Later On

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Archive for August 29th, 2018

The decline of a certain type of white privilege: Harley-Davidson Needs a New Generation of Riders

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Claire Suddath reports in Bloomberg Businessweek:

The first thing you should do when you meet a Harley-Davidson rider is check the back of his—or her, but let’s be honest, it’s probably his—jacket. The patches tell you who you’re dealing with. First, there’s the insignia. It might be a bald eagle atop the company’s logo to let everyone know this is a Harley guy—not a Honda guy, not a BMW guy, but a red-blooded, flag-waving American patriot. If this particular Harley guy belongs to one of 1,400 company-sponsored Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) chapters around the world, the insignia will be coupled with a second patch that specifies which H.O.G. he belongs to: the Duluth H.O.G.s, the Waco H.O.G.s., or, today, the H.O.G.s of Long Island.

Sometimes there’s a third patch, for bikers who belong to an independent club—the Blue Knights are cops, the Hells Angels hate cops—but two-patch groups tend not to associate with them. “It’s a different mindset,” says Frank Pellegrino, who on weekdays is a vice president for a plastics outsourcing company and on weekends a Long Island H.O.G.

Pellegrino, who got his first Harley for his 65th birthday last year, is about to spend this cloudless summer Sunday exploring 100 miles along the back roads of New York and Connecticut with about 25 other Harley guys.

With him today are Joe, Marty, Dennis, Grover, Richie, Bob and his girlfriend, Dawn, and two Mikes, one with an American flag bandanna tied around his head. No one is younger than 45; many are well past 60. They’ve gathered behind a BP station at 8 a.m. in mid-July, sipping coffee and admiring one another’s bikes. At one point, Dennis talks politics with Joe and one of the Mikes.

“What’s the deal with all this fake news about a Europe plant?” Mike without a bandanna asks. “Harley was already going to build overseas, and now they’re just blaming it on the president.”

In June the European Union slapped what’s effectively a 31 percent retaliatory tariff on Harley in response to President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. To avoid them, Joe says, Harley will stop making the bikes it sells to Europe in the U.S. The company already has plants in Brazil and India and is in the process of opening one in Thailand.

“Oh, is that the case?” Mike asks. He swears he read something different on the internet.

“I see where they’re coming from,” Dennis says, crossing his arms over his We Stand For The Flag T-shirt. “How are they going to sell over there with millions in tariffs placed on them?”

“I still don’t like it,” Mike says. “Harley ought to be focused on us.”

Three weeks later, and about 1,000 miles away at its headquarters in Milwaukee, Harley-Davidson Inc. announced what executives called the most ambitious overhaul in its 115-year history with a plan that, for the first time in decades, wasn’t focused on riders like Frank or Dennis or the Mikes.

In the next few years, Harley will release more than a dozen motorcycles, many of them small, lightweight, even electric. The new Harleys are intended to reverse years of declining sales and appeal to a new rider: young, urban, and not necessarily American. Harley wants international riders to be half its business in the next 10 years. “We are turning a page in the history of the company,” says Matthew Levatich, chief executive officer. “We’re opening our arms to the next generation.”

The two-patch H.O.G. clubs and three-patch biker gangs that made the brand famous have saddled the company with an uninviting reputation that Harleys are only for older white men who roam the highways on rumbling, two-wheeled beasts. Young riders, women, people of color, or anyone who lives in a city and wants a motorcycle for commuting rather than joyrides—the bikers send the message that Harley isn’t for them.

And without new customers, the company can’t grow. Nor can it fully recover from the Great Recession. It’s shipping almost a third fewer motorcycles to its dealers than at its prerecession peak in 2006. After rebounding slightly, retail sales have steadily declined again since 2014, tumbling almost 14 percent in the U.S. The average Harley rider’s age has inched up to almost 50. “It’s not just the brand, but the people associated with the brand,” says Heather Malenshek, Harley’s vice president for global marketing. “We’ve made a tonal shift to think about ourselves as being more inclusive.”

Among motorcycle fans, Harley’s new image met with astonished enthusiasm. “We looked at pictures of the new bikes and were like, Harley did this? That’s pretty wild,” says Zack Courts, features editor of Motorcyclist magazine. Riders who generally preferred Honda or Yamaha said maybe they’d try a Harley. It should have been a marketing coup.

Then the president of the United States called on motorcyclists to boycott the company.

