16 June 2010


DIALECTS. Things just keep getting more and more overtly racist in Arizona. Now there's a move afoot to ban teachers who have a detectable accent from teaching. WTF? This is so egregiously discriminatory against those whose native language happens to be Spanish (and who is likely to have a marginally darker skin than the white bigots who are pushing for this change) that lawsuits are (I dearly hope) inevitable.

We ALL speak with an accent. (See the map above, click to enlarge. It is highly simplified and does not even begin to portray all the hundreds of English dialects in the US.) America is so linguistically varied that sometimes a resident from one part of the country has trouble understanding a resident from another part, even though they are both speaking Americanized English. Our regional dialects are so diverse that a native Southerner can tell you from which Southern state you originate, just from listening to your accent.

So who gets to play god and decree what accent is "real" American, and what accent is not? In my book, NO ONE. All it takes is an open mind and a little re-tooling of our listening expectations, and anyone can understand English spoken by a person from Ireland, France, Italy, Japan, India, Russia, or even freaking Arizona.

WILDEBEESTS. Olivia Judson reports that there is an environmental catastrophe brewing in Tanzania. The country wishes to build a road which would bisect a designated wilderness area which contains the route of the last large land migration on earth, that of the wildebeest (see map above). The annual migration includes the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the contiguous Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Human encroachment on natural habitat is endemic throughout the world. Roads are especially harmful -- they fragment habitat, disrupt animal movements, create the probability of lethal collisions between vehicles and wildlife, allow the spread of invasive plant species and animal diseases, and encourage animal poaching and human building in pristine natural surroundings.

Judson is puzzled by the plan, since Tanzania has heretofore has had an exemplary record for protecting wildlife. Further, building the road around the south end of the park would allow for five times the volume of traffic. The wildebeest migration (which includes zebras and gazelles) defines the Serengeti ecosystem. The loss of one would lead to the loss of the other. Please read her article -- she is a gifted and articulate naturalist.

BABY BOOMERS. I was born in 1947, the peak year of the post-World War II baby boom generation (see graph below, click to enlarge). We boomers have take a lot of undeserved heat over the years for our purported self-indulgences and sense of entitlement. In actuality, we've been a remarkably creative and politically astute bunch, the wellspring of the counterculture of the 1960s, and a driving force behind the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, women's rights, the list goes on. Never count us out. Of the current US population of 307 million, boomers now account for over 78 million, or 25 per cent. That's a pretty major demographic.

Now, vindication is at hand. An article in the NYTimes describes how those very traits and others are actually much more pronounced in the generations which followed the baby boom -- so much so that for all appearances, children are taking an extra decade just to functionally grow up. Through recorded history, each generation has been increasingly dismayed by the choices if its offspring. And the beat goes on ............

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