U and Non- U American Accents

Megan McArdle at the Atlantic has a post up on the all- but- vanished “Mid- Atlantic accent” of the old Eastern WASP upper class. This interests me because I remember it well, but I have the sense that it is virtually extinct. (Think George Plympton; William Buckley’s was a variant but very idiosyncratic.) Betsy Huntington had it in spades and didn’t know it; shortly before she got sick she heard a tape recording of herself and was caught somewhere between being amused and appalled: “My God, I sound like a lady from Philadelphia!” (Whatever THAT means!) I think it died between the generation that are sixtyish now (boomers) and the next cohort up.

A couple of Megan’s commentors had good things to say too:

“Take a moment to think about the sound of Hepburn, Roosevelt, Plimpton, and WFB. This is what’s commonly known as Mid-Atlantic, and was the preferred mode of pronunciation prior to WWII. At most schools this was how language was taught, and disseminated through media, thus aped by most of the public who wished to assimilate into polite society. It was a curious amalgam of American and English accents on words. After the war, however after many working class men found their way into the ascendant middle class via the GI bill, and spawned the infamous baby boom, the old received dialect of Queens English became stodgy and pretentious, dare we say, “elitist” – and a new Queens County English, if you will, was de rigeur. It is here that we find the shift from William Powell to Humphrey Bogart, from Fred Astaire to Frank Sinatra.”

Another in part: “…your native dialect is determined largely by who your peer group was as a child, and has very little to do with how your parents speak. And while exposure to other varieties and dialects can change how you speak to some extent (I spent several years overseas in an Anglophone country, and came back to strangers in my home town asking what country I was from), your speech will probably still be characterized mostly by your native dialect (I did not sound like a native to other people in the country I was living in while overseas).”

This last especially interests me: Bostonian, all private school, half my life in the rural west. I know no more than Betsy what I sound like, but I know my siblings think my accent odd.

Food and AR News

In Oakland you can have an actual farm, pigs and all.

But in Chicago, the banningest city in the US (pigeons, foie gras, handguns), HSUS wants to compel you to cut off your dogs’ gonads.

Of course they say it is a good thing. The Sportsman’s and Animal Owners Voting Alliance thinks differently:

“The distorted reasoning for this ordinance, as stated by Ald. Burke, is that the ordinance will increase public safety by targeting gangs and others that keep unsterilized dogs. It is beyond reason to think that anyone who engages in dog fighting, which is already a felony under Illinois state law, will obey a newly enacted spay/castration ordinance or submit to background checks to apply for a breeding permit.”

Yeah, right. And the same people are making the same arguments in this state.

Meanwhile, also in CA, they are firebombing medical researchers in their homes, while so- called non- violent associates claim it is justified. If someone gets killed– and they will– I hope it is one of the bad guys, but in California it is more likely to be the law abiding who is unarmed…

Science Links

Darren has been posting a series of utterly weird and alien cetacean skulls. Try here and here and especially here for my favorites, but they are all wonderful. He also weighs in on the “Montauk Monster”. Despite the hysteria I though it was a canid; he convinces me that it is likely another small carnivore.

John Farrell links to an ominous essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how, through feel- good curricula and “self esteem”, we are rapidly becoming a nation of scientific illiterates. Bill Gates wants more immigrant visas.

“Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of “Science as a Vocation,” and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

“At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as “whole persons” — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren’t among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who “feel good” about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

“The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature’s rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.


“The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with “identity.”


“The science “problems” we now ask students to think about aren’t really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.” Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.

“A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn’t a society that takes science education seriously.”

A serious RTWT piece.

Less seriously, Annie D had sent me a weird litle YouTube of the Pilobolus Ballet company which I have lost. But following the cyber back trails she came upon the lfe history of this fungal organism and its parasitic congeners. Parasite evolution is among the most fascinating things in nature.

This is the website of a wonderful new book showcasing the meeting point of art and science through the subject of birds. Artists include Vadim Gorbatov, Carel Brest van Kempen, Tom Quinn, Tony Angell, Lars Jonsson, and others who have been mentioned here. There are also iconic images of birds from the French caves to the 16th century portrait of Robert Cheseman with a (?) Gyr– I am not convinced by the authors’ argument that it is a Lanner unless Cheseman was four feet tall.

NIMBY (except it isn’t your back yard!)

You’ve probably see this one: Man plants cars to stake claim on farm property.

It’s funny, and it’s meant to be. But the larger issue surrounding it is not so funny. New suburban residential developments continue to invade rural areas, despite the higher costs of commuting that may ultimately make the McMansion an untenable concept.

An excerpt:

“The people who bought the homes say, ‘Well, we love looking into your yard and seeing the horses and the cattle, but we don’t like the flies, and we don’t like the mosquitoes,’ and when I cut my field to bale it, they say, ‘We don’t like the dust in the air,’ ” Davis said.

Davis said he offered to pay half the cost of a fence between his property and the others and to build it. He said his neighbors declined the offer, saying it would block their view.

Neighbors declined to comment to the Standard-Examiner of Ogden.

Davis said after the neighbors declined his offer, he used a backhoe to dig three large holes on the edge of his property, then took three cars that had competed in demolition derbies and planted them nose-first into the ground.

He said the cars were planted out of humor rather than spite. He said it’s important that new residents moving into the area realize that Hooper remains a farming community.

The area has grown recently with new residents who desire a country atmosphere but don’t want the smells and noises of farm life, Davis said….

Another Antikythera Mechanism Study

Not quite two years ago, I posted on the Antikythera Mechanism, a Hellenistic Greek “celestial computer” dating to 100 BC, recovered from a Mediterranean shipwreck. It appears to be a metal gear-driven device that allowed the ancient people to track and predict astronomical phenomena. It was recovered from the wreck almost 100 years ago, but modern advances in CT scan technology have allowed researchers to analyse the components found in this corroded mass of metal.

A new study just released reports that experts have been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism and have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad. They have also found clues that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, which may imply a connection with Archimedes.