Since 1903, when a Milwaukee engineer, William Harley, and his friend, Arthur Davidson, designed a motorized bicycle in Davidson’s backyard shed, the company has been continuously manufacturing motorcycles in Wisconsin. Throughout the years, Harley-Davidson has been acquired, sold, spun off, and taken public, but it’s the only American motorcycle company that’s never gone out of business. The one with the second-longest streak, Indian Motorcycle, shut down in 1953. Harley has largely thrived. It added a Pennsylvania plant in the 1970s; Missouri and Brazil came online in the 1990s; its newest addition, in Thailand, will open this fall. Last year, the company made $4.9 billion in revenue from motorcycles. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 6:11 pm

Perfect as a physical metaphor for the times

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From this collection.

Great way to start a novel

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Good novels are good all the way through, including the opening paragraph:

The Whistling Season (Doig, Ivan)

When I visit the back corners of my life again after so long a time, littlest things jump out first. The oilcloth, tiny blue windmills on white squares, worn to colorless smears at our four places at the kitchen table. Our father’s pungent coffee, so strong it was almost ambulatory, which he gulped down from suppertime until bedtime and then slept serenely as a sphinx. The pesky wind, the one element we could count on at Marias Coulee, whistling into some weather-cracked cranny of this house as if invited in. . .

The Kindle format is designed to support/encourage impulse purchases. (“If you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible” — from Getting to Yes — and I’ll add “and it helps even more if you make jumping the fence look inviting in prospect and enjoyable in the experience.”) Read a review, bought the book: elapsed time < 1 minute. But still, I think it’s going to be good. Do you get that from the opening paragraph? (I’m sure that statistically it is the most-labored-upon paragraph in the book, with second place going to the last paragraph (for those who read the ending in deciding whether to buy the book—I know you’re out there. So the residue of all that work is revealing, but I never read the ending at any place than that which the author (strongly) indicated: at the end )

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Books, Memes, Writing

Fat desensitizes the brain to a hormone that diminishes appetite

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Bret Stetka reports in Scientific American:

Obesity rates in the U.S. and abroad have soared: The world now has more overweight people than those who weigh too little. One reason relates to the way the body reacts to its own fat stores by setting in motion a set of molecular events that impede the metabolic process that normally puts a damper on hunger.

A new study published August 22 in Science Translational Medicineprovides details of how this process occurs, giving new insight into why obese individuals have trouble shedding pounds. It also suggests a possible treatment approach that targets obesity in the brain, not in the belly.

Scientists have long known that a hormone called leptin is instrumental in regulating the human diet. Produced by fat cells, the molecule communicates with a brain region called the hypothalamus, which reins in hunger cravings when our energy stores are full.

Yet as we gain weight our bodies become less sensitive to leptin, and it becomes harder and harder to slim down. In other words, weight gain begets more weight gain. In an experiment using mice that became obese on a high-fat diet, an international team found obesity increases the activity of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase-2, or MMP-2. By using a technique called western blot analysis—separating and identifying all the proteins in a tissue sample—the authors found MMP-2 cleaves off a portion of the leptin receptor in the hypothalamus, impairing the hormone’s signaling and its ability to suppress appetite.

The study also revealed that disabling MMP-2 with a gene-silencing technique—one in which a stretch of RNA was injected directly into the hypothalamus—had the effect of reducing weight gain in obese mice and preventing leptin receptor cleavage. Conversely, viral delivery of MMP-2 to the same brain region promoted subsequent weight gain and the snipping off of receptors. “The concept of ‘leptin resistance’ was already known in the field,” says paper co-author Dinorah Friedmann-Morvinski, a cell biologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel. “Our contribution to the field is (revealing) this mechanism by which obesity induces the activation of MMP-2 in the hypothalamus, which impairs the subsequent leptin-signaling cascade.”

Friedmann-Morvinski and her colleagues—including lead author Rafi Mazor, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego—also found treating hypothalamic cells in a lab dish with inflammatory compounds increases the expression of the MMP-2 gene, suggesting the initial “cause” of obesity results from inflammation. Previous research supports the idea high-fat, high-calorie diets can induce chronic low-grade inflammation of the hypothalamus, which over time may escalate MMP-2 production.

Martin Myers, a diabetes researcher and professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan (U.M.) who was not involved with the work, agrees MMP-2 is probably playing a role in energy balance. He points out, however, the new study is not enough to demonstrate that it interferes with leptin signaling in living animals. “I think their finding about a role for MMP-2 in the [hypothalamus] is potentially important. But I don’t think they have identified the mechanism,” he says. “I think the most important problem here is that they have not shown any alteration of [leptin] signaling in vivo.”— a contention disputed by the study’s authors.

