledge of Lincoln’s famous affinity for Shakespeare. We have so many well-attested stories of Lincoln extolling Shakespeare as a young man in New Salem, of his carrying a volume of Shakespeare’s works around with him on the judicial circuit, of his ability (and willingness) to recite from memory long passages from Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, and of his reading from the plays by the hour to his secretaries and guests as president, that there can be little doubt of his longstanding attachment to the writings of the Bard.
more from Douglas L. Wilson at The American Scholar here.
Let us recap. You don’t have to go where your immaterial soul goes—not at least if it doesn’t take your mind with it. You don’t have to go where your body goes—not at least if it doesn’t take your mind with it. What does this suggest? That you go where your mind goes or, as Locke puts it, “personal identity consists . . . in the identity of consciousness.” Let us not pause to examine what exactly Locke means by “identity of consciousness” and instead turn to the development of his view by the philosopher Derek Parfit, whose 1984 book Reasons and Persons is partly devoted to defending a “neo-Lockean” theory of personal identity and to extracting some astonishing implications from it. The basic neo-Lockean idea is that you survive just in case your psychology continues on in roughly the manner it does in ordinary life. Our psychological lives are not a series of unrelated mental events, but form a complex structure. A simple example: you go to the beach and enjoy the experience of basking on the hot sand. At noon you decide to return home at sunset, and this explains why at dusk you gather up your towel. In the evening at home you recall being at the beach, the feeling of the sand on your feet, and so forth. This illustrates what Parfit calls “psychological connectedness,” the sort of relation that holds between your decision to leave and subsequent towel gathering, and between your beach experience and subsequent recollection. We can think of your psychological life from childhood to old age as overlapping stretches of psychological connectedness, like strips of paper glued together to form a much longer strip. Parfit calls this “psychological continuity.” Parfit’s view is that personal identity—our survival or persistence over time—consists in psychological continuity and connectedness.
Leslie S. Klinger in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
On a recent short plane flight, I read Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling in one sitting. The effect was like having a voluble but very interesting seatmate, one whom you interrupt only rarely with exclamations of agreement and perhaps a short recital of a similar anecdote from your life. I knew that I was expected to review the book, and so I sat back as the plane descended and contemplated my comments.
Best to begin with a disclaimer. I first met Dirda at the “Millennium Dinner” of the Baker Street Irregulars in January 2000. Subsequently, Dirda and I became friends, sharing meals, many conversations, and rambles around Washington and Los Angeles. Dirda has slept in my house and shared my table, and I have never left his company feeling less than a little inebriated, regardless of whether any alcohol was actually consumed. Not only does Dirda love to read and write, he loves to talk; and his talk is mostly about books, reading, and so many things that I cherish. Michael is the quintessential “bookman,” in an age when so few remain. So a chance to listen to him talk about Conan Doyle seemed likely to be an extremely pleasant way to spend my travel time.
I was mightily impressed that Dirda was speaking to the Irregulars. He was, after all, a Pulitzer-winning critic and the book editor of the Washington Post. It quickly became clear that he loved Sherlock Holmes and the entire Holmes canon as much as I did, though for different reasons.
In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.
Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.
In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.
In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.
“If I had a thousand tongues and each tongue were a thousand thunderbolts and each thunderbolt had a thousand voices, I would use them all today to help you understand a loyal and misrepresented and misjudged people.” These were the words of Joseph C. Price, founder and President of Livingston College in North Carolina, who in 1890 delivered an address to the National Education Association annual convention held in Minneapolis. Price’s words reflect on the long tradition of African American oratory. Listed below are some of the most significant orations by African Americans with links to the actual speeches.
(1832) Maria W. Stewart, “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?”
Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) was one of the first American women to leave copies of her speeches. The address below is her second public lecture. It was given on September 21, 1832 in Franklin Hall in Boston, the meeting site of the new England Anti-Slavery Society. Although as an abolitionist, she usually attacked slavery, in this address she condemns the attitude that denied black women education and prohibited their occupational advancement. In fact she argues that Northern African American women, in term of treatment, were only slightly better off than slaves.
Why sit ye here and die? If we say we will go to a foreign land, the famine and the pestilence are there, and there we shall die. If we sit here, we shall die. Come let us plead our cause before the whites: if they save us alive, we shall live—and if they kill us, we shall but die. Methinks I heard a spiritual interrogation—'Who shall go forward, and take off the reproach that is cast upon the people of color? Shall it be a woman? And my heart made this reply —'If it is thy will, be it even so, Lord Jesus!' I have heard much respecting the horrors of slavery; but may Heaven forbid that the generality of my color throughout these United States should experience any more of its horrors than to be a servant of servants, or hewers of wood and drawers of water! Tell us no more of southern slavery; for with few exceptions, although I may be very erroneous in my opinion, yet I consider our condition but little better than that. Yet, after all, methinks there are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance—no fetters so binding as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge. O, had I received the advantages of early education, my ideas would, ere now, have expanded far and wide; but, alas! I possess nothing but moral capability—no teachings but the teachings of the Holy spirit.
I have asked several individuals of my sex, who transact business for themselves, if providing our girls were to give them the most satisfactory references, they would not be willing to grant them an equal opportunity with others? Their reply has been—for their own part, they had no objection; but as it was not the custom, were they to take them into their employ, they would be in danger of losing the public patronage.
And such is the powerful force of prejudice.
More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we have been linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).
