A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: January 2006

The problem with politics these days

The very government itself seems an organized scramble, and Congress a boys’ debating-club, with the disadvantage of being reported. As our party-creeds are commonly represented less by ideas than by persons, (who are assumed, without too close a scrutiny, to be the exponents of certain ideas,) our politics become personal and narrow to a degree never paralleled, unless in ancient Athens or mediaeval Florence. Our Congress debates and our newspapers discuss, sometimes for day after day, not questions of national interest, not what is wise and right, but what the Honorable Lafayette Skreemer said on the stump, or bad whiskey said for him, half a dozen years ago. If that personage, outraged in all the finer sensibilities of our common nature, by failing to get the contract for supplying the District Court-House at Skreemeropolisville City with revolvers, was led to disparage the union of these States, it is seized on as proof conclusive that the party to which he belongs are so many Catalines,–for Congress is unanimous only in misspelling the name of that oft-invoked conspirator. The next Presidential Election looms always in advance, so that we seem never to have an actual Chief Magistrate, but a prospective one, looking to the chances of reelection, and mingling in all the dirty intrigues of provincial politics with an unhappy talent for making them dirtier.

From James Russell Lowell’s editorial supporting Lincoln’s candidacy for president in 1860 in The Atlantic.


Is Sacred Harp religious or saccular music?

Neil P. McAngus Todd and Bjorn Merker, in Siamang gibbons exceed the saccular threshold: Intensity of the song of Hylobates syndactylus, states:

While evolution has produced in all classes of vertebrate a great diversity of vocal courtship displays, loud synchronous chorusing employing amplitude summation of multiple voices may have played a special role in human evolution.

The abstract from Todd and Merker’s paper:

Measurements are reported of the intensity of the siamang gibbon loud call obtained from the vocal bouts of three family groups at Twycross Zoo, UK. Across 25 samples the maximum intensity ranged from 95 to 113 dB SPL (linear frequency-weighting and fast time-weighting) and exhibited three frequency modes of 250–315 Hz, 630–800 Hz and 1.2–1.6 kHz. The lowest frequency mode, which may correspond to the “boom” sound produced by resonance of the siamang inflated vocal sac, had a mean maximum intensity of 99 dB SPL. These values, which are in excess of the saccular acoustic threshold of about 90 dB at 300 Hz for air conducted sound, suggest that primate loud calls recruit a primitive mode of acoustic sensitivity furnished by the sacculus. Thus reproductive vocal behavior of primates may be influenced by a primitive acoustical reward pathway inherited from a common ancestor with anamniotes. In humans such a pathway could explain the compulsion for exposure to loud music.

The sacculus is part of the inner ear, and is part of the system that keeps us from falling down more frequently than we do. But Todd and other researchers have discovered that people (and other primates, perhaps) seem to enjoy sounds which are loud enough to cause the sacculus to respond–perhaps by connections to the hypothalamus (where hunger, sex and pleasure take up their major residence in our brains).

Anyway, one way to describe Sacred Harp music is “loud synchronous chorusing employing amplitude summation of multiple voices,” but this is perhaps not as useful an introduction as the audio slideshow that I mentioned on Sunday.

'The Joy of Sacred Harp'

Pauline Lubens of the San Jose Mercury News produced a very nice ‘audio slideshow‘ of the All-California Sacred Harp convention, which just concluded a few hours ago. It’s probably as good a 2:00 minute introduction to ‘diaspora’ Sacred Harp singing as you’re likely to find. Or just enjoy it for the pictures and sound.

Happy birthday, Artificial intelligence

Over the holidays 50 years ago, two scientists hatched artificial intelligence–what did you do over your holiday? (via the ACM).

Two Zimbabwe posts

From the <a href="This is Zimbabwe weblog by the Sokwanele (“enough is enough”) Civic Action Support Group: Shameful silence on Nolbert Kunonga, Anglican Bishop of Harare–dissent and complaints about Nolbert Kunonga (charges against whom were recently dismissed); Renewal of hope–which includes these revolutionary words:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour …
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty ..”

That is, of course, from the words of Mary’s ‘Magnificat.’

New Lego Mindstorms

LEGO has announced a new Mindstorms kit: the LEGO® MINDSTORMS™ NXT Robotics Toolset. 32-bit processor. program downloading via Bluetooth, new ultrasoniic, sound, light and touch sensors, a developer’s program, Announced availability is Fall 2006, and should cost $US250.

No teenagers in our household

For exactly one day, there are no teenagers in our household. Mark turned 20 today, and Jane turns 13 tomorrow.

Unmanned and Uninhabited

The Earth & Sky transcripts expands the UAV acronym to ‘uninhabited aerial vehicle;’ in our research, we typically use ‘unmanned aeriel vehicle.’ Google reports only about 54 kGhits for ‘uninhabited aerial vehicle,’ and 704 kGhits for ‘unmanned aerial vehicle‘. Yahoo reports 46.6 and 907 kGhits (kYhits?), respectively. Is it being sexist to use ‘unmanned’ when it refers to the absence of a pilot? Well, of course it is.

Scientists turn weapons into tools

According to today’s Earth & Sky radio show.

[We at NASA are] exploring the use of UAVs, trying to heavily leverage what the Department of Defense has invested in them, and what the Federal Aviation is investing in them . . . to see if we can’t use these as yet another tool to take science instruments aloft to study our Earth, mainly the atmosphere . . . and Earth’s geology.

(tip o’ the Hut to Dean Knuth).

Harmonia Sacra

Again this year I was able to participate in the New Year’s Day Harmonia Sacra singing in Elkhart (Indiana), ably led by James Gingerich and Matthew Lind. I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and so I think it was all the more enjoyable and pleasant to be there. In December, I sang with the Goshen Sacred Harp group, which traditionally sings out of the Harmonia Sacra for the second half of their December singing. Then, I chose New Monmouth (midi file), to which is set perhaps my favorite hymn text:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

We arruved at the New Year’s singing just in time for me to lead it.(“Ebenezer” means “stone of help,” and refers to the Old Testament story of a monument set up by Samuel: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”)

Dirk Lind (as he does, traditionally) Dedication Anthem (midi file), known in Mennonite circles as 606 (from its page number in the Mennonite Hymnal) or even the “Mennonite National Anthem.” We were graced with the presence of Mary Oyer, the octogenarian hymnologist responsible for much of the Mennonite Hymnal and for training a generation of Mennonite students in hymnody–including Gingerich and Lind. She may have been present last year, but this year I knew who she was.

I traveled with good friend Dean Knuth; it was his first Harmonia Sacra singing. On the way back, he introduced me to some of his music, including some tracks by Martin Frank and Eric Whitacre. Perhaps if Dean reads this, he’ll comment on the specific pieces he played for me.