Being Bilingual Increases “Cognitive Reserve”


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

At first glance the graph and the text quoted below seem inconsistent on whether bilingualism delays the onset of dementia. The text says no, the graph says yes. On closer reading, the text is referring to the “physical signs of deterioration” while the graph is referring to “visible symptoms.”

(p. D1) A lifetime of speaking two or more languages appears to pay off in old age, with recent research showing the symptoms of dementia can be delayed by an average of four years in bilingual people.

Multilingualism doesn’t delay the onset of dementia–the brains of people who speak multiple languages still show physical signs of deterioration–but the process of speaking two or more languages appears to enable people to develop skills to better cope with the early symptoms of memory-robbing diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Scientists for years studied children and found that fluently speaking more than one language takes a lot of mental work. Compared with people who speak only one language, bilingual children and young adults have slightly smaller vocabularies and are slower performing certain verbal tasks, such as naming lists of animals or fruits.
But over time, regularly speaking more than one language appears to strengthen skills that boost the brain’s so-called cognitive reserve, a capacity to work even when stressed or damaged. This build-up of cognitive reserve appears to help bilingual people as they age.

For the full story, see:
SHIRLEY S. WANG. “Building a More Resilient Brain.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 12, 2010): D1 & D2.

How Scientific Progress Was Slowed By Too Much Respect for Aristotelian Theory

William Rosen has a wonderful early example of how too much respect for theory can keep us from making the observations that would eventually prove the theory to be wrong:

(p. 7) Aristotle argued against the existence of a vacuum with unerring, though curiously inelegant, logic. His primary argument ran something like this:

1. If empty space can be measured, then it must have dimension.
2. If it has dimension, then it must be a body (this is something of a tautology: by Aristotelian definition, bodies are things that have dimension).
3. Therefore, anything moving into such a previously empty space would he occupying the same space simultaneously, and two bodies cannot do so.
More persuasive was the argument that a void is unnecessary, that since the fundamental character of an object consists of those measurable dimensions, then a void with the same dimensions as the cup, or horse, or ship occupying it is no different from the object. One, therefore, is redundant, and since the object cannot be superfluous, the void must be.
It takes millennia to recover from that sort of unassailable logic, temptingly similar to that used in Monty Python and the Holy GraiI to demonstrate that if a woman weighs as much as a duck, she is a witch. Aristotle’s blind spot regarding the existence of a void would be inherited by a hundred generations of his adherents. Those who read the work of Heron did so through an Aristotelian scrim on which was printed, in metaphorical letters twenty feet high: NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.
(Note: italics in original.)

Chinese Government Fines BYD and Seizes BYD Factory Site

WangMungerBuffettBYD2010-10-23.jpg“BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu, left, at a celebration last month in Shenzhen city with Berkshire Hathaway’s Charles Munger, center, and Warren Buffett.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) BEIJING–China’s central government ordered BYD Co. to surrender land in a zoning dispute, a decision that is likely to slow the Chinese battery and auto maker’s push to expand in the nation’s growing auto market.

China’s Ministry of Land and Resources also hit BYD with a 2.95 million yuan ($442,000) fine, the ministry said on its website Wednesday. The ministry confiscated 121 acres of land in the central Chinese city of Xian, where BYD executives said the company has been building a car assembly plant. BYD had hoped to start production at the complex as early as next year.
The ministry said zoning for the land was “illegally adjusted” to industrial use from agricultural use but didn’t elaborate. The decision comes as some government officials have shown concern about excess capacity in the auto industry.
. . .
Mid American Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owns 10% of BYD.

For the full story, see:
NORIHIKO SHIROUZU. “China Deals a Setback to BYD.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCTOBER 14, 2010): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the title “Beijing Halts Construction of BYD Auto Plant.”)

Private Property as the Guarantor of Free Speech

In the last year or two, some have called for government subsidized newspapers. Presumably they have never read Hayek, nor have they sufficiently pondered Liebling’s famous quip:

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Source: Abbott Joseph Liebling, The Press. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981, p. 32.
(Note: I believe that the 1981 Pantheon edition may be an exact reprint of the 1954 Ballantine Books edition. Also, I have not confirmed this, but have seen it claimed that the original location of this quote is Liebling’s essay “Do You Belong in Journalism?” New Yorker, 4 May 1960.)

