Spotted in Boston: a prominent silver unicorn

Atop the Old State House in Boston is an unusual site in a modern city: a unicorn.


Here is a wider shot:


Both the lion and unicorn were recently restored and put back in their positions:

The unveiling of the two statues Sunday morning attracted Bostonians, tourists, and members of the press. Shannon Felton, of the British Consulate General, and Greg Soutiea, a participant in the 2013 Boston Marathon, had the honor of revealing the newly refurbished statues to the public…

Over the course of a few hours, the statues were removed from their wooden crates and hoisted to the top of the Old State House. This marks the end of a six year long project to restore the statues to their original glory. The unicorn, newly plated in a palladium cover, looks completely different from its tarnished appearance when it was removed in September.

According to the Wikipedia page for the building, the unicorn has an interesting history:

Today’s brick Old State House was built in 1712–13…A notable feature was the pair of seven-foot tall wooden figures depicting a lion and unicorn, symbols of the British monarchy…

In 1882, replicas of the lion and unicorn statues were placed atop the East side of the building, after the originals that had been burned in 1776.

Read more about the unicorn present on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.

I wonder if there is any other American city that has such a prominent unicorn…

“Invasion of the Harry Hunters”

When reading a story today about the upcoming Royal wedding, I was reminded of a Newsweek piece from several weeks ago. While it may not be surprising that some young British women might be trying to catch the attention of Prince Harry, it is more interesting to read about young American women who have become “Harry hunters”:

Fleming is part of a small but resolute group of American “Harry hunters,” aspiring princesses who are crossing the ocean in hopes of capturing the redheaded royal’s heart (and the tiara that comes with it). Some rely on semesters abroad to lend an air of social normalcy to their excursions, while others simply count their pennies—or lean on their parents—to fund extended vacations in Britain. But the goal is always the same: to live happily ever after with a prince of the realm.

These days, their mission has taken on a distinct sense of urgency. Next month Harry’s older brother, Prince William, will wed Kate Middleton—a commoner herself, the Harry hunters note optimistically. But even as these earnest, young crown chasers devour royal-wedding news, the nuptials are a source of serious anxiety. When it comes to available slots on the Windsor family tree, explains author Jerramy Fine, whose 2008 memoir recounts her own unsuccessful efforts to marry into the monarchy, “Harry is now their last chance.”

This reality is not lost on Taylor McKinley, a sweet 21-year-old George Mason student who recently began a semester abroad at the University of Leicester (two hours outside London). McKinley takes her princess prep seriously. She reads magazines with names like Majesty and Royalty. She studies the historical monarchy. And in high school, she even abstained from dating, figuring she would “hold out for royalty.” Now, she spends her weekends dragging classmates to Harry’s favorite restaurants and waiting for fate to strike. Her parents are skeptical, but McKinley is confident she will one day find her prince. “I’m one of those people who only reads books with happy endings,” she says.

McKinley’s tactics are mild for a Harry hunter.

How come the story doesn’t include any reactions from family or friends of these girls? While these girls supposedly take heart that Kate Middleton is a “commoner,” in order to be a “Harry hunter,” it seems like one has to be rather wealthy and have time on her hands. Studying abroad is a clever tactic but the story also discusses a woman who works part-time and takes her summers abroad to try to catch Harry’s eye. I know “commoner” means “non-royal,” but it is not like just any American young woman could fly to Britain and attend the sorts of events that Prince Harry might be at.

I wonder if we will hear more about the story in the next few weeks as we get closer to the wedding date. I’m sure we’ll hear theories or ideas about why a good number of Americans seem to be fascinated by a foreign country’s royalty.

UPDATE 10:09 AM 4/13/11: One more thought came into my mind about this story:

The news story gives us two examples of American women that are doing this and then says little about how many people are actually doing this. We get two small clues. Regarding the American women, we are told these two are  “part of a small but resolute group.” Regarding British women, we are told that “London’s Daily Mail frequently chronicles the exploits of young British socialites who spend weekends trolling the prince’s favorite bars.” While this may be an interesting story that grab’s people attention (like me), if there are only 5 or 15 or 25 people doing this, does it matter?

This is an example of a type of story that bothers me as a social scientist. It is interesting but it seems to be based on two cases with little attempt to ascertain whether this is a broader trend or not.

