Word of advice to sacred choral composers

For the love of God (so to speak), please refrain from creating choral arrangements of simple, familiar hymns. In order to justify the effort, it seems that you cannot resist the urge to fill these arrangements with musical cliches: key changes, time signature changes, bizarre harmonies, cliched accompaniment, etc.
The people who know and love these hymns will scratch their heads at the arrangements, and such arrangements will not increase the appreciation of those who may be unfamiliar these hymns, or of those who do not like these hymns.
Upon reflection, I guess I could take a market approach: church choir directors, for the love of God (so to speak), please refrain from buying these arrangements for your choirs. We’ll all be happier in the long run.

Call of the Wild by Jack London

I just completed the Librivox audio edition of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. I loved it; it’s just over the top.
On a side note, this was the first Librivox audiobook that I’ve tried. I certainly like the principle of making free audiobooks of works that are in the public domain, but there were some problems with this recording. Each chapter was read by a different person. This wasn’t a problem, but the quality and volume of the recordings varied widely.

Crap cars

This afternoon, I spent some time browsing through Crap Cars at Barnes & Noble. This little not-terribly-witty book profiles about 50 of the worst cars sold in the U.S. during the driving lifetime of your average B&N customer–the last 40 years or so. I was dismayed, though not surprised, to find in this book two cars that I’ve owned:
1980 Chevrolet Citation
Chevrolet Citation
1975 Ford Mustang II
Ford Mustang II


A new study finds that people significantly overestimate the ability of themselves and others to accurately understand the intended tone of online text communications:

Those who sent the messages predicted that nearly 80 percent of the time their partners would correctly interpret the tone. In fact the recipients got it right just over 50 percent of the time.
“People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they ‘hear’ the tone they intend in their head as they write,” Epley explains.
At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Despite this, the research subjects thought they accurately interpreted the messages nine out of 10 times.
The reason for this is egocentrism, or the difficulty some people have detaching themselves from their own perspective, says Epley. In other words, people aren’t that good at imagining how a message might be understood from another person’s perspective.

This is a good case for the value of adding emoticons to your online communications, though such usage is often frowned upon for more formal communication. Maybe our younger Internet-savvy cohorts figured this out already.

Bah humbug

heart.jpgI really dislike Valentine’s Day. I don’t mind telling or showing my loved ones how much they mean to me, but Valentine’s Day just seems like a totally artificial holiday. I’m anti-consumerist (to some small degree) and just generally passive aggressive. I don’t like anyone telling me that I must show my love on this day, and that I really ought to do so by buying specific (overpriced) items.
This morning, a well-meaning elderly lady was coming out of the coffee shop as I was going in. She asked me, out of the blue, “Have you gotten a Valentine’s Day gift yet for your wife? You’d better get on it. You should have seen all the men at the grocery store across the street.” It took a lot of restraint not to tell her to go to hell. I know she was just trying to be nice, but she really rubbed me the wrong way.

Bad dogs, continued

I’ve been thinking more about the New Yorker article about banning aggressive dog breeds that I blogged about yesterday. Gladwell concludes the article by listing the series of steps that government officials could have taken–or arguably should have–to prevent the one dog attack that he profiles.
But even if authorities were prepared to take such measures, it would not prevent many dog attacks. The main problem, I believe (and Gladwell says this to some extent), is people who think of themselves as bad-ass and who have dogs whom they view as extensions of this projected personality. Identifying such people and somehow preventing their dogs from hurting others would be a thorny, and probably impossible, sociological task.
To generalize, it seems to me that flagrant disregard for the well-being of others is an integral part of this tough-guy persona, and, as Gladwell mentions, such people often have a history of violence. Since we, as a society, don’t have a problem with limiting the rights and behaviors of convicted criminals (e.g., convicted felons can’t vote), then maybe it would be effective just to not allow people who have been covicted of violent crimes from dog ownership. But even that doesn’t seem like a very targeted means of avoiding dog attacks, which are actually a relatively uncommon problem. Just thinking out loud here.

Training soldiers in the culture wars

This article makes me ill. Some excerpts:

A former high-school biology teacher, Ham travels the nation training children as young as 5 to challenge science orthodoxy. He doesn’t engage in the political and legal fights that have erupted over the teaching of evolution. His strategy is more subtle: He aims to give people who trust the biblical account of creation the confidence to defend their views — aggressively.
He urges students to offer creationist critiques of their textbooks, parents to take on science museum docents, professionals to raise the subject with colleagues. If Ham has done his job well, his acolytes will ask enough pointed questions — and set forth enough persuasive arguments — to shake the doctrine of Darwin.
“We’re going to arm you with Christian Patriot missiles,” Ham, 54, recently told the 1,200 adults gathered at Calvary Temple here in northern New Jersey. It was a Friday night, the kickoff of a heavily advertised weekend conference sponsored by Ham’s ministry, Answers in Genesis.

In two 90-minute workshops for children, Ham adopted a much lighter tone, mocking scientists who think birds evolved from dinosaurs (“if that were true, I’d be worried about my Thanksgiving turkey!”).
In a bit that brought the house down, Ham flashed a picture of a chimpanzee. “Did your grandfather look like this?” he demanded.
“Noooooo!” the children called.
“And did your grandmother look like that?” Ham displayed a photo of the same chimp wearing lipstick. The children erupted in giggles. “Noooooo!”
“We are not just an animal,” Ham said. He had the children repeat that, their small voices rising in unison: “We are not just an animal. We are made in the image of God.”

Can’t we be animals and made in the image of God?


It’s easy to make jokes about Vice-president Dick Cheney’s accidentally shooting a fellow hunter last weekend. But as much as I’m tempted, I’m reluctant to join the merry-making.
I grew up in the Texas Hill Country, surrounded by ranches. Pretty much all ranchers there supplement their income by leasing their property out to deer hunters. I knew not to go on or near ranch property during deer season, and I know that the ranchers themselves are worried about the risk of being shot while working on their ranches. They mitigate these risks by trying to lease to the same people year after year and by stipulating that only the agreed upon people can hunt on the lease, minimizing the possibility of their hunters bringing less informed friends out for the weekend. Many ranchers also make it a point to wear fluorescent colors when they’re out taking care of their livestock during deer season.
Depsite all of these precautions, when I was in middle school or so, my best friend Reginald’s uncle was shot and killed by the hunters on his ranch while he was out tending his cattle.