Monthly Archives: November 2005

Gettin’ Shet o’ Mah Accint

Macon.com carries an AP report on Southerners shifting their accents.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – “Y’all” isn’t welcome in Erica Tobolski’s class in voice and diction at the University of South Carolina. And forget about “fixin’,” as in getting ready to do something, or “pin” when talking about the writing instrument.

Tobolski’s class is all about getting rid of accents, mostly Southern ones in the heart of the former Confederacy, and replacing them with Standard American Dialect, the uninflected tone of TV news anchors that oozes authority and refinement.

“We sort of avoid talking about class in this country, but clearly class is indicated by how we speak,” she said….

Across the fast-growing South, accents are under assault, and not just from the modern-day Henry Higginses of academia. There’s the flood of transplants from other regions, notions of Southern upward mobility that require dropping the drawl, and stereotypes that “y’alls” and “suhs” signal low status or lack of intelligence.

But is the Southern accent really disappearing?

That depends what accent you mean. The South, because of its rural, isolated past, boasts a diversity of dialects, from Appalachian twangs in several states to Elizabethan lilts in Virginia to Cajun accents in Louisiana to African-influenced Gullah accents on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

One accent that has been all but wiped out is the slow juleps-in-the-moonlight drawl favored by Hollywood portrayals of the South. To find that so-called plantation accent in most parts of the region nowadays requires a trip to the video store….

Georgia-bred humorist Roy Blount Jr. understands that people with strong Southern accents are often perceived as “slow and dimwitted.” But he thinks it’s “sort of a shame” that people should feel the need to soften or even lose their accents.

“My father, who was a surely intelligent man, would say `cain’t’. He wouldn’t say `can’t.’ And, `There ain’t no way, just there ain’t no way.’ You don’t want to say, `There isn’t any way.’ That just spoils the whole thing,” Blount said.

It shore do! My Tidewater-Virginia-raised, college-and-seminary-educated father still says `cain’t’–and some of his kin keep the small class of `ahn’ words together, pronouncing aunt `aint’, aren’t `ain’t’, and maybe even haunted ‘hainted’. He also resorts to compounds to distinguish `inkpin’ from `stickpin’.

But I made a concerted effort to purge `cain’t’ and other Southernisms from my speech when I was a kid, especially when I was away at a Canadian boarding school in Japan, where I also teased other Southern missionary kids who came back from furlough with their accents in full bloom.

By the time I went off to college, I had acquired one of those ‘no-accent’ accents. Most people cain’t place my accent when I challenge them to–beyond general American, of course. My wife, who grew up in the Dakotas and Minnesota, also has one of those ‘no-accent’ accents, unlike her two sisters, who respectively exhibit those unmistakable Minnesota and Wisconsin shibboleth vowels. And my daughter is acutely aware of my distinctive upglide on the mid front vowels of measure, treasure, and leisure.

My maternal Shenandoah Valley-accented cousins, however, found my wife’s accent most charming. My mother remembered as a kid having to practice moderating her regional diphthongs by repeating “How now brown cow”–distinctive but not quite the same sound or phonetic environment (before voiceless consonants) as the near “Canadian raising” that Sen. Warner (R-VA) just demonstrated in his interview on the NewsHour tonight. (He talked about ‘sitting out‘, ‘waiting out‘ and ‘getting out‘ with respect to Iraq.)

I liked listening to the marked regional accent of Sen. Reed (D-RI), too. In fact, most of the time, I tend to tune out the content when politicians bloviate on TV and concentrate instead on pinpointing their accentual differences. One of my favorite accents on the NewsHour, though, is that of Alabama native Jan Crawford Greenburg. Unfortunately, her perceptive analyses of the Supreme Court often distract me from her accent.

via Atlanta-based Photodude

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Gaseous Emissions about Kyoto

The UN’s climate change secretariat has compiled some very revealing statistics about greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. As reported by the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada and New Zealand, which have not only signed the Protocol but chided their respective neighbors for not signing it, are doing no better at reining in their greenhouse gasses than Australia, which refused to sign the treaty. (Canada’s emissions were up 24.2%, Australia’s up 23.3%, New Zealand’s up 22.5%.) Furthermore, the U.S., which refused to sign, is neck and neck with Japan, where the final version of the Protocol was hashed out. (U.S. emissions have risen 13.3%, Japan’s 12.8%.)

