Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Visit to the Maronite Cathedral with the Melkite Clergy of the United States

LAST WEEK, the clergy of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States conferred in Saint Louis, Missouri. On Wednesday, they celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Raymond's Maronite Cathedral.

Saint Raymond Maronite Cathedral, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - exterior

The Melkites descend from the church founded by Saint Peter in Antioch, and they use the Byzantine Rite with Arabic being their official language. The Church calls itself الروم الكاثوليك‎ or ar-Rūm al-Kathūlīk, literally ‘Roman Catholic.’ The Melkites are the oldest continuously existing Christian community.

Several of the clergy saw my camera and asked that I take photos:

Melkite clergy of the United States recieve Holy Communion, at Saint Raymond's Maronite Cathedral, in Saint Louis, MIssouri, USA

Here the clergy receive Holy Communion. The liturgy was primarily in English with Byzantine chant tones.

Melkite clergy of the United States, at Saint Raymond's Maronite Cathedral, in Saint Louis, MIssouri, USA - 1

After the Divine Liturgy.

The clergy afterwards retired to the Cathedral's banquet center, where they partook of the traditional Lebanese food served there every Wednesday:

Saint Raymond Maronite Cathedral, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Food, at The Cedars Banquet Center

Monday, September 24, 2012

You Can’t Have a Latin Mass…

…AND HERE’S WHY. See the article, The Latin Mass: Why You Can’t Have It, at the blog man with black hat. From the article:
For those who experience difficulties in having the Traditional Mass celebrated in their locality, the inclinations of church authorities notwithstanding, much of that which they encounter may be strictly practical.
The Latin Mass: Why You Can’t Have It

Friday, September 21, 2012

Liturgist Bishop Elliott to Visit Saint Mary of Victories in Saint Louis

PETER ELLIOTT, auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, will visit Saint Mary of Victories Church in Saint Louis on September 29th and 30th. He will give a public lecture “Benedict XVI and the Liturgy: Vision and Practice,” as well as celebrate Holy Mass.

Click image for a larger version.

Area Catholic Schools Given Honors

THE CARDINAL NEWMAN SOCIETY is an organization that seeks to help strengthen Catholic identity in higher education. The other day they put out a list of the 50 top Catholic high schools in the U.S., which can be found here. In the Saint Louis area, these schools received special recognition:
All Catholic schools in the Saint Louis area can be found on these websites:
Catholic education isn't something that is normally on my radar, so to speak. But I have friends and acquaintances with children, and the amount of agony they endure — and amount of treasure they spend — in order to get them a good education is appalling. Many Catholic parents, unable to get their children into a Catholic school, eventually give up and send them to the public schools, which after all are “free.” Catholic education has many problems these days, and the question of identity is foremost, although unjust funding for schools has made the problem worse.

Public schools were rare in the United States until Catholics started immigrating to this country in large numbers, bringing their parochial schools with them. To the existing American population this was a problem, because Catholics would soon make up the majority of people who were qualified for the jobs that did need a formal education, particularly in the professions. As Papists were seen as un-American, mandatory public school education for all was a necessity to avoid a demographic crisis, and without a doubt contemporary “reproductive health” is another demographic weapon. But this was nothing new: the Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, started state funding of schools and hospitals for similar reasons. If you press most any strong supporter of the public schools for their honest opinion of Catholic education, you will quickly find out that little has changed.

The religious doctrine behind Catholic education is “instructing the ignorant,” which is one of the spiritual works of mercy. It is something that we must do because it derives from the commandment to love our neighbor. Philosophically, an education is desirable so that a child can grow in virtue: learning about and practicing what it takes to live a good life. An education ought to make a child a good person in themselves, and this is far more valuable than only knowing useful skills. Traditional Catholic education attempted to produce students who were good before all else, since education is a two-edged sword which can be wielded for good or for evil. These are good, positive things for education.

Modern public education is often negative: first and foremost, it must not be religious. One consequence of this is the negation of the principle that people have ontological worth, but rather, that they must be useful to have any worth. Another negative is the trend, prominently started with Dewey, of eliminating any metaphysical or higher philosophical basis for education: the stated intention was to make education more scientific, but this ended up instead making it more ideological, based on lower, false philosophy, for philosophy and metaphysics are inescapable. Another, newer negative, is the current emphasis on “teaching to the test,” where nearly all education is directed towards making students pass standardized tests: this is negative because it denies parents, schools, and teachers the liberty to teach according to the way that seems best for them and their students. Finally, the public school system seeks to become a monopoly, negating the natural rights of parents and of the Church.

It is perilous to base any system of thought on negatives, for negation is the basic principle of all evil: see Saint Boethius and Saint Thomas Aquinas for details.

I see no easy way out of the current educational crisis in our country, although a good start would be repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and in the longer term, the restoration of funding to private and parochial schools. Increased vocations to the religious life will be needed for the Catholic schools, but that is a spiritual problem and not a relatively easy political problem.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aeolian Harps

‟MUSIC PLAYED WITHOUT human hands”: this is how the ancients described the sound of the aeolian harp — a musical instrument that sings its unearthly notes when the wind blows over its strings, making sounds that are melancholy, or soothing, or eerie, or distressing.

