Hi, this is Gerry and welcome to my News Digest for Friday 13th November, 2009. I hope you're all coping with the miserable November weather - it's miserable here, at least. The only upside  that I can offer you is that the bad weather may make you smarter. That's what an Australian psychologist thinks at least. But before we turn to him, what about synaesthesia? That's when two of your senses seem to be linked in a special way. Do numbers have colours for you, for example? Then there's an inspiring story about a young American sportsman who's in Britain at the moment. And some thoughts about the origins of the name America. Everybody knows where it is but nobody's quite sure where it came from. If you see what I mean.
"When I hear the name of my girlfriend, Jeanette, I get a little taste of bacon." I heard that on the radio the other day when a man called James Wannerton was talking about his condition of lexical-gustatory synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is the name for a condition where two of a person's different senses are linked. Mr Wannerton has a very rare form of this condition. When he hears a word it triggers his sense of taste . This, as I said, is unusual, but it's relatively common for people to have their visual sense linked with words, letters or numbers. My wife, for example, sees in her mind the days of the week having different colours. Monday's white, Tuesday orange, Wednesday green, Thursday purple, Friday's a bit blank, but Saturday's red and Sunday yellow. And she claims that she has always "known" this; she's always had this firm association. Other people see numbers as having colours, or being arranged in a certain shape. My wife, for example again, sees things like telephone numbers or bank account numbers grouped in a certain way - and differently from the way that I've memorised them. So for her, our bank account number is grouped into pairs of digits , whereas I know it grouped into threes. This means that when she recites  the number, I don't recognise it.
So where's the dividing line between a technique for remembering something, such as imagining a number written in a certain way, and the phenomenon of synaesthesia which is uncontrolled? Something that appears to happen automatically, without any conscious will? Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we can now see, using brain imaging techniques that in the case of synaesthesia different areas of the brain that are associated with different senses are somehow automatically and consistently cross-activated. Someone who experiences synaesthesia has strong and stable  associations across the senses. So they always see the colour when they hear the sound, for example, and have done so for as long as they can remember.
The most common forms of synaesthesia are the ones that my wife experiences: colours for the days of the week, but also for months, numbers or letters. Other relatively frequent forms are seeing numbers or the alphabet in a particular shape, for example a circular shape, or a winding line . Another interesting condition related to synaesthesia is that the letters of the alphabet or numbers have particular personalities.
There are some famous artists that probably experienced synaesthesia such as Wassily Kandinsky, the painter, Vladimir Nabokov, the writer, Olivier Messiaen, the composer, or Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher. It's an interesting condition because it's a sort of extra rather than a handicap. Nobody knows for sure what causes it - it seems to run in families. For me, it sounds like something that small children might have - part of the rich sensory world that they inhabit - but which gets pushed out when they are taught to develop their rational sides. I wonder how many of you listening enjoy some aspect of synaesthesia. There are probably more of you than we might imagine.
My sports news item this week is not another strange new game for you but the profile of a young man who plays America's most popular sport - well, at least in terms of money. American football. The NFL, the National Football League is America's wealthiest  league. This young man hasn't played yet in the NFL, though. He played college football for Florida State University and was easily good enough to make the draft  for the professional league. This is how American sport works. The best young athletes play their basketball or their football for a college and then the best are picked for a professional career. College sport is almost as popular as the professional game with stadiums holding 50,000 or even 100,000 fans.
Before I tell you a bit more about this young man, a word about the way American professional football is organised. In European football we have different leagues and each year some teams are relegated  to the league below and some teams are promoted  to take their place. In American sport, this isn't the case. Each year they always have the same teams, but to make sure that it's not always the same teams that win each season, all the teams get together at the end of the year and they share out the new young players between them. The weakest teams this year get the first choice of the new young players for next year. In that way the strongest teams can't automatically cement  their position by buying the best young players on the market.
The young man that I want to tell you about is called Myron Rolle, and he'll be one of the young players that all the clubs will be interested in if and when he presents himself for the professional draft. Europeans tend to think that the guys that play sport in American colleges are only there to do that. They don't expect them to be good academic students as well. But Myron Rolle certainly puts paid to that old prejudice . The reason why he's not going to be playing professional football this year is because he's a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University here in the UK. Every year the Rhodes Trust awards scholarships  to students from around the world to follow a postgraduate programme at Oxford. The Trust is named after Cecil Rhodes, the man who created the de Beers diamond company in South Africa amongst other things. He was a businessman, politician and colonialist in Southern Africa in the second half of the 19th century. He even created a colony named after him, Rhodesia: today divided into Zambia and Zimbabwe. The greatest number of Rhodes scholars who come to Oxford today are American. There are about 30 a year. And the most famous one in recent times is probably Bill Clinton.
