Saturday, 29 May 2004

Butt Cleavage

Both Trio and the Superintendent think there’s too much “ass crack” on display in American educational establishments. Great minds…

Measuring America

So as not to disappoint Robert Prather, I’ll provide a very brief review of Measuring America by Andro Linklater (which I finally got around to finishing a few days ago, and which is June’s Signifying Nothing Book of the Month).

Overall, I found it an engaging read. Linklater frames the story, as I suppose is the current trend in popular history narratives, around historical figures of interest, mostly surveyors but a few political figures (Thomas Jefferson chief among them) as well. It is as much a history of the standardization of weights and measures as it is of geography. I think perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from the book was that Jefferson’s francophilia did not extend to adopting the metric system; instead, he favored a decimalized system based on the “traditional” (but as-yet unstandardized) units.

There were a couple of minor disappointments for me. First and foremost, the book didn’t quite explain how surveying actually works, which I suppose might be a bit technical but seems to underlie a lot of the discussion. As a result, I still know more about how GPS works than the simple geometry that underlies traditional surveying. The other disappointment is the sloppily-assembled measures appendix, which contains quite a few typographical errors and appears to be a transcribed copy of a NIST web page.

Of course, the political scientist in me might have more strongly emphasized that one of the enumerated powers of Congress was:

To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures[.]

That alone is a powerful statement of how seriously the Constitution’s Framers considered the issue of standardization, even though it took several decades for the American customary system to be adopted (ultimately, under the direction of a staunch advocate of metrification).

Anyway, I found it a quite enjoyable read, and it’s rekindled my interest in digging through the stack of books I’ve been meaning to read to find my copy of Longitude; my vague recollection is that the ability to determine longitude depended on producing an accurate chronometer (time-keeping piece), but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

Liberals get worldly

Matt Yglesias broadens his perspective with a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with the following observation:

I’ve been surprised to discover that southerners really do say “y’all” all the time.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum discovers that people in different parts of the country refer to carbonated soft drinks by different names. There may be hope for John Kerry in flyover country yet…

Reading my own obituary

Well, not exactly. While ego-surfing last night, I came across this obituary for “Uncle Brock Sides,” a Confederate veteran who died in Texas in 1914.

On this page, there’s also mention of a Brock Sides, who may or may not be the Confedarate veteran mentioned above. This Brock Sides would be my third cousin twice removed, if I'm counting generations correctly. His great-great uncle, Benjamin Franklin Sides (a popular name for children born in 1786, I suppose), was my great-great-great grandfather.

And another Brock Sides was a Gilchrist Studios National Poetry Month Contest winner in 2000, at the age of 13, for this anti-abortion poem.

Youthful good looks

Josh Chafetz isn’t entirely thrilled about his appearance being compared by Jonah Goldberg to that of a college sophomore.

You think that’s bad? My mom thinks my dissertation chair (who’s quite a bit older than me) looks younger than I do, at 28-and-change.