Here is an unusual aeolian harp from Italy:

Aeolian harps and the Romantics

The Aeolian harp is known for its influence on the Romantic poets. A popular home musical instrument by the turn of the 19th century, small wind harps were made to fit in windows; one such harp or lute is poetically described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
And that simplest Lute,
Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caressed,
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing!
O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

— from The Eolian Harp, 1795.
The Romantic poets saw these instruments as playing nature's — or God's — own music, and so they thought that the harps were sources of natural or divine inspiration. These harps were first seen as being passive instruments, but the Romantics later understood that due to their design, they actively shape and transform the wind into music, and so became a symbol of the inspired poets themselves. ‟Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his poem Ode to the West Wind, where he is asking to become an instrument of the forces of societal change, as symbolized by a fierce west wind blowing through a forest. Shelley thought that the role of the poet, like a wind harp, is to shape and transform the tempestuous forces of nature, or mysterious spiritual impulses, into something more ordered and harmonious. Shelly explains in this manner:
We live and move and think; but we are not the creators of our own origin and existence. We are not the arbiters of every motion of our own complicated nature; we are not the masters of our own imaginations and moods of mental being. There is a Power by which we are surrounded, like the atmosphere in which some motionless lyre is suspended, which visits with its breath our silent chords at will.

Our most imperial and stupendous qualities — those on which the majesty and the power of humanity is erected — are, relatively to the inferior portion of its mechanism, active and imperial; but they are the passive slaves of some higher and more omnipotent Power. This Power is God; and those who have seen God have, in the period of their purer and more perfect nature, been harmonized by their own will to so exquisite consentaneity of power as to give forth divinest melody, when the breath of universal being sweeps over their frame. That those who are pure in heart shall see God, and that virtue is its own reward, may be considered as equivalent assertions.
Whereas the English saw the aeolian harp as a source of inspiration, the Germans found it a melancholy instrument, giving the listener a longing for heaven and the things beyond this world. Americans instead found themselves attracted for more practical and optimistic reasons. Henry David Thoreau wrote a poem where an aeolian harp itself speaks:
There is a vale which none hath seen,
Where foot of man has never been,
Such as here lives with toil and strife,
An anxious and a sinful life.

There every virtue has its birth,
Ere it descends upon the earth,
And thither every deed returns,
Which in the generous bosom burns.

There love is warm, and youth is young,
And poetry is yet unsung.
For Virtue still adventures there,
And freely breathes her native air.

And ever, if you hearken well,
You still may hear its vesper bell,
And tread of high-souled men go by,
Their thoughts conversing with the sky.
 The sound produced by a wind harp is mysterious, ethereal, disembodied, and otherwordly: it almost sounds composed, it almost has order, it almost has harmony, it is almost human music.

The Romantic composer Frédéric François Chopin composed a number of pieces which were partly inspired by the sound of the aeolian harp, including those here and here, as well as his Aeolian Harp Étude. The piano piece Aeolian Harp by Henry Cowell is unique in that the strings of the piano are plucked by hand, rather than sounded by striking the keys. Also of interest is Sergei Lyapunov's Harpes éoliennes (Op. 11 No. 9) which can be heard here.

The aeoline, éolienne, or äoline stop on pipe organs was invented in Germany in the 1820s to imitate the sound of an aeolian harp, and these are usually the softest notes that can be produced by those otherwise magnificent instruments. These are either string stops, sounded with low pressure air, usually at an 8' pitch, or are reed stops which may lack a resonator. A harpe éolienne can be heard in the final chord of the piece here; also listen to this.

Aeolian harps fell out of favor sometime in the early 20th century, as music became less personal and more of an industry, but the 1970s saw a revival of interest in these instruments.

The error of the Romantics

The Romantics wrote during a period before the divorce between art and science (indeed, a virtuous person ought to be equally adept at both, and not simply a narrow specialist), but after the divorce between the passions and the intellect. As Christ tells us, divorce is due to the hardness of our hearts, and the Romantic movement was a heartfelt reaction to cold and heartless Enlightenment rationalism, which gave the world slavery, urban poverty, the absolutist State, and the “dark Satanic Mills” which blighted the formerly beautiful English countryside. The Romantics instead thought that feelings and passion ought to be of primary importance, and they took their main inspiration from nature. The Romantic music of the aeolian harp, discordant, unpredictable, and made by nature, is a fitting symbol of the movement, in contrast to the heavily composed and rational Classical music of the Enlightenment.

But are we to go by our feelings alone, without reason? The Romantic movement led to a mystical nationalism, unrestrained by reason, and which eventually led to the widespread slaughter of the Holocaust. Strains of Romanticism are still found today in horror films and in the irrational, nationalistic — and sometimes violent — reconstructed nature religions which are popular primarily with alienated young women.

