What Arnold Saw at Dover Beach

In a short piece titled “God is Dead; So What?”, Richard Ostrofsky, an acquaintance of mine, lays out his overview of the present culture wars from a perhaps characteristically atheist perspective. He cites Matthew Arnold’s poignant 1867 poem ‘Dover Beach’, which I’d not thought about for over 30 years, and happily revisited. But we subtly disagree about the meaning of the cultural impasse this poem intuits, and about exactly what Arnold sensed over 150 years ago, gazing one night out to sea.

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Rumanikos Duet

This 3-minute musical snippet is an improvisation from about eight years ago. Entirely spur-of-the-moment, in the living room, and thus the recording is absolutely low tech. Two musicians, both amateurs. Mon amie is playing a hang, a Swiss innovation, which uses the sides and tips of the fingers to sound resonating metallic ringing tones. I’m playing a digital keyboard which had been set to emulate a zither. What unites these two instruments, an uncommon duo, is the scale they are tuned to. More on that after having a listen…

(Listen to hang/zither duet)

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Some Colorful Speech

Close your eyes, figuratively. If I ask you to picture the word green, do you imagine this or perhaps this, or something closer to this? How does your typical green image differ from mine or that of your daughter or a business colleague who lives in Costa Rica? Assuming we could develop a statistical norm for what speakers of American English generally mean by the word (and some studies have tackled this question), it only opens the door to further more interesting psycholinguistic puzzles. For example: has the concept ‘green’ changed subtly since the days of Thomas Jefferson, Shakespeare, or William the Conqueror? Do children conceive ‘green’ differently than senior citizens (perhaps even the same individual at different ages)? How does this compare with a Brazilian person who is thinking of verde? Or a Mongolian pondering ногоон?

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Do Electric Eels Shock Jacques Cousteau?

Maybe you’ve wondered about why speakers of a certain native language, say Portuguese, always seem to have the same specific stumbling blocks when pronouncing certain sounds within a second language, like English. This can be true even decades after they have learned the new language and achieved functional fluency. In fact, it has a lot to do with why we are able to identify charming accents between language pairs. Only a very deliberate study and practice with a language coach can normally overcome these pronunciation tendencies. All this relates to electric eels… how?.

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