If the new findings do pan out, they could open the door to possible therapies aimed at damping down inflammation in the brain, decreasing MMP-2 activity and boosting the brain’s responsiveness to leptin. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 4:26 pm

A New Book Details the Damage Done by the Right-Wing Media in 2016

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Jeffrey Toobin reviews a book in the New Yorker:

The Washington conventional wisdom presupposes a kind of symmetry between our polarized political parties. Liberals and conservatives, it is said, live in separate bubbles, where they watch different television networks, frequent different Web sites, and absorb different realities. The implication of this view is that both sides resemble each other in their twisted views of reality. Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, in other words, represent two sides of the same coin.

This view is precisely wrong, according to a provocative new book by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts that will be published next month by Oxford University Press. The book’s title, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” is a mouthful, but the book’s message is almost simple. The two sides are not, in fact, equal when it comes to evaluating “news” stories, or even in how they view reality. Liberals want facts; conservatives want their biases reinforced. Liberals embrace journalism; conservatives believe propaganda. In the more measured but still emphatic words of the authors, “the right-wing media ecosystem differs categorically from the rest of the media environment,” and has been much more susceptible to “disinformation, lies and half-truths.”

“Network Propaganda” is an academic work at the crossroads of law, sociology, and media studies. Benkler is a law professor at Harvard and a co-director of the university’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, where Faris and Roberts both conduct research. The book is not a work of media criticism but, rather, of data analysis—a study of millions of online stories, tweets, and Facebook-sharing data points. The authors’ conclusion is that “something very different was happening in right-wing media than in centrist, center-left and left-wing media.” Accordingly, they wrote the book “to shine a light on the right-wing media ecosystem itself as the primary culprit in sowing confusion and distrust in the broader American ecosystem.”

The core of the book is the study of how that right-wing ecosystem works. According to the authors, false stories are launched on a series of extreme Web sites, such as InfoWars (the home of Alex Jones), “none of which claim to follow the norms or processes of professional journalistic objectivity.” Those stories are then transmitted to outlets such as Fox News and the Daily Caller, which, according to the authors, “do claim to follow journalistic norms,” but often fail in that function when it comes to tales from the Web sites. Notably, the authors write, “this pattern is not mirrored on the left wing.” There are no significant Web sites on the left that parallel the chronic falsity of those on the right, and the upstream sources do follow traditional journalistic standards, and serve “as a consistent check on the dissemination and validation of the most extreme stories when they do emerge on the left, and have no parallels in the levels of visibility or trust that can perform the same function on the right.”

How do the authors prove their case? The most persuasive sections of the book concern case studies of stories that did, or did not, go viral in these politically disconnected universes. Consider two stories that emerged over the course of the 2016 Presidential campaign: in one, Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in acts of pedophilia, which included the abuse of Haitian refugee children and visits to an orgy island—preposterous claims for which there was no shred of evidence. In the other, Donald Trump supposedly raped a thirteen-year-old girl, in 1994—something that he was accused of in a lawsuit filed in 2016. At first, there was great interest on the left in the Trump story. There were five times as many Facebook shares of the most widely shared article about it (1.25 million) as of the most widely shared story about the imagined Clinton pedophilia. But all that chatter was followed by near silence in the liberal and mainstream media, as the story failed to survive the most basic fact-checking scrutiny. (Trump denied the allegations; the lawsuit was subsequently dropped, refiled, and dropped again.) As the authors write, “the presence and attention of both journalists and readers to diverse sites was enough to enforce a hard constraint on the ability to disseminate politically affirming falsehoods.”

The Clinton orgy-island story met a very different fate in the right-wing media, which pushed versions of it over the course of the campaign. (Fox News initially ran several segments that raised the topic of the “Lolita Express.”) The dynamic on the right, the authors found, “rewards the most popular and widely viewed channels at the very top of the media ecosystem for delivering stories, whether true or false, that protect the team, reinforce its beliefs, attack opponents, and refute any claims that might threaten ‘our’ team from outsiders.” Referring to the orgy-island story, the authors note that “not one right-wing outlet came out to criticize and expose this blatant lie for what it was. In the grip of the propaganda feedback loop, the right-wing media ecosystem had no mechanism for self-correction, and instead exhibited dynamics of self-reinforcement, confirmation, and repetition so that readers, viewers and listeners encountered multiple versions of the same story, over months, to the point that both recall and credibility were enhanced.”