A better way is orthodoxy: we let reason judge feelings, while understanding that the heart has its own reasons. Both rationalism and romanticism are half-true, they both have their proper place when joined to a well-formed human will. Likewise, the aeolian harp has its place alongside instruments played by human hands, although it sits not at the center, but at the fringe of art.

Aeolian harps in history

The aeolian harp extends much further back into history than the Romantic period. Aeolus [or in the Greek, Αἴολος, Aiolos] is a character in Greek mythology, whose harp was played by the spirits of the winds, and it is from Aeolus that wind harps are named.

Thomson's Aeolian Harp, 1809, by J.M.W. Turner, Manchester Art Gallery, shows Aeolus with his harp, played by the four winds.

This painting was inspired by James Thomson's poem, Ode on Æolus's Harp:
ETHEREAL race, inhabitants of air,
  Who hymn your God amid the secret grove ;
Ye unseen beings, to my harp repair,
  And raise majestic strains, or melt in love.

Those tender notes, how kindly they upbraid !
  With what soft woe they thrill the lover's heart !
Sure, from the hand of some unhappy maid,
  Who died of love, these sweet complainings part !

But hark ! that strain was of a graver tone :
  On the deep strings his hand some hermit throws ;
Or he, the sacred bard, who sat alone
  In the drear waste, and wept his people's woes.

Such was the song which Zion's children sung,
  When by Euphrates' stream they made their plaint ;
And to such sadly solemn notes are strung
  Angelic harps, to soothe a dying saint.

Methinks I hear the full celestial choir,
  Through heaven's high dome their awful anthem raise ;
Now chanting clear, and now they all conspire
  To swell the lofty hymn from praise to praise.

Let me, ye wandering spirits of the wind,
  Who, as wild Fancy, prompts you touch the string,
Smit with your theme be, in your chorus join'd ;
  For, till you cease, my Muse forgets to sing.

One of the Muses in Greek mythology, Terpsichore [Τερψιχόρη], is sometimes portrayed carrying an aeolian harp. Sculpture by John Walsh, 1771, Somerset County Museum in Taunton. [source]

According to the Talmud, the ancient rabbinical commentaries on sacred scripture, King David would hang his lyre in his bedroom window upon retiring for the night. The north wind, blowing across the harp and sounding the aeolian melodies, would wake David around midnight so that he could pray Matins.

The Psalms in the Bible are largely attributed to King David, who sang them while playing on his harp. The aeolian harp thereby can be seen as a symbol of divine inspiration, uniting David's harp with the wind, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The great English saint, Saint Dunstan, was a harp player, and according to the Golden Legend, his harp once made music played without human hands:
And another time he was in his meditations, he had hanging on the wall in his chamber an harp, on which otherwhile he would harp anthems of our Lady, and of other saints, and holy hymns, and it was so that the harp sounded full melodiously without touching of any hand that he could see, this anthem was, Gaudent in celis animæ sanctorum, wherein this holy saint Dunstan had great joy.
Harps, lyres, zithers, and similar instruments have been found throughout antiquity, and the phenomenon of the wind playing them was well known — and ancient mythologies posit that these musical instruments themselves were inspired by the sounds made when the wind blew through strings found in nature: in one case, a cord attached to a tortoise shell, with the shell acting as resonator.  According to Giambattista Della Porta, from his book Magiae Naturalis, 1558, (a book of popular science, household tips, and practical jokes):
Do thus, when the wind is very tempestuous set your instruments just against it as Harps, Flutes, Dulcimers, Pipes. The wind will run violently into them, and play low upon them, and will run into the holes of the Reeds. Whence if you stand near and listen, you will hear most pleasant Music by consent of them all, and will rejoice.
Inspired by Della Porta's book, the first modern aeolian harp was invented by the remarkable Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, in about 1650. He was famed for his cabinet of curiosities — an early museum — including his collection of the artifacts sent by the Jesuits serving in Asia, as well as for his broad range of interests that is rarely found today. Kircher describes his invention in the book, Musurgia Universalis sive ars magna consoni et dissoni in X. libros digesta [volume 2]:
As the instrument is new, so it is also easy to construct and very pleasant. It is the admiration of every one. It is made exactly to fit a window, in which it is placed ; and the harp, while the window remains shut, is silent : but as soon as it is opened, an harmonious sound, though somewhat melancholy, coming from the passing wind, astonishes the hearers; for they are not able to perceive from whence the sound proceeds, nor yet what kind of instrument it is, for it resembles neither the sound of a stringed nor yet of pneumatic instrument, but partakes of both. The instrument should be made of pine wood, five palms long, two broad, and one deep ; It may contain fifteen or more chords, all equal and composed of the intestines of animals. It should be situated in a close place, yet so that the air may on either side have free access to it, in order which, it may be observed, that the wind may be collected by various methods; first, by canals, that are made the form of cones or shells, or else by valves; these valves should be placed on the out side, and parallel boards in the inside of the room ; its sound very much resembles that of pipes and flutes playing in unison. [source]
Here are illustrations of Kircher's harp from his book [images scanned by Google]:

The strings are attached to a sounding-box, which is placed in a box fitted with vanes to concentrate the wind:

Based on Kircher's invention, the anemocorde was an attempt to create a reliable aeolian harp that was played via a keyboard, with air blowing across the strings powered by bellows. I'm unaware if any such design was successful.