The report shows that a huge, one-time greenhouse gas reduction occurred after the economic collapse of the former Communist countries. The former East Bloc’s emissions fell from 5.7 billion tonnes in 1990 to 3.4 billion tonnes in 2003, a stunning drop equivalent to eliminating three times Canada’s total annual contribution to warming the planet.

But since the early 1990s, most countries in the East and West have muddled along, making little headway in weaning themselves from their fossil-fuel dependency.

Excluding the former East Bloc, emissions among industrialized countries actually rose 9.2 per cent between 1990 and 2003.

How the hell did Spain, Monaco, and Portugal manage to increase their emissions by 36.7% to 41.7%? And Britain’s growing economy to reduce its emissions by 13%? Why did the UN include no statistics on China and India?

I guess the moral of this story is that actions speak louder than sanctimonious emissions.

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Effects of Medieval Climate Change

In south central England, … the century from 1180 to 1280 had been the medieval golden age because of favorable climatic conditions. The climate of the northern hemisphere, including England, experiences alternating cycles of warming and cooling. A warming trend had set in during the early twelfth century and it reached its height in the century after 1180. It was a time of long, warm summers and moderate winters. There always seemed to be enough rain to make the cereal crops sprout fervently. There were no crop failures or famines….

The downside of good weather and sharply rising population was an unprecedented boom in agricultural real estate. The thirteenth century in England was a time of land hunger…. Millions of acres were deforested and settled with peasant villages….

Climatic cycling continued to drive social and economic change. Around 1280 the warming trend began to run down. A new weather cycle unevenly but visibly intruded into rural England. Summers became cooler and shorter, the long autumns ideal for bringing in the lush crops truncated. Winters became longer and more harsh. The cooler period was to last until the late fifteenth century, when it would be followed by another warm century and then the “little ice age” of the seventeenth century, when people actually skated on the frozen Thames–not something you would want to try today.

In the summers of 1316 and 1317 rural disaster struck. The sun did not shine. There were widespread crop failures. There was famine and death from hunger. These terrible years had a special cause. Huge volcanic eruptions in Indonesia threw continent-sized clouds of ashes into the atmosphere and by 1316 this cloud of unbeing had reached England. Even when the sun shone again and the famine subsided, there were adverse weather conditions–too much rain–for good cereal harvests. The price of grain escalated. The stomachs of the peasants were no longer full….

It may be speculated that the Great Famine and global cooling of the early fourteenth century and the deterioration in the diet of the common people that resulted had some adverse impact on public health. Undernourished bodies were more easily prey to the Black Death.

SOURCE: In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & the World It Made, by Norman F. Cantor (Harper Perennial, 2002), pp. 67-68, 74-75

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My Malaria Tales

In 1976, I got a chance to do linguistic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. PNG is a malaria zone, so I tried to get antimalarials before I left, but hardly any doctors in Honolulu knew about either malaria or PNG, and they wouldn’t prescribe anything unless it was for treatment, not prevention. So my first day in Sydney, en route, I went to a public hospital and waited a long time to see a doctor. (Australia, like Canada, gives free but limited medical coverage to everybody.) When the doctor finally saw me, he asked me all sorts of questions about PNG because he was to spend part of his residency there, but he said state policy was to give only one week’s worth of medicine at a time free. So I got just two Chloroquine pills, one week’s prophylactic dose. I was due to arrive in PNG within the week.