“Network Propaganda” does refute some favorite liberal explanations for the results of the 2016 election.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 4:10 pm

Nuclear Safety Board Slams Energy Department Plan to Weaken Oversight

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Rebecca Moss reports for the Santa Fe Mexican in ProPublica:

A new Department of Energy order that could be used to withhold information from a federal nuclear safety board and prevent the board from overseeing worker safety at nuclear facilities appears to violate longstanding provisions in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, the board’s members said Tuesday.

Members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, both Democrats and Republicans, were united in their criticism of the Energy Department’s order, published in mid-May. It prevents the board from accessing sensitive information, imposes additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandates that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board.

The Santa Fe New Mexican and ProPublica first reported on the order’s existence in July but the board called for a special hearing, saying its members had no formal input before the document was finalized.

At that hearing in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning, the first of three on the topic, officials from the Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile, said the changes were largely innocuous and were necessary to update a 17-year-old guidance manual.

“It certainly is not intended to harm” the relationship between the department and the board, said William (Ike) White, chief of staff and associate principal deputy administrator for the nuclear security administration. He said the changes are designed to ensure agency leaders “have ownership and accountability for the decisions they make.”

But board members said such statements were at odds with the language of the order, which outlines broad restrictions and could exclude thousands of Department of Energy workers from the board’s safety oversight.

“To me the primary question is, is [the order] consistent with the Atomic Energy Act?” asked acting board chairman Bruce Hamilton. “In my view, it is not.”

Board members also questioned whether the department was systematically changing its approach to nuclear safety, which agency officials denied.

Already, the order has been cited in denying the board access to information about safety studies related to explosives at the Pantex Plant in Texas, and about a worker’s complaint and the reclassification of explosive reactions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a technical expert for the board said.

The five-member board, which currently has one vacancy, was formed in 1988 near the close of the Cold War, as the public and Congress began to question the lack of accountability at the Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies. Since the end of the Manhattan Project, the agencies had made their own rules and been largely self-regulating. Negligent safety practices contributed to cancer and other illnesses in nuclear workers exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals without proper protections, studies have shown.

Under the law, the board was granted wide access to information in order to make nuclear safety recommendations and add a layer of accountability and transparency to the Energy Department.

The Department of Energy has attempted to limit the safety board’s oversight function for more than a decade, but pressure has increased within the past year, advocates of the board say. Last summer, for example, the board’s then-chairman, who had been elevated into that role by the Trump administration, proposed dissolving the board entirely. A few months later, the National Nuclear Security Administration said the board should stop publishing weekly reports on issues at national laboratories because they were unflattering, citing media articles that referenced the reports. Neither one of those steps was implemented.

The Energy Department did not consult with the board, workers’ unions or residents who live near nuclear facilities before issuing the order, board members said. However, several private contractors who run national laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, were consulted, according to a memo referenced at the hearing.

Board member Joyce Connery said nuclear facilities are under stress because of aging buildings and staff turnover, even as they are called upon to greatly expand the production of nuclear weapons. This work is largely planned for New Mexico and South Carolina. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 3:35 pm

The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages

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Judith Thurman writes in the New Yorker:

Last May, Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, flew to Malta for a week to learn Maltese. He had a hefty grammar book in his backpack, but he didn’t plan to open it unless he had to. “We’ll do this as I would in the Amazon,” he told me, referring to his fieldwork as a linguist. Our plan was for me to observe how he went about learning a new language, starting with “hello” and “thank you.”

Rojas-Berscia is a twenty-seven-year-old Peruvian with a baby face and spiky dark hair. A friend had given him a new pair of earrings, which he wore on Malta with funky tank tops and a chain necklace. He looked like any other laid-back young tourist, except for the intense focus—all senses cocked—with which he takes in a new environment. Linguistics is a formidably cerebral discipline. At a conference in Nijmegen that had preceded our trip to Malta, there were papers on “the anatomical similarities in the phonatory apparati of humans and harbor seals” and “hippocampal-dependent declarative memory,” along with a neuropsychological analysis of speech and sound processing in the brains of beatboxers. Rojas-Berscia’s Ph.D. research, with the Shawi people of the Peruvian rain forest, doesn’t involve fMRI data or computer modelling, but it is still arcane to a layperson. “I’m developing a theory of language change called the Flux Approach,” he explained one evening, at a country inn outside the city, over the delicious pannenkoeken (pancakes) that are a local specialty. “A flux is a dynamism that involves a social fact and an impact, either functionally or formally, in linguistic competence.”