Social class, meritocracy, and the latest Royal wedding

Amidst all of the furor, one commentator explores the possible consequences of the marriage of the Eton-schooled Prince William and the middle-class Kate Middleton:

The Daily Telegraph published one of the more entertaining pieces about the intended wedding. Toby Young gave the new parents-in-law, Charles and Camilla, hints on how to behave at a middle-class dinner party (“bring a bottle of wine”). But Toby Young’s father was the renowned sociologist Michael Young. I doubt if he would have been amused by young Toby’s class-ridden article.

In a classic book, The Rise of the Meritocracy, back in 1958, Young père invented a new word. As the Oxford English Dictionary confirms, “meritocracy” is the only concept by a British sociologist to enter the English language since Darwin’s camp-follower, Herbert Spencer, back in the 19th century, thought of the phrase “survival of the fittest”.

Young didn’t welcome the prospect of an all-powerful meritocracy. He feared it would leave behind a disaffected, leaderless working class. He hoped for a revolt against the triumphant meritocrats. He never reckoned that Eton would help to man the barricades.

Could any sociologist have invented an apter surname for the bride-to-be than “Middleton”, with its undertones of Middle England and middle class? Till now, meritocracy has, in practice, surged ahead. Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole, are entrepreneurial examples. Politically, the marker was Tony Blair’s invention of New (ie Middle Class) Labour…

The upshot, as in the United States, is that an ever increasing proportion of the population will hold some kind of degree. Partly because of this, most Americans now think of themselves as “middle class”. In Britain, a sizeable segment still think of themselves as “working class”, because their fathers, or even grandfathers, were working class. But this curious nostalgia is fast fading.

The physical evidence of meritocracy is all around the commuter-land fringes of every town and city in Britain. In Berkshire, where Kate Middleton and David Cameron grew up, estates of “executive homes” have spread like Japanese knotweed. They are sneered at by those who can afford a bit more, just as the interwar pebbledash semis were sneered at. That’s how Britain is. Class obsesses the British, and especially the English, in the same way that race obsesses Americans.

Chalk one up for British sociology: the coining of the word “meritocracy.”

This commentary comes close to asking a question that I have always wondered about: what would society have to look like before it could truly be called meritocratic? This commentator suggests meritocracy has helped many people in England move up to the middle class but ultimately, Prince William from Eton, the symbol of upper-class England, will carry the day. Does a society need to be mostly middle-class? Do most of the citizens have to feel that they have an opportunity to make their way up the class ladder (which seems to be the thought in America)? Does it mean that a majority or a large number pursue and achieve a college education? Does it mean the reduction of blue-collar jobs and a rise in white-collar and professional positions?

This seems difficult to sort out. America likes to think it is meritocratic even as many people have fewer opportunities to move up. Perhaps we could settle on suggesting that America, at least in ideology, is more meritocratic than England?

Quick Review: One Day

Over this past weekend, I read One Day by David Nicholls. This book is a love story told over a 20 year span. The twist: the author checks in with each member of the couple one day each year (the anniversary of their first meeting). The book has garnered a number of positive reviews.

My quick thoughts:

1. It is a story that would translate easily into a movie.

2. I don’t know if the characters are likable. They are young and idealistic when they first meet, not so much so later on after more life experiences. They are generally self-indulgent. Lots of drinking among both characters – a sign of their troubled lives or a reflection of contemporary life in the United Kingdom?

3. I like the idea of checking in once a year. Their lives gradually change and the story doesn’t get bogged down in extended scenes.

4. My wife and I disagreed about whether we enjoyed the book. She did not enjoy it, as “90% of the book involved the protagonists being miserable and/or drunk.” I think this book is like much adult fiction: it is more “realistic” or at least presents a strong contrast between miserable life alone and wonderful life together. Therefore, my wife finds reading a book like this unpleasant – she doesn’t want to spend that much time dwelling on the worse parts of life. Additionally, she felt that the author betrayed the reader at the end.  I, on the other hand, think misery is a common part of life and therefore should be explored in books, movies, music, etc. However, I do think much adult fiction today is melodramatic in its presentation of tough times.


Though it has the twist of checking in once a year, it seems like a fairly common story line. Two people meet and then experience difficulties over the years before meeting up again (though it is more complicated than this). This seems to be a kind of story our culture enjoys: love overcoming obstacles, even if these obstacles are self-imposed by the participants.

Overall: a good choice for light (not really fun but not exactly addressing deeper issues in life) yet engaging weekend-away reading. A modern classic? No.