Myron Rolle has won one of these prestigious  scholarships. He's going to do a Masters degree, and he hopes to pursue further studies in medicine or neuroscience in the future; after his footballing career, because he still wants to play in the NFL when he returns to the States. His parents were immigrants to America from the Bahamas. He's the youngest of five brothers and all of them have been to college and have careers in the law, in finance and other well-earning  professions. If you read this young man's biography, it seems there's nothing that he hasn't done. Apart from excellent results in both school and sport, he also starred in his high school musical and all through school and college he's been involved in charitable work. He now has his own foundation to help young people and families in need. What a young man! With this sort of start, he could be a world leader one day. Remember the name: Myron Rolle.
And while we're on the subject of a young American, what about the question of the origin of the name America? Why is America called America? For many years it wasassumed  that it was named after one of the first people to travel there from Europe, namely Amerigo Vespucci. The very first map that we are aware of that actually showed America as being a separate continent from Asia was published in 1507 by two German cartographers called Waldseemüller and Ringman. They labelled the new continent America. Was it named after Vespucci? Nobody knows. Some people argue  today, that you don't name a place after somebody's first name, but after their family name, such as Tasmania, or Bolivia. There are so many theories about the origin of the name and they reflect the history of the continent. For example, there's a theory that the name derives from  a Carib word for a range of mountains in Nicaragua: something like Amerrique. The Caribs were the first people that Columbus encountered. But there are other theories that the name has its origins in the name given to North America by the Vikings who crossed the Atlantic long before Columbus. And then there's the theory that, in fact, the name derives from a Welshman. A Welsh merchant living in Bristol in the West of England financed the voyage of John Cabot, or Giovanni Caboto in 1497 to North America. Cabot arrived in Newfoundland, part of modern Canada. This Welsh merchant was called Richard ap Meyric. And the theory goes that Cabot came back and named the place he had found America in honour of his patron. It's unlikely  that we will ever know for certain how America got its name.
Finally, what do you make of this recent headline: Feeling grumpy  'is good for you'. It seems that an Australian psychologist managed to devise  an experiment in which he could show that people who are in a grumpy mood think more clearly than happy, jolly  types. Grumpy people are less gullible , they're more clear-thinking and they make better decisions. "While cheerfulness fosters  creativity, gloominess  breeds  attentiveness  and careful thinking", says Professor Joe Forgas. He also claims to have found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments: a "mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, ... and ultimately more successful communication style". Is this the secret of Northern Europeans' success? I mean, the Swiss don't have a reputation for being the most light-hearted of people, do they? And on that provocative note, I'd better finish for today. This professor, by the way, in earlier work also showed that the weather has a similar impact on us - wet, dreary  days sharpened memory , while bright sunny spells make people forgetful. And on that basis, I won't have any problem in remembering my next date with you in two weeks if the weather stays like it is at present. So till then you can choose to be grumpy and smart, or happy and not so worried about getting everything right. Just take care!
 upside: positive aspect (of a bad situation), advantage (example: the upside of being ill is that you don't have to go to work)  triggers his sense of taste: causes him to taste something  digits: the numbers from 0-9 (the digits of a number are like the letters of word)  recites: here: says  stable: unchanging, consistent  winding line: curving, bending line (not straight)  wealthiest: richest  make the draft: succeed in being included in the number of players selected (to play the professional game); see later in the text for details  relegated: here: sent to a lower league  promoted: here: sent to a higher league  cement: here: make (their position) stronger  puts paid to that old prejudice: pemanently stops people having those old thoughts  awards scholarships: gives money to enable people to come and study  prestigious: something that brings admiration and respect  well-earning: with high salaries  it was assumed: people believed even if it was not certain  argue: here: give a reason in a discussion  derives from: comes from, has its origin in  unlikely: improbable  grumpy: bad-tempered (a grumpy person complains a lot)  devise: invent and plan  jolly: happy, laughing, good-humoured  gullible: easy to trick (you can make a gullible person believe something that isn't true)  fosters: here: help (creativity) develop  gloominess: being gloomy, sad, unhappy, miserable  breeds: here: creates, helps develop  attentiveness: being attentive, listening or watching carefully  dreary: here: dark and miserable  sharpened memory: made (you) remember better