In PNG I had no trouble buying Chloroquine at a local chemist (pharmacy) and took them faithfully every Sunday. For months, I was fine. The only problem I had was early on, when my intestinal flora were changing to accommodate the local diet. I got the runs one night really bad. The village was maybe 100 yards from end to end, with the women’s outhouse out over the water (flushed twice a day by the tide) near my end of the village and the men’s outhouse clear at the other end of the village, across a coconut log bridge over the stream that served as the village’s only supply of fresh, cold mountain water. The men’s bathing hole was upstream from the women’s bathing, laundry, and dishwashing area, and people were really careful not to shit near the river. That night, I must have walked through the dark village 6 or 8 times, setting off the dogs each time, but not always having much to feed the fish with by the time I climbed up into the four-hole outhouse and squatted over the ocean. So, before long, I’d start the long trek back, setting off the dogs again.

I slept under a mosquito net in the village, although not always when I took trips to the neighboring village where several kids from my host family went to school. (They boarded there.) One day during August (I think), I felt really feverish, with flu symptoms, but the next day I felt better, so I let the village boat, with its loud, 2-stroke, Japanese Yanmar diesel engine, leave for town without me. It was an 8-hour trip up the coast to Lae, where the boat would sell its catch of fish, fill up with ice for the next catch, take on supplies and passengers, and be back in a week. That evening after I went for my customary bath in the stream, I couldn’t stop shivering. My hosts built up the fire and I hunkered down next to it until the shivers turned to sweat. By that time, I figured I’d better take a treatment dose of Chloroquine: 2 pills every 4-6 hours, rather than 2 pills every week. In a day or two the flu symptoms abated and I broke out instead with intense itching under the skin of my hands and feet. It hurt to walk over the rough path to the bathing hole. So the next time the boat came back to load up and take more fish and passengers, I was on board.

The doctor I saw in town thought maybe I had reacted to the Chloroquine, so he put me on milder Camoquine and, sure enough, the next time I came down with malaria symptoms and took a treatment dose, at least I didn’t have that horrible itch. (By now many strains of malaria in PNG are resistent to both.) But the timing was bad. I had come into town about Thanksgiving time, and my host, an American with an MA in ESL from Hawai‘i, had fixed up a real American meal with turkey, deviled eggs, and pumpkin pies. My throat was swollen, it hurt to swallow, and I was too sick to join the crowd for dinner, so I went off to bed. That night my fever broke and I soaked the sheets. The next day I felt much better–and ravenous. Fortunately, there were leftovers of everything except the deviled eggs. I ate a lot, but swallowed carefully.

Back in Honolulu, I got another severe bout of malaria. By this time, I knew the whole cycle real well–24 hours of fever and chills followed by 24 hours of dull headache. It was sure to be Plasmodium vivax, according to Merck’s Manual, so I managed to get referred to a Dr. Berman, the only civilian doctor in town who knew much of anything about malaria. (He had seen plenty of it as an Army doctor in Vietnam.) So I drove to the emergency room of the hospital where he was supposed to start a shift at 7 pm. He took a long time getting to me and I spent the whole time shivering under the air-conditioning vent in the examination room, trying to cover myself with little hand towels.

When Berman finally saw me, I made the mistake of telling him I was suffering from P. vivax and asking for a treatment dose of Camoquine or its equivalent. He sent me for a blood test, but couldn’t find anything, so he sent me away for another 48 hours until I would be in worse shape again. When he couldn’t see anything in that sample, either, he told me to come back when I was really in the throes of fever and chills. So at the peak of the next 48-hour cycle, I was driving shakily through traffic to his downtown office. This time, he managed to find the little buggers under the microscope. He returned with a sarcastic “Congratulations, Dr. Outlier. Your diagnosis is correct. It’s Plasmodium vivax.” Whereupon, I let him have it, telling him each of those 3 lab tests cost me $24 that my grad student health insurance didn’t cover, and that I had been through a week’s worth of the symptoms a 3rd time now, thanks to him. I think he ended up waiving any of his own fees above what my health insurance covered. He also prescribed some very powerful drug that was supposed to clear the creatures out of my liver as well. I’ve never had a relapse since then.

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Filed under Hawai'i, malaria, Papua New Guinea

What 14th-century Medicine Could Do

Fourteenth-century medicine was not without accomplishment. It could amputate limbs and normally cauterize the wounds in an effective manner. It had precious knowledge of herbal remedies for headache, minor stomachaches, menstrual cramps, and other marginal afflictions, possibly including psychological depression. But it was impotent in the face of an epidemic.