Linguistic competence, as it happens, was the subject of my own interest in Rojas-Berscia. He is a hyperpolyglot, with a command of twenty-two living languages (Spanish, Italian, Piedmontese, English, Mandarin, French, Esperanto, Portuguese, Romanian, Quechua, Shawi, Aymara, German, Dutch, Catalan, Russian, Hakka Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Guarani, Farsi, and Serbian), thirteen of which he speaks fluently. He also knows six classical or endangered languages: Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Shiwilu, Muniche, and Selk’nam, an indigenous tongue of Tierra del Fuego, which was the subject of his master’s thesis. We first made contact three years ago, when I was writing about a Chilean youth who called himself the last surviving speaker of Selk’nam. How could such a claim be verified? Pretty much only, it turned out, by Rojas-Berscia.

Superlative feats have always thrilled average mortals, in part, perhaps, because they register as a victory for Team Homo Sapiens: they redefine the humanly possible. If the ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes can run three hundred and fifty miles without sleep, he may inspire you to jog around the block. If Rojas-Berscia can speak twenty-two languages, perhaps you can crank up your high-school Spanish or bat-mitzvah Hebrew, or learn enough of your grandma’s Korean to understand her stories. Such is the promise of online language-learning programs like Pimsleur, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo: in the brain of every monolingual, there’s a dormant polyglot—a genie—who, with some brisk mental friction, can be woken up. I tested that presumption at the start of my research, signing up on Duolingo to learn Vietnamese. (The app is free, and I was curious about the challenges of a tonal language.) It turns out that I’m good at hello—chào—but thank you, cảm ơn, is harder.

The word “hyperpolyglot” was coined two decades ago, by a British linguist, Richard Hudson, who was launching an Internet search for the world’s greatest language learner. But the phenomenon and its mystique are ancient. In Acts 2 of the New Testament, Christ’s disciples receive the Holy Spirit and can suddenly “speak in tongues” (glōssais lalein, in Greek), preaching in the languages of “every nation under heaven.” According to Pliny the Elder, the Greco-Persian king Mithridates VI, who ruled twenty-two nations in the first century B.C., “administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue in each of them.” Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra “very seldom had need of an interpreter,” and was the only monarch of her Greek dynasty fluent in Egyptian. Elizabeth I also allegedly mastered the tongues of her realm—Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, and Irish, plus six others.

With a mere ten languages, Shakespeare’s Queen does not qualify as a hyperpolyglot; the accepted threshold is eleven. The prowess of Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849) is more astounding and better documented. Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal, was fluent in at least thirty languages and studied another forty-two, including, he claimed, Algonquin. In the decades that he lived in Rome, as the chief custodian of the Vatican Library, notables from around the world dropped by to interrogate him in their mother tongues, and he flitted as nimbly among them as a bee in a rose garden. Lord Byron, who is said to have spoken Greek, French, Italian, German, Latin, and some Armenian, in addition to his immortal English, lost a cursing contest with the Cardinal and afterward, with admiration, called him a “monster.” Other witnesses were less enchanted, comparing him to a parrot. But his gifts were certified by an Irish scholar and a British philologist, Charles William Russell and Thomas Watts, who set a standard for fluency that is still useful in vetting the claims of modern Mezzofantis: Can they speak with an unstilted freedom that transcends rote mimicry?

Mezzofanti, the son of a carpenter, picked up Latin by standing outside a seminary, listening to the boys recite their conjugations. Rojas-Berscia, by contrast, grew up in an educated trilingual household. His father is a Peruvian businessman, and the family lives comfortably in Lima. His mother is a shop manager of Italian origin, and his maternal grandmother, who cared for him as a boy, taught him Piedmontese. He learned English in preschool and speaks it impeccably, with the same slight Latin inflection—a trill of otherness, rather than an accent—that he has in every language I can vouch for. Maltese had been on his wish list for a while, along with Uighur and Sanskrit. “What happens is this,” he said, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Nijmegen, where he was chatting in Mandarin with the owner and in Dutch with a server, while alternating between French and Spanish with a fellow-student at the institute. “I’m an amoureux de langues. And, when I fall in love with a language, I have to learn it. There’s no practical motive—it’s a form of play.” An amoureux, one might note, covets his beloved, body and soul.