The Romantic interest in the aeolian harp, or even the Romantic movement itself, is said to have been inspired by Thomson's poem The Castle of Indolence of 1748:

Each Sound too here to Languishment inclin'd,
Lull'd the weak Bosom, and induced Ease.
Aereal Music in the warbling Wind,
At Distance rising oft, by small Degrees,
Nearer and nearer came, till o'er the Trees
It hung, and breath'd such Soul-dissolving Airs,
As did, alas! with soft Perdition please:
Entangled deep in its enchanting Snares,
The listening Heart forgot all Duties and all Cares.

A certain Music, never known before,
Here lull'd the pensive melancholy Mind;
Full easily obtain'd. Behoves no more,
But sidelong, to the gently-waving Wind,
To lay the well-tun'd Instrument reclin'd;
From which, with airy flying Fingers light,
Beyond each mortal Touch the most refin'd,
The God of Winds drew Sounds of deep Delight:
Whence, with just Cause, The Harp of Aeolus it hight.

Ah me! what Hand can touch the Strings so fine?
Who up the lofty Diapasan roll
Such sweet, such sad, such solemn Airs divine,
Then let them down again into the Soul?
Now rising Love they fan'd; now pleasing Dole
They breath'd, in tender Musings, through the Heart;
And now a graver sacred Strain they stole,
As when Seraphic Hands an Hymn impart:
Wild warbling Nature all, above the Reach of Art!
As implied by the poem, the aeolian harp was seen to be a plaything of the idle and indolent wealthy, but soon these instruments became commonplace. In a footnote to a poem, Thompson states that these kinds of harps were manufactured by James Oswald, a Scotsman living in London; Oswald later would achieve great fame, including his appointment as composer for King George III, and his Harp of Aeolus became popular.

This popularity led prominent scientists to investigate how the notes were sounded, since the aeolian harp's tones did not correspond well to human-played music. This research on the fringes of music led to the science of acoustics and well as contributing to fluid mechanics. An unfortunate side-effect of this was the divorce between music and mathematics into unrelated disciplines, which were long joined together in the quadrivium of the classical liberal arts.

Designing an aeolian harp

Constructing an aeolian harp is simple, for all you need is a strong wind and a string. Nylon strings work well, as does steel. However, the sound made will be extremely weak (even more so for steel strings), and for the purpose of amplifying the sound, you need to construct a sound-board for the strings. That is a complicated art: please consider the complexity and effort that goes into constructing and tuning the body of a violin, as well as the great expense that a fine instrument can demand. Modern harp-builders, however, can use magnetic transducers, commonly used in electric guitars, to capture the sound which then can be electronically amplified. Designing a good electrical pickup is an art in itself, and there are many variations and room for improvement.

To design a musical instrument well, you need to have a Pythagorean or Platonic understanding of mathematics, the understanding that was found in the Middle Ages but which fell out of favor in modern times. According to this understanding, mathematics is poetic and harmonious, with its own truth and beauty, and it is at the center of all art. Modernity, however, killed the beauty and the joy of mathematics, and even sometimes its truth, and made it a dreadfully dull subject, perhaps only interesting to specialists. Mathematics has now become the enemy of artists, although it was not yet so in the days of the Romantics. But I ask my dear readers to try to understand the mathematical discourse following, and try to see the beauty in the numbers and their harmonies.

The sound that an aeolian harp makes is caused by a phenomenon called the von Kármán vortex street effect. A fluid flowing over a cylinder (such as a string), under certain conditions, will lead to an alternating series of vortexes that periodically shed from the cylinder, forcing it sideways in one direction and then the other. The equation governing this motion is:
Re = V × d / ν
Where Re is the Reynolds number, V is the velocity of the wind, d is the diameter of the cylinder or string, and ν [Greek letter nu] is the kinematic viscosity of the air. Generally speaking, we can get string vibrations if the Reynolds number is greater than about 90. From the equation we can see that double the diameter of a harp string gives us the same Reynolds number in half the wind speed. The kinematic viscosity of dry air at sea level and 70° F. is about 0.000164 ft2/second, and it gets smaller as the temperature drops, which tells us that these instruments ought to perform better in colder air; also lower altitudes are better.