Consumers Sack Noisy Green Bags


“Frito-Lay aims to quell complaints about SunChips bags by dumping the new bags for the old packaging.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.

The Omaha World-Herald ran a similar article to the WSJ article quoted below, in which they noted that the noisy Sun Chip bags are made from Inego which is a plastic made from corn at a Cargill facility in Blair, Nebraska.

(p. B8) Frito-Lay, the snack giant owned by PepsiCo Inc., says it is pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks, following an outcry from consumers who complained the new bags were too noisy.

Touted by Frito-Lay as 100% compostable, the packaging, made from biodegradable plant material, began hitting store shelves in January. Sales of the multigrain snack have since tumbled.
. . .
Consumers have posted videos on the Web poking fun at the new bags and lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites. Since January, year-on-year sales of Sun Chips have decreased each month, according to SymphonyIRI, a Chicago market-research firm that tracks sales at retailers.

For the full story, see:
SUZANNE VRANICA. “Sun Chips Bag to Lose Its Crunch.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCTOBER 6, 2010): B8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: I noticed the “sack” pun in a commentary by Eric Felton, WSJ, 10/8/2010.)

The Omaha World-Herald article mentioned above, is:
AP. “Frito-Lay Is Pulling Most Noisy Bags from Shelves.” Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, October 5, 2010): 1D & 2D.
(Note: the online version of the article has the title “Frito-Lay pulls most noisy bags.”)

Paleolithic Humans Ate Carbohydrates

(p. D4) LONDON (Reuters) — Starch grains found on 30,000-year-old grinding stones suggest that prehistoric humans may have dined on an early form of flatbread, contrary to their popular image as primarily meat eaters.

The findings, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on Monday, indicate that Paleolithic Europeans ground down plant roots similar to potatoes to make flour, which was later whisked into dough.
“It’s like a flatbread, like a pancake with just water and flour,” said Laura Longo, a researcher on the team, from the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History.
. . .
The findings may . . . upset fans of the so-called Paleolithic diet, which follows earlier research that assumes early humans ate a meat-centered diet.

For the full story, see:
REUTERS. “Paleolithic Humans Had Bread Along With Their Meat.” The New York Times (Tues., October 19, 2010): D4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 18, 2010.)

William Rosen’s “The Most Powerful Idea in the World”


Source of book image:

The range of William Rosen’s fascinating and useful book is very broad indeed. He is interested in THE question: why did the singular improvement in living standards known as the industrial revolution happen where and when it did?
The question is not just of historical interest—if we can figure out what caused the improvement then and there, we have a better shot at continuing to improve in the here and now.
I especially enjoyed and learned from William Rosen’s discussion, examples and quotations on the difficult issue of whether patents are on balance a good or bad institution.
Deirdre McCloskey taught me that the most important part of a sentence is the last word, and the most important part of a paragraph is the last sentence, and the most important part of a chapter is the last paragraph.
Here are the last couple of sentences of Rosen’s book:

(p. 324) Incised in the stone over the Herbert C. Hoover Building’s north entrance is the legend that, with Lincoln’s characteristic brevity, sums up the single most important idea in the world:




In the next few weeks I will occasionally quote a few of the more illuminating passages from Rosen’s well-written account.

Book discussed:
Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

Paternalistic Welfare State Discourages Integration of Immigrants

(p. A9) . . . Alf Svensson [is a] former leader of the center-right Christian Democrats.
. . .
Sweden’s paternalistic welfare state is partly to blame for some immigrants’ marginal status in the economy, said Mr. Svensson. “We had…a system which was ‘taking care’ of immigrants, which didn’t give them a chance to flex their own wings and show what they could do, and this has made integation worse,” he said.

For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER And CHARLES DUXBURY. “Far-Right Party Wins Seats in Sweden.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 20, 2010): A9.

(Note: bracketed words and first two ellipses added; last ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated SEPTEMBER 19, 2010.)