My own modest competence in foreign languages (I speak three) is nothing to boast of in most parts of the world, where multilingualism is the norm. People who live at a crossroads of cultures—Melanesians, South Asians, Latin-Americans, Central Europeans, sub-Saharan Africans, plus millions of others, including the Maltese and the Shawi—acquire languages without considering it a noteworthy achievement. Leaving New York, on the way to the Netherlands, I overheard a Ghanaian taxi-driver chatting on his cell phone in a tonal language that I didn’t recognize. “It’s Hausa,” he told me. “I speak it with my father, whose family comes from Nigeria. But I speak Twi with my mom, Ga with my friends, some Ewe, and English is our lingua franca. If people in Chelsea spoke one thing and people in SoHo another, New Yorkers would be multilingual, too.”

Linguistically speaking, that taxi-driver is a more typical citizen of the globe than the average American is. Consider Adul Sam-on, one of the teen-age soccer players rescued last July from the cave in Mae Sai, Thailand. Adul grew up in dire poverty on the porous Thai border with Myanmar and Laos, where diverse populations intersect. His family belongs to an ethnic minority, the Wa, who speak an Austroasiatic language that is also widespread in parts of China. In addition to Wa, according to the Times, Adul is “proficient” in Thai, Burmese, Mandarin, and English—which enabled him to interpret for the two British divers who discovered the trapped team.

Nearly two billion people study English as a foreign language—about four times the number of native speakers. And apps like Google Translate make it possible to communicate, almost anywhere, by typing conversations into a smartphone (presuming your interlocutor can read). Ironically, however, as the hegemony of English decreases the need to speak other languages for work or for travel, the cachet attached to acquiring them seems to be growing. There is a thriving online community of ardent linguaphiles who are, or who aspire to become, polyglots; for inspiration, they look to Facebook groups, YouTube videos, chat rooms, and language gurus like Richard Simcott, a charismatic British hyperpolyglot who orchestrates the annual Polyglot Conference. This gathering has been held, on various continents, since 2009, and it attracts hundreds of aficionados. The talks are mostly in English, though participants wear nametags listing the languages they’re prepared to converse in. Simcott’s winkingly says “Try Me.”

No one becomes a hyperpolyglot by osmosis, or without sacrifice—it’s a rare, herculean feat. Rojas-Berscia, who gave up a promising tennis career that interfered with his language studies, reckons that there are “about twenty of us in Europe, and we all know, or know of, one another.” He put me in touch with a few of his peers, including Corentin Bourdeau, a young French linguist whose eleven languages include Wolof, Farsi, and Finnish; and Emanuele Marini, a shy Italian in his forties, who runs an export-import business and speaks almost every Slavic and Romance language, plus Arabic, Turkish, and Greek, for a total of nearly thirty. Neither willingly uses English, resenting its status as a global bully language—its prepotenza, as Marini put it to me, in Italian. Ellen Jovin, a dynamic New Yorker who has been described as the “den mother” of the polyglot community, explained that her own avid study of languages—twenty-five, to date—“is almost an apology for the dominance of English. Polyglottery is an antithesis to linguistic chauvinism.”

Much of the data on hyperpolyglots is still sketchy. But, from a small sample of prodigies who have been tested by neurolinguists, responded to online surveys, or shared their experience in forums, a partial profile has emerged. An extreme language learner has a more-than-random chance of being a gay, left-handed male on the autism spectrum, with an autoimmune disorder, such as asthma or allergies. (Endocrine research, still inconclusive, has investigated the hypothesis that these traits may be linked to a spike in testosterone during gestation.) “It’s true that L.G.B.T. people are well represented in our community,” Simcott told me, when we spoke in July. “And a lot identify as being on the spectrum, some mildly, others more so. It was a subject we explored at the conference last year.

Simcott himself is an ambidextrous, heterosexual, and notably outgoing forty-one-year-old. He lives in Macedonia with his wife and daughter, a budding polyglot of eleven, who was, he told me, trilingual at sixteen months. His own parents were monolingual, though he was fascinated, as a boy, “by the different ways people spoke English.” (Like Henry Higgins, Simcott can nail an accent to a precise point on the map, not only in the British Isles but all over Europe.) “I’m mistaken for a native in about six languages,” he told me, even though he started slow, learning French in grade school and Spanish as a teen-ager. At university, he added Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Old Icelandic. His flawless German, acquired post-college, as an au pair, made Dutch a cinch.