The Reynolds number is important because it tells us something about the quality of flow:
  • Less than 5, the flow of air around a string is smooth, and no vibration is possible.
  • Between 5 and 44, stable vortices form behind the string, but strings do not vibrate.
  • Between 44 and 49, a transition range, von Kármán vortices may or may not occur.
  • Between 49 and 90, von Kármán vortices occur, but supposedly, this range does not seem to activate aeolian harps.
  • At 90, there is a slight change in the quality of the vortices.
  • Between 90 and 150, aeolian harps start to sing, and the vortices are very regular.
  • Between 150 and 300, transition range where flow becomes unsteady.
  • At 300, flow beyond the string is turbulent. 
  • At 400, flow is completely turbulent, higher overtones become much more prominent.
  • As the Reynolds number increases, the aeolian harp makes sounds that are increasingly screeching and distressful.
Would-be aeolian harp makers are often disappointed that their creations don't work at all except under strong winds. An examination of the Reynolds numbers indicate that thicker strings may be needed.

By the way, von Kármán was inspired to develop his theory upon viewing a Gothic painting of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river. He was fascinated that the 14th century painting showed alternating swirls of water in the flow behind the Saint's legs, and he wanted to know why.

If the frequency of the vortex shedding is harmonious with the tuning of a string, then resonance develops and the string sings. The vortex shedding frequency has the equation:
f = St × V / d
Where f is the frequency of vortex shedding, V is the velocity of the air, d is the diameter of the string, and St is the Strouhal number, a dimensionless factor which characterizes the air flow. The Strouhal number has a complicated nonlinear relationship with the Reynolds number, as is seen here. But as it so happens, the Strouhal number does not vary much at all in the range of the Reynolds numbers associated with typical aeolian harps — those that use guitar strings in moderate breezes — at say, a range of Reynolds numbers of 400 and higher, and so faster winds will give us proportionally higher notes. At these Reynolds numbers, the Strouhal number is about 0.21.

However, the Strouhal number gets smaller for the Reynolds numbers associated with slow winds and large string diameters, and so we would expect that aeolian harps strings meant to operate under these conditions would require special tuning. It is from a Reynolds number range of between 90 and 400 that we would get the lower, more soothing notes from the instrument, which are often the notes most preferred by listeners. This sound might be compared to the sound of a bagpipe drone.

The fundamental tone or frequency of a string is given by the equation:
f = (1/2L) × √(T/μ)
where f is the frequency of vibration, L is the length of the sting, T is the tension in the string, and μ [Greek letter mu] is the linear density of the string — the mass per unit length of string. The string can also vibrate with frequencies that are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency given by this equation: 2, 3, 4, 5 times and so forth; these frequencies are called overtones or harmonics. If you pluck a stretched string, the tone you get will be the fundamental frequency along with a combination of the various overtones, and similarly, an aeolian harp will intone a rather different combination of these harmonics.

We see how the Strouhal number in the second equation above causes a vibration in the air around a string at a particular frequency: whenever this frequency comes close to one of the harmonic frequencies of an aeolian harp string, the string will resonate strongly at that frequency, giving us an audible tone. Since wind velocities fluctuate, the particular tone voiced on a string will change frequently, gliding from one overtone though silence to another overtone.

All aeolian harps more or less sound the same, although a good amplifier design — either a sounding board or electronic pickup — can increase the quantity of sound, as well as perhaps its quality. For this reason, there is little point in attempting to tune an aeolian harp much beyond tuning the strings to resonate with their sounding board. These harps always sound dissonant, and builders will typically tune all of the strings to the same pitch, although they will typically use various diameters of string within the same instrument to allow it to work under a range of wind speeds.

An important property of aeolian harps is that the fundamental harmonics of the strings is not heard: instead we only hear overtones, with the predominant frequency (according to various authorities) being as high as the fifth, eleventh, or 22nd overtone. Faster winds excite higher overtones, while suppressing the fundamental and lower overtones. Because of this phenomenon, slight mistunings of the fundamental note of a string become highly mistuned at high overtones, contributing to the dissonant sound of the instrument.

To achieve singing, it is noted that laminar winds — such as those found blowing off a large lake or the ocean — are preferred to turbulent ones, as is found in cities. Kircher installed his harp in a  box in order to smooth, direct, and amplify the wind. Authorities state that solid strings are preferable to wound ones, as these respond better to the vortex effect.


You can purchase your own monumental aeolian harp here. Although I don't care for the overall design, I do like the concept. Here is an audio recording of this harp:

The creator of this aeolian harp writes that some architecture of the past — on purpose or by happenstance — would create music-like sound in the wind. Would this be a good thing for new architecture, I wonder? Consider the old Catholic tradition of integrating all of the senses into her architecture and liturgy. Would something like this be good for a cloister or church garden? Many people do think that these sounds can be soothing and inspire meditation.

But judging from the reviews of this harp, as well as comments on audio recordings of aeolian harps, I find that many people either ignore or reject the sounds they make, calling the whole endeavor ‘stupid,’ or an intrusion because it doesn't fit their taste in music. Others find them irritating or depressing or a waste of money better spent elsewhere. Considering the types of people who were drawn to aeolian harp in the first place, clearly they would not appeal to those who don't share those traits. On the other hand, other kinds of people may read too much into the sounds that the harps make, turning them into a false mystical experience; clearly there is a New Agey feel to aeolian harps, and this is often due to eccentric design.

