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Archive for September, 2007

The Cat’s Out Of The Bag

I may have to change strategies:

It seems that a little bit of flirting – smiling, raising eyebrows, nodding – goes a long way towards attracting a woman, even outweighing the negative effects of some men’s antisocial nature. “Antisocial men can make up a lot of ground just by being flirtatious,” says psychologist Andrew Clark.

I’ve always prided myself on the fact that my ability to nod and raise my eyebrows evidently outweighed my severe anti-social behavior with women. Good think the womens don’t read anything other than Marie Claire and Cosmo or else they might wise up to my game.

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In other news, I’ve cleaned my flat, packed my bags, and am mentally prepared for my 6-hour train ride tomorrow to my new home in Rostock. In a few minutes I will join my fellow PPPlers for a bit of fellowship before we head our separate ways.

But before that I’m going to finish this inordinately strong cocktail in my hand–another tactic, incidentally, in my social strategery.

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De Hoge Veluwe

Last weekend I took a trip alone to Arnhem in the Netherlands. I originally wanted to go to Eindhoven because it is the city that the the 101st Airborne was supposed to capture during Operation Market Garden in World War II. Eindhoven was a little too expensive to get to, however, so I decided on Arnhem instead, which is where the British 1st Airborne dropped in during the same operation ( The film A Bridge Too Far is based on the struggle to capture the bridge in Arnhem.).

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Ironically though, the thing which drew me to Arnhem did not capture any of my attention once there. I read about a giant nature park north of Arnhem before I went and decided to make that my first destination upon arrival. Unfortunately since the park is so large and a bit out of town, by the time I returned to Arnhem proper it was time to leave–disappointing since I was looking forward to visiting the Airborne museum.

The park was nevertheless worth the time spent. Visitors can pick up a free bicycle at one of the gates and roam about the 40 km of trails to their heart’s content. I chose to ride around the circumference of the park, probably a distance of about 25 km. Along the ride I was treated to misty forests with lush moss carpeting the ground, large fields where one could see for kilometers in each direction, and even a giant sand dune. All can be seen in this video. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the mood I was in during the several hours of my ride, even if the video’s a little shaky since I was taking it on the fly.

Enjoy.

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Pros and Con-gnates

On balance, I’m not sure whether it’s easier to learn a language in the same family (like German and English) or if it’s easier to jump to a different branch of the tree and start learning, say, a Slavic language. Specifically, I’m thinking of how cognates, and even more specifically, “homophonic cognates” (which I’m quite sure is not a term) and Denglisch hinder and/or aid in understanding and attaining fluency in a language.

German and English have many cognates (words which share a similar root), a simple example of which would be “finger.” As is obvious, however, “finger” is also spelled the same in German and English and is pronounced almost identically (this is what I mean by a “homophonic cognate”). Furthermore, German and English also borrow many of the same words from French, Greek, and especially Latin, for example “religion” and “restaurant.”

One must also contend with Denglisch, which is the bastardization of the two languages. Germans might say, for example, that they just “gedownloadet”something.

My point with all this is that while phenomena like Denglisch, common borrowings, and homophonic cognates can all make understanding a foreign language easier (especially in the beginning) because many words look and mean the same thing in the mother tongue, they can also make speaking more difficult and unsure (at least for me). The latter statement may sound paradoxical, but when so many words sound and mean similar things, it’s easy to 1) say something correct but be unsure because it sounds made up, or 2) just conjure a new word out of thin air that somehow sounds German but is nowhere in the canon. Both can hinder truly mastering a language.

Thus I wonder if it might be easier to learn a language that has very little relationship to one’s a mother’s tongue when thinking only in the context of the phenomena above (i.e. holding everything else equal). My guess would be that initially it would be far harder to learn, but that fluency would come more suddenly and perhaps even more quickly.

Surely we must consider the borrowing of the word “zeitgeist” from German to be an altogether positive thing, however, no?

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And It’s Not Over Yet

This weekend I encountered many personal firsts: getting carded at a grocery store while purchasing kölsch,  stepping onto an U-bahn and seeing amazing quantities of human effluence all about the floor, traveling to the Netherlands, and riding a bike in Europe (well, this time around anyway).

Each of these had its pros and cons–even the vomit-strewn train ride was probably worth it just to be able to watch the expression on the faces of new passengers change from cautious excitement to abject disgust as they realized that all the free seats they were rushing towards had been abandoned for a reason.

Readers will be able to see a brief video of my bike ride in the Netherlands in the next few days. I would finish it today, but I’ve just decided to accomplish another first: I’m taking a train into town, finding a sunny park bench, reading the last 200 pages of Wealth Of Nations, and finally finishing my first book in Germany (again, this time around anyway).

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From a review of Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction:

Schumpeter “liked to disrupt faculty meetings by turning up late, still clad in jodhpurs and helmet from his daily horseback ride.” He would say in later years that his ambition was to become the world’s greatest economist, the world’s greatest lover, and the world’s greatest horseman. “Things are not going so well,” he would add, smiling, “with the horses.”

Schumpeter is responsible for developing the first theories of how entrepreneurship effects technological change and innovation in an economy–he even coined the German word “Unternehmergeist” (entrepreneur-spirit) to describe this agent of change–unfortunately his term lost out to the French one.

Schumpeter and I have at least two similarities: our birthday, Feb. 8, and our ambition–though admittedly I have yet to get too much into horse riding.

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According to some recent research, much of the 30 percent wealth gap betwixt Europeans and Americans can be explained by the fact that Americans work more. I’ll pause here to allow readers time come to terms with this mind-blowing revelation.

***

Why Americans work more, of course, becomes the germane question. The answer can be found in the following quote:

Today, unemployment risk is smaller in the US than in Europe, obtaining better jobs is easier, there are greater chances to move up the career ladder, and to get employed in highly paid jobs. This implies quite different incentives during the working life of American and European workers.

In other words, Americans work more than Europeans because Americans have a better chance of being rewarded for working more. At first glance this seems as obvious as the first observation, but higher wages and better opportunities don’t always induce people to work more–indeed, many might actually work less. The former response is called the “substitution effect” by economists and the latter response is termed the “income effect.” Both play a role in the labor-leisure trade-off.

Both are also intuitively easy to understand. If a person were to be given a raise, work might become more attractive relative to leisure and the person would work more. Alternatively, a raise allows one to work less hours and earn the same income as previously, so the person might work less–it’s simply a matter of preference, and often both work simultaneously. This study seems to give evidence that the substitution effect is stronger than the income effect in the United States.

Germany would do well to quicken the pace of its labor market reforms and rid itself of policies that distort wealth-producing incentives by not only discouraging workers from working more, but also by discouraging employers from hiring new workers in the first place.

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The Sacred Feminine

Take my advice and lose yourself in three moments of sublimity as you journey through five hundred years of women in Western art. Sit back, let the music soothe your soul, and simply follow the eyes….

And lest we get too carried away in our wonder of women, let us turn to Shakespeare:

SONNET 130
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

 

And yet, by heaven–and yet.

 

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