As Simcott entered late adolescence, he said, “the Internet was starting up,” so he could practice his languages in chat rooms. He also found a sense of identity that had eluded him. There was, in particular, a mysterious polyglot who haunted the same rooms. “He was the first person who really encouraged me,” Simcott said. “Everyone else either warned me that my brain would burst or saw me as a talking horse. Eventually, I made a video using bits and bobs of sixteen languages, so I wouldn’t have to keep performing.” But the stranger gave Simcott a validation that he still recalls with emotion. He founded the conference partly to pay that debt forward, by creating a clubhouse for the kind of geeky kid he had been, to whom no tongue was foreign but no place was home. . .

Continue reading.

I’ll remind language learners that learning Esperanto as one’s first foreign language seems to help in learning the second language (generally the target language for the learner—e.g., learning Esperanto first in order to learn German better). But the article “Esperanto ne nepre helpas lingvolernadon” (in Libera Folio) says that isn’t necessarily so.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 3:31 pm

Chart of the Day: Democrats and the White Working Class

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Kevin Drum offers up a puzzler:

Here’s a chart for you to ponder over:

Between 1992 and 2008, the identification of the white working class with the Democratic Party stayed pretty stable. No matter who the presidential candidate was—Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or Obama—they were about evenly split beween identifying Democratic and identifying Republican.

That was true all the way up to 2008, when Obama was first elected. But then the white working class suddenly defected to the Republican Party in huge numbers. By 2010, net Democratic ID was -12 percent. By 2012 it was -14 percent. By 2015 it was -22 percent. And by 2016 it was -25 percent.

This all started in 2010, so it wasn’t caused by Mitt Romney. The second plummet started in 2014, so it wasn’t caused by Donald Trump. Fox News got its start in 1996, so it seems unlikely that they were the proximate cause. So what’s your guess? What happened between 2010 and 2015 that suddenly caused the white working class to abandon the Democratic Party in large numbers?

Hmm. I can think of one reason.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:32 am

John McCain’s Death Brought Out the Worst in the Trump Administration

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David Graham writes in the Atlantic:

You can tell a lot about a person, and a presidential administration, by the way they handle small, symbolic things. The White House’s handling of the American flag in the aftermath of Senator John McCain’s death is providing a good test of the Trump team.

The episode has managed to combine most of the worst aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency: pettiness as a major motivating force for administration policy, a preference for sowing division over unity, disdain for tradition and norms, chaotic decision making, and an ultimate tendency to surrender.

As my colleague Russell Berman has written, McCain and Trump had a contentious relationship, and that spilled into the president’s reaction to the Arizona senator’s death. After McCain, a fellow Republican, died on Saturday, the president tweeted a terse condolence to his family, with nothing about the man himself. The Washington Post then reported that Trump had nixed an official White House statement about McCain.

On Monday, matters reached peak pettiness, as the White House raised its American flag to full-staff, while other flags around Washington remained at half-staff. This follows strict protocol—which mandates the flag be lowered the day of a senator’s death and the day after—but was widely viewed as a snub, since a president can, and often does, override rules in moments like this. During a brief White House appearance, Trump folded his arms, glowered, and remained silent as reporters asked him about McCain.

Finally, late Monday afternoon, the White House’s flag was lowered back to half-staff. Trump also issued a proclamation calling for flags to remain lowered until the day McCain is buried. He said in a statement that he had asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a Capitol ceremony honoring McCain, and would dispatch his chief of staff, John Kelly; defense secretary, James Mattis; and national-security adviser, John Bolton, to attend McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. (Left unsaid was the fact that the president was conspicuously not invited to the funeral.)

Yet even there, Trump couldn’t resist a dig at McCain. His statement began, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:20 am

Omega small silvertip, Meißner Tremonia Woody Almond, RazoRock Game Changer, and Speick EDT

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Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond has a strong (and pleasant fragrance). The almond smell is very present, with the cedar detectable. It’s a shaving paste, and the lather I made with the baby Omega silvertip was excellent.

RazoRock’s Game Changer is a first-rate razor: easily got a BBS result with not only no problems, but not even a mild threat of a problem: a very comfortable razor.

A few sprays of Speick EDT into the palm, rub hands together, and rub it on my face as an aftershave. It works well.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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