I think they could be more successful if their wild and romantic qualities could be rationalized a bit, bringing the emotions and the intellect closer together. Better design of the harps, with significantly better control over the higher harmonics, perhaps through clever damping, could retain the soothing qualities of its sound while eliminating the harsh irritating sounds. A certain classical or medieval influence would help, especially in the designs of the sculptures in which these harps usually reside.

The Old Cathedral

Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, with Gateway Arch, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

The Basilica of Saint Louis King of France, dating from 1832, in downtown Saint Louis, with the Gateway Arch in the background.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Photos of Mushrooms

RECENT RAINS have not only ended our long summer drought, but in in their wake, mushrooms have been mushrooming all over the area. Here are some photos of mushrooms I found recently at the Shaw Nature Reserve (formerly the Arboretum), in Gray Summit, Missouri.

Shaw Nature Reserve, in Gray Summit, Missouri, USA - mushroom 1

Shaw Nature Reserve, in Gray Summit, Missouri, USA - mushroom 2

Shaw Nature Reserve, in Gray Summit, Missouri, USA - mushroom 3

Shaw Nature Reserve, in Gray Summit, Missouri, USA - mushroom 4

Shaw Nature Reserve, in Gray Summit, Missouri, USA - mushroom 5

More information on the Shaw Nature Reserve

A New Orientalism and the Future of Europe

SOME YEARS AGO — in the 1990s? — I heard about a bestselling book, an alternative history novel, which posited that Charles Martel lost the Battle of Tours back in October of A.D. 732. Because of this, that which we call Europe fell under Moorish rule, which became a realm which was beautiful, peaceful, civilized, and not Christian. What I found particularly surprising was that this book was popular among otherwise secularist Europeans, those whom I would never suspect as having sympathies with a religion known for having a strongly enforced moral code.

But, as I found out later, this is nothing new. A century and more ago, the movement known as ‛Orientalism’ brought the intellectual and cultural riches of Asia — both the middle east and east Asia — to the popular imagination of the west. Nowadays, this movement is quickly dismissed as a byproduct of imperialism, having nothing to offer us today. But on the contrary, many Europeans felt drawn to Eastern culture — even if it was only a Romantic fantasy — and the British foreign service saw many in its staff ‟going native” and abandoning their duties.

I've met many former Catholics who approve of the reforms said to have been required by the Second Vatican Council, but yet they never go to church. Certainly the same phenomenon can be found in the mainline Protestant groups also since the 1960s. A reformed church often has nothing to appeal to successful reformers, since the human heart is made cold by the contemporary world with its easy impersonal scientific explanations and hollow freedoms. Uprooted people have a longing for that which appears to be authentic, and so we ought not be surprised when moderns suddenly find themselves passionately in love with the exotic, for what around them is worth falling in love with?

Although xenophobia and self-hatred are vices that may be in-born, these are certainly ingrained by upbringing, while modern identity politics exacerbates these bad tendencies of personality. Xenophobia is the vice of seeing nothing good in other cultures, while self-hatred is the vice of seeing nothing good in one's own people. While the former vice was common at the tail-end of the Romantic era, it became particularly severe in western Europe in the 1930s. That self-hatred is now the more contemporary vice in western Europe makes some sense, since vices come in opposite pairs: a person and culture is more likely to jump from one to its opposite than find the virtuous middle, since vice is easy and virtue difficult. American culture, which still has some roots in religion and philosophy, tends to better resist such changes, but certainly self-hatred and xenophobia can be found widely.

When you couple the cold and hollow modern world view with self-hatred, radical change is imminent. Western Europe is becoming ripe for conquest, and the Islamification of that region is well underway — and is quickly coming to conclusion in the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region, as the remaining Christians flee for their lives. The revolutionaries are increasingly bold and self-confident, and know that they can stand up to the West, as recent news stories show us.

The moral bankruptcy of the West is part of what is fueling Muslim rage, and they think that overthrowing our corrupt regime will be doing us a favor. However, I think that many westerners will tend to agree, for a new kind of Orientalism is alive and well, especially among those who seem to be most benefiting from the current western order. Many of these, I think, will passively accept the revolution, even if few actively promote it. I think this goes beyond the mere feeling that ‟the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” where the enemy is Christianity, for modern-day Christianity in Europe is largely a comrade-in-arms with the secular world order.

Pope Benedict sees that contemporary Catholics have lost touch with the authentic Faith: this greatly evident in western Europe, and for this reason he has placed an emphasis on recovering the ancient liturgy and criticizing trends in theology that harm Catholicism. He sees a renewed Church as an essential element in maintaining Europe.