Medieval physicians still followed the theories of the second-century Greek doctor Galen, which attributed disease to imbalance in the bodily conditions, or “humours,” of an individual. The main instrument of diagnosis was eyeballing the color and consistency of urine.

The prime remedies for illnesses involved restoration of putative bodily balance through purgation (enemas) or bloodletting. Drawing blood from a sick patient was considered a credible remedy until the nineteenth century. Cleaning the bowels was thought to have a curative effect. Enemas are still a popular home remedy. Nineteenth-century medicine introduced antiseptic surgery and anesthesia and smallpox inoculation but in the face of a pandemic outbreak was not much better off than the physicians of fourteenth-century England.

Faced with a worldwide outbreak of what was arbitrarily called Spanish influenza in 1918, which killed fifty million people within a year, the early twentieth-century medical profession was not much more effective in terms of diagnosis and cure than its medieval counterpart facing the Black Death. Essentially the flu pandemic of 1918 came and went without anyone knowing why, in spite of the capacity to see under a microscope some viruses and bacteria that were totally invisible to the physicians of the fourteenth century.

SOURCE: In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & the World It Made, by Norman F. Cantor (Harper Perennial, 2002), pp. 9-10

Cantor is no Tuchman, but I’ll see if I can find a few passages to excerpt, even if I have to rearrange them to counteract the author’s tendency to ramble about.

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Should the U.S. Push for Korean Unification?

Dartmouth professor David C. Kang suggests a new tack in U.S. policy toward Korea in today’s Washington Post.

The United States can improve its position in East Asia, as well as solidify its alliance with South Korea, by widening its focus beyond North Korean denuclearization and coming out strongly and enthusiastically in favor of Korean unification. Although the United States rhetorically supports unification, it has been noticeably passive in pursuing policy to that end.

Such a policy shift would achieve many U.S. goals and would strengthen our alliance with South Korea in the process.

First and foremost, denuclearization is far more likely to occur with a change in North Korea’s regime and a resolution to the Korean War than it is without resolving that larger issue. Until now the United States has put denuclearization first, without making much progress. Folding the nuclear issue into the larger issue would provide far more leverage on both questions and potentially create new or broader areas for progress.

Second, such a policy would provide grounds for agreement between U.S. and South Korean policymakers from which they could cooperate and work together, rather than against each other. Exploring the best path toward unification will require both economic and military changes in the North — changes that will provide the United States with more flexibility to rebalance its own forces in the region.

Finally, it would put the United States in a solid position to retain goodwill and influence in Korea after unification — something that is far from ensured today, when many South Koreans are skeptical about U.S. attitudes and policies toward the region. If the United States is seen as a major source of help for unification, it is far more likely that the post-unification orientation of Korea will be favorable to Washington.

This would be a major policy change for the United States, but given the importance of the region and of the Korean Peninsula, it is the best path to follow.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard younger South Koreans imply–not very subtly–that the U.S. and Japan are the principal obstacles to Korean unification. Those two enemy countries just want to keep Korea divided to weaken it. Otherwise Korea would clearly dominate northeast Asia. In contrast, the addled leadership of the bankrupt brother state to the north strongly supports unification–on its own terms, of course.

I suppose Kang’s suggestion wouldn’t hurt. Talk is cheap, after all, although you wouldn’t know it from the incredible verbal parsimony of the Bush administration. But what concrete measures should follow from this policy headfake? The U.S. is also officially in favor of a unified China, but not a violently unified one.

Perhaps South Koreans, too, need to consider more fully the “post-unification orientation” of their suffering compatriots trapped in the time-frozen north.

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Sad Fate of the Kwangju Police Chief in 1980

Antti Leppäsen at Hunjangûi karûch’im offers a poignant glimpse at the sad fate of An Byeong-ha, chief of police in Kwangju at the time of the uprising and its brutal suppression in May 1980. An refused orders to use overwhelming force and paid for his courageous stand by being arrested and tortured so badly that he never recovered his health until the day he died in 1988.

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