The medical world is holding its breath, waiting for the revolution. It will be here any minute. Definitely by the end of the decade. Or perhaps it will take a little longer than that, but seriously, it’s right around the corner. More or less. That’s the genomics revolution, with its promise of treatment focused on the individual rather than the group. At last, patients will be more than the product of their age, sex, ethnicity, illnesses and bad habits; treatments will be aimed like a laser at their personal genetic particulars, and if those genes are not quite what they should be, then those genes will be fixed. Over the last few years, various breathless visions of this therapeutic future have been written out for public admiration. A particularly readable and comprehensive version can be found in Dr. Eric J. Topol’s new book, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine.”
Dr. Topol, a cardiologist and researcher at the Scripps Research Institute with the energy of 10 (if his prose style and his honor-laden biography are any indication), dispenses in short order with our current population-based medical strategies. They are wasteful and inexact, he points out, often marginally beneficial to the group and downright harmful to the individual. He presents an array of far better ideas, a few now actually being practiced in rudimentary form. These include pharmacogenomics, in which specific genes that govern responses to medications are routinely assayed, and cancer treatments that probe tumors for specific genetic targets rather than relying on standard chemotherapy. But that’s not all: Dr. Topol also points out that soon a person’s precise genetic data will be augmented by an extraordinary wealth of other digital data (provided by, say, the continuous monitoring of blood pressure, pulse and mood, and a variety of ultra-precise scans). The outcome will be nothing short of a new “science of individuality,” one that defines individuals “at a more granular and molecular level than ever imaginable.”
My mother writes from Trenton, a comedian to the bone but underneath serious and all heart. “Honey,” she says, “be a mensch and Mary too, its no good, to worry, you are doing the best you can your Dad and everyone thinks you turned out very well as long as you pay your bills nobody can say a word you can tell them, to drop dead so save a dollar it can’t hurt—remember Frank you went to highschool with? he still lives with his wife’s mother, his wife works while he writes his books and did he ever sell a one the four kids run around naked 36, and he’s never had, you’ll forgive my expression even a pot to piss in or a window to throw it, such a smart boy he couldn't read the footprints on the wall honey you think you know all the answers you dont, please, try to put some money away believe me it wouldn’t hurt artist schmartist life’s too short for that kind of, forgive me, horseshit, I know what you want better than you, all that counts is to make a good living and the best of everything, as Sholem Aleichem said, he was a great writer did you ever read his books dear, you should make what he makes a year anyway he says some place Poverty is no disgrace but its no honor either that’s what I say, ……………….. love, ……………………… Mother”
by Robert Mezey from Strong Measures Harper Collins,1986
I do not follow contemporary cinema, but with the Oscars looming, I felt obliged to weigh in on the moving image as I experience it. Since I do not own a television and lack the sophistication and desire to sift through darknets and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks hunting for shows to download, I have resorted to Youtube’s never-ending supply of serial killer documentaries. Most are grainy and since the channels tend to abruptly disappear, are more than likely illegally uploaded. With any other genre this would be unbearable, but the crappiness of the viewing experience adds grit to these shows, which are usually collages of old photos and interviews, and the experience of watching a psychopathic killer delivered to justice becomes all the more deliciously unsettling.
After watching hundreds of these shows from all over the English-speaking world, I have begun to autopsy the peculiar relationship between the police, the bereaved, the media, and the public. There are remarkable differences between an Australian, an American, an English or even the rare Canadian depiction of society’s most heinous crime.
A serial killer is a murderer who has killed at least three people, with a refractory period, that is a length of time, between killings. There tends to also be a psychological motive, though many plunder their victims’ possessions, deep down serial killers kill because they want to or have to. The really famous ones often have a prurient interest in killing, and some of the most frenzied do horrific damage to their victims' bodies. These cases are full of sex, violence and vivid characters, and almost always have a thrilling conclusion in the form of a detective solving an increasingly violent series of murders. In other words, serial killers are the perfect fodder for television shows, or at least they would be if it weren’t for the fact that they must always balance on the narrow ledge between good taste, respect for the killers’ victims and the salacious detail their viewers crave; the latter element varies dramatically from country to country.
Kashif is a novelist who is afraid of novels: they all remind him of his failure at love. Novels, with the futility of each word, with the reflection of each phrase, with the silent spaces between sounds, remind him of nothing but loss. His novels are nothing but bloody fights with the memories of lost paradises and lost homes and lost loves.
Now that he is eighty and has a pearly beard and a semi-bald head, Kashif is writing The Last Novel. He is writing his last novel on his first love: Monika. He wants to be done, for ever and ever, with memories of Monika. Once finished, he has decided, he will spend the rest of his days watching television. Or doing anything that will not remind him of his failure at love. And if everything, really everything everything, still reminded him of nothing but his failure at love, he will commit suicide. And be done with it.
One thing is certain: this novel– the one he is writing now – will be his last one, if he ever manages to finish it. Despite the tremendous success of his previous novels, this novel is to be the one that will complete all he wants to say about fear and beauty and memory. But before we talk of novels and suicides, we must talk of love. Kashif is thinking of love because his son, Rashid, is coming to visit him. Without admitting it to himself, Kashif has decided that his son is his last chance at succeeding in love. His last chance, in other words, of getting over his memories of failed love and finishing The Last Novel.
Kashif lives alone, ridiculously alone, in his comfortable house in the countryside of Wales. Countless years ago, fifteen to be exact, on June 8th, Kashif came here to write The Last Novel. He lives with nothing but books. Or should we say: memories and fear. They are strewn all over the place. They stack up against whole walls. They litter the floors of all the rooms. They sleep with him and eat with him and bathe with him and sit outside on the open porch with him. They are, in a word, everywhere.
“These series of photographs were taken at the Qalandia checkpoint. This body of work examines and captures the experience of the checkpoint which has become a hallmark of the current Israeli occupation. There are very few faces among the collection of images; rather we are invited to view a multitude of close-ups of encounters between soldiers and Palestinians wanting to cross the border.”