Although Catholicism is apparently weak in the northern parts of Europe, be aware that a number of these nations still have official Protestant churches. While much of the Church's ecumenical compromises with these state religions in years past seems horribly misguided, we ought to consider that these could eventually serve as important auxiliary forces for maintaining the unity of Europe if they gather around the Barque of Peter. As Cardinal Newman reminded us, ‟to go deep into history is cease to be Protestant,” and so the slumbering Lutherans in Scandinavia and Germany, or the Anglicans in England, could one day reawaken and realize that orthodoxy is worth defending.

Europe — and likely the United States and Canada —  will soon see an influx of millions of middle eastern Christians fleeing the revolutions in their historic homelands. This older kind of Christianity may have an influence for the better, in contrast to the lazy, comfortable, irrelevant Christianity we are used to. This change will put an extreme amount of pressure, not only on civil governments, but on the bishops and Pope, for disunity would be a given.

One possibility is the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire. An elected Emperor, with no actual power of taxation or military, could nevertheless serve to unify Europe in her time of need, if only in symbol. The restoration of empire is the prerogative of the Pope, and European nobility still has some influence for making it happen, although it is tired and passive. The European Union — which revels in its exercise of power — is weakening because of the sovereign debt problem, which may lead to a breakdown of the Euro common currency or even a dissolution of the Union. This fear is leading to some calling for even more power to be ceded to the European central government. A restored European empire is an alternative, which would not centralize power but still inspire unity. Although this restoration may be attractive to many traditional Catholics who have a romantic attraction to the monarchy of old, this would be a perilous change.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


ONE OF LIFE’S little joys is finding edibles out in the wild. Being a city boy, my opportunities for learning the difference between poison and pleasure in native flora and fauna were rather limited, but wild persimmons are unmistakable delicacies.

Persimmons on plate

These are American Persimmons, Diospyros virginiana, which are native to the southeastern United States. Saint Louis is near the northern edge of their range.

These ripe fruit are sweet and delicious, with a flavor that I can only describe as tasting like persimmon — although some say it is somewhere in flavor between a date and plum. As its Greek name suggests — God's fire — persimmons of many species were considered a great delicacy since antiquity. The word ‘persimmon’ comes from the Powhatan Algonquin name for this fruit.

These fruit (technically, berries) are not bred to be attractive. Their thin skin is extremely delicate when ripe, and breaks easily, as seen here. Unripe persimmons — of this species — when plucked from trees, are astringent due to high levels of tannins. Rather, these are typically not eaten from the tree (unless they are very soft and ready to fall down), but instead are usually collected off of the ground, which is helpful since mature persimmon trees can be over 100 feet tall.

The method for eating persimmons is simple:
  • Find persimmons on the ground.
  • Is the fruit soft?
  • If yes, pick up, brush off dirt, and eat.
Insects seem to have no interest in these, so damaged fruit, with the skin broken, is likely to be clean and exceptionally sweet, and should not be bypassed.

While this is a New World fruit, trees of this species have been grown in Britain for four centuries, although it rarely sets fruit in that locale. Other species of the Diospyros genus can be found in the Old World, and the fruit goes by many names: Japanese persimmon, Sharon fruit, Khormaloo, Date-plum, Black Sapote, Mabolo, Velvet-apple, Shizi, Kaki, Hachiya, Korean Mango, and many others.

Persimmons can be baked into bread and cookies, made into preserves, dried into bars, or made into ice cream. Persimmon pie is similar in look, taste, and texture to another native American favorite, pumpkin pie. A friend, who made a number of persimmon recipes, reports that separating the pulp from the seeds is a lot of work.

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Thy birth, O Virgin Mother of God,
heralded joy to all the world.
For from thou hast risen the Sun of justice,
Christ our God.

Destroying the curse, He gave blessing;
and damning death, He bestowed on us
life everlasting.

Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
For from thou hast risen of Sun of justice,
Christ our God.
— Hymn from the Divine Office

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Abolition of Woman

THE BOOK,The Abolition of Man,” by C.S. Lewis, starts with his criticism of the  fashionable intellectual view that values are purely subjective. This debunking of values — which were largely shared by most great civilizations and religions — leads, almost inevitably, to a dystopian future: a political and economic system with the aim of universal genocide. That book comes originally from scholarly lectures, and so may not be easily readable; Lewis also fictionalized his observations in his novel, That Hideous Strength.

Some may consider this to be an antiquated opinion, surely contemporary thinkers want nothing more than a better life for us all? But perhaps a hundred million people were killed in the 20th century by revolutionary regimes who also claimed to want build a better future. But consider the aims of “deep” environmentalists: they believe that the world’s population must be quickly eliminated, with needed deaths in the billions. A bad intellectual fashion can have a huge body count: ideas matter.

I am not being alarmist, for the same intellectual trends continue today, and politicians have eagerly taken up the cause.

Recently, the influential feminist Shulamith Firestone was found dead at age 67. She was famed for her 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. Quoting from the book:
So that just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility - the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.
Although it was written decades after Lewis’ books, The Dialectic of Sex continues the same themes in surprisingly close detail: the need for a revolution via force or the threat of force, the institution of a totalitarian government, the aggressive use of new technology, the promise of utopia, all leading to universal genocide, or in her words, “the elimination of labour altogether.” Under Firestone’s system, women would not be free to be women, and eventually they may not be allowed to exist at all. Man, and Woman, would be abolished.

