Why bilinguals are smarter
Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalised world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people.
Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles.
The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.
These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention wilfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.
The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).
Extract from Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, “Why bilinguals are smarter”, New York Times, March 17, 2012.
If white British women were being forced to marry men they had never met, in a country they had never visited, there would be a national outcry. We would call it trafficking. But some liberals justify the practice as “cultural” when it involves Muslims and oppose making it a criminal offence.
(British Conservative Prime Minister) David Cameron has described forced marriage as “little more than slavery” and, together with his Home Secretary Theresa May, is keen to criminalise the practice (though the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister claims it is not on the department’s agenda).
The debate about criminalisation began in November 2001, only weeks after 9/11. Patricia Hewitt, then Minister for Women, announced a “project” to “eliminate” forced marriages in Britain’s Asian communities. Hewitt argued that the fear of being accused of racism had stopped politicians from confronting cultural beliefs that were “unacceptable in Western societies”.
She said it was time to “go beyond multiculturalism” and call for a reinforcement of essential British values. But there was resistance from some within the Muslim community who did not accept that forced marriage should be dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Therein lies the liberals’ dilemma. They don’t want to single out the Muslim community for criticism but end up supporting the patriarchs and condemning young women to a life of unhappiness and servitude. They should know better.
Extract from Julie Bindel, “Forced marriages dishonour Britain”, Standpoint (UK), January/February 2012.
Once again, Europe has a country at its centre that is too big for its neighbours. Merely by keeping on its best behaviour, Germany has managed to reawaken the historic “German problem”. It has succeeded its way into a crisis.
Ever since Greece’s finances became a matter of public concern just over two years ago, Germany has been regaining its status as the leading power in Europe. It subjected itself almost a decade ago to a painful reform of its welfare state and a freeze in real wages that has made it as competitive an exporter as any country in the world, including China.
Now Germany’s economy is better balanced than those of other European countries, its reputation for honest accounting stands higher, and it has kept its triple-A credit rating while France, Austria and others have been downgraded.
Germany is in a predicament. On the one hand, it wants to show itself a good European partner, just as it did throughout the Kohl era. Europe’s ruling elites insist on it.
On the other hand, Germany cannot surrender its veto over changes in its economic policy. It cannot submit to a eurobond, or any pooling of debt that would allow the southern European countries to make free with Germany’s money.
Extract from Christopher Caldwell, “We’re good Europeans yet they all hate us”, Standpoint (UK), April 2012.
Why the left loves the Titanic disaster
The Titanic storyline embraced by left-leaning filmmakers, writers and university professors is right out of Das Kapital.
Above all, leftist ideologues vilify the Titanic’s rich first-class passengers. They falsely claim they got first crack at lifeboats — and as a consequence, passengers in second class and steerage died in large numbers.
The Hollywood narrative makes for good entertainment. But it ignores the fact that many of the Titanic’s first-class passengers — the “1 percenters” of their day — voluntarily went down aboard the ship so that women and children could get aboard lifeboats.
Consider first-class passenger Benjamin Guggenheim, 46, the scion of the Guggenheim fortune. As ice-cold water flooded through a gash in the ship’s hull, he was overhead to say that he and other social elites had “dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen”.
He passed along a message to a survivor, stating: “Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”
In all classes, as the literary scholar Stephen Cox has underscored in an essay and an excellent book, moral choices cut across social lines: “Individual responses aside, there are surprises in the statistics. For example, women in third class were significantly more likely to survive than first-class men: 46 versus 33 per cent.”
Extract from David Paulin, “Why the left loves the Titanic disaster”, American Thinker, April 15, 2012.