Underlying this is a hatred of biology: the revolution would be complete when “The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.” Likewise, Lewis’ antagonists in That Hideous Strength have an extreme hatred of biology. Should we decry the tyranny of the ant colony, or two birds in a nest with their eggs?  Why then the hatred of the natural human family, imperfect as it is?

Underlying much of the contemporary agenda is a Gnostic-like hatred of the material world, which has bad consequences. See the article, Rapture and the Gnostic Tendency: this kind of thinking ultimately leads to the desire for genocide. How many millions of unborn children have been abolished because of Firestone’s influence?

But slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies. Arguing thusly with someone can get them to actually want genocide. Be aware that very many people support the basic aims of Firestone’s program, but few know the radical goals of those who actually are implementing it. What alternative can we offer? According to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “The child is God’s gift to the family. Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things - to love and to be loved.” Clearly there is a difficult road ahead of us.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - altar of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Altar of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, at Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Yellow composite flower

Monday, September 03, 2012

Photos from a Night Hike

“GUMBO FLATS” is the rather homely name for the floodplain of the Missouri River in western Saint Louis County, and its dark, gumbo-like soil was highly regarded as the most fertile in the region, famed for growing cantaloupes, pumpkins, and other water-craving produce. After the devastating flood of 1993, high levies were built around the edges of this floodplain — now called by the more fashionable name of Chesterfield Valley — and a two-mile long strip mall, athletic fields, and high-tech industry replaced the farmland where German prisoners-of-war and Japanese internees once labored.

A few farms can still be found in Gumbo Flats, but beyond the levies, on the margins of the greatest river in North America, is a remaining wilderness that had been otherwise lost from the rest of the valley for over a century.

Hiking is good exercise filled with photo opportunities, but during this exceptionally hot summer, I either bring along large amounts of fluid, or preferably, I go out during the evening. The Missouri Department of Conservation areas are typically open until 10:00 p.m., while National Fish and Wildlife areas are open 24 hours a day, making these parks excellent for late-night adventuring.

Here are photos I took recently at the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife RefugeBoone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield Valley. Located just north of Interstate 64 and some ball fields, the sound of vehicles and the cheer of crowds break the illusion of remoteness, but it is still pleasant walking through a dark forest:

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - forest path

Is it pleasant, or frightening, in the dark? Perhaps both? We live in an age where nervous parents overly-protect their children, to the point where children become fearful and sickly because they are not exposed to the dangers of life — but this age also promotes exceptionally risky behaviors. Moral theologians instead remind us that the virtue of courage is built up by habitually taking measured risks, while never being either a coward nor foolhardy. Clearly, although the greatest dangers come from our fellow human beings, stumbling around in a forest at night has its own danger, not the least is poison ivy, which is seen growing here on both sides of the trail.

But it also has its own beauties. Even the commonplace becomes mysterious as dusk deepens.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - overgrown forest path

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - forest clearing

The full moon rises over a small clearing.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - forest path 2

Wild grape vines climb into the trees here, near the river. On the opposite side of the river, in Saint Charles County, there are numerous wineries that take advantage of the good grape-growing conditions found hereabouts.

The problem with night photography is that the camera diligently works to make a well-exposed photo, and the results will likely look like broad daylight and not dusk — if, that is, you can get a photo at all due to the darkness. A tripod or special low-light camera gear can help. The human eye has a special low-light adaptation which gives a different appearance of tonality and color than does a camera. I've done some manipulation on these images to simulate that effect, which I describe in technical detail here, here, and here.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - view of Johnson Island at sunset

The river, after more than a mile's hike, with the remaining sunset giving a warm color to the sky.

This is — as far as I know — an unnamed chute, with Johnson Island in the background. Access to the island is only by boat from across the river, and you have to cross the rather treacherous Missouri River. Because the river has shifted in course since these areas were surveyed by the Spanish Crown, part of the island is in Saint Louis County, and other parts are in Saint Charles. There are several areas nearby where you can walk between the counties on land.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - view of chute at sunset

In the background is the main channel of the river.

Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Boone's Crossing Unit, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - dry lake

On the way back to the tiny parking area, these trees were illumined by the last bit of dusk and by lights from a sports field a half mile to the south.

The Howell Island Conservation Area is located nearby. Access to the island is by a low-water causeway, which was recently reconstructed. These photos were taken on the causeway, showing Centaur Chute, and the scene was illumined by moonlight and by distant city lights illumining the sky:

Howell Island Conservation Area, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - view of Centaur Chute and Howell Island 1

The stillness of this low water is contrasted by the rapids formed here during spring flooding.

Howell Island Conservation Area, in Chesterfield, Missouri, USA - view of Centaur Chute and Howell Island

A restful scene to complete the evening.