Archive for December, 2011

The Deeper Meaning of Rudolph

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer











I have reached the age where I’m trying to be more reflective and purposeful (aka, midlife crisis).  Or perhaps it’s just that my husband’s deep thinker tendencies are rubbing off on me.  Here’s what he has to say about Rudolph:

  • So.  The family was all together watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last night (Mama in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap).  Our youngest daughter, the seven year old, asked if any of the reindeer were girls.  If you’ve seen the show recently, you might recall that the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh all are clearly males: the bucks all have antlers and the does don’t.  However, a quick Google search suggests that that this is actually backwards:  male reindeer typically lose their antlers before December, while the females, which do have antlers, retain theirs. But while the show does get a couple of mere prosaic facts wrong, it’s the mythic aspects of Rudolph I find interesting.

BTW, as further proof, David also pointed out that many of the reindeer names in Clement Moore’s original poem (A Visit from St. Nicholas) while conceivably gender neutral in 2011, were probably quite feminine in mid-nineteenth century America (just think about Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, and Cupid for a start).  This launched a long discussion of whether this 1960s portrayal of Rudolph is actually an anti-feminist screed – don’t forget that Coach Comet shoos Clarice and Mrs. Donner (she’s never named) back to the cave because searching for Rudolph is “men’s work”.  But I digress.  There’s more:

  • Mythic, you ask? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Well, Rudolph himself is pretty much your basic Joseph Campbell “hero-with-a-thousand-faces”. You’ve seen him before; he’s Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, all those guys.  However, the other characters are bit more nuanced. Consider King Moonracer.   Who is he and why is he even in RTRNR?  If you don’t recall, King Moonracer is the sovereign of the Island of Misfit Toys.  The misfit toys are in hell and Moonracer is the Lord of the Underworld – he’s the god Hades.  He’s not the Christian devil; he’s not evil.  He presides over those who are unloved and no longer alive.  He also represents the Anti-Santa.  Santa rules Christmastown with mercy and compassion; if you’re good, you get toys (and I’ve noticed, at least in our house, that Santa brings the naughty kids plenty of toys, too).  Hades rules with old-fashioned Old Testament judgment: when Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius ask to stay, Moonracer rejects their request and only allows them to spend a single night on the Island – just enough so they know the taste of being truly forgotten and unloved.


King Moonracer
















Yukon Cornelius






But that’s not end of the story, of course. Rudolph and his friends leave the Island to confront and overcome their fears (though Yukon dies and is raised from the dead – but that’s another story).  Santa sees his own errors of judgment and together Santa and Rudolph redeem the Misfit Toys.  And we hear them exclaim, as they fly out of sight — Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Up next:  The Grinch

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

by Nick Miller

Ted Schultz was one of my early mentors when I began my career in noise and acoustics.  When I first joined Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. he was consulting to HUD, providing technical background for its noise abatement standards.  Throughout that impressive and detailed work, he considered annoyance as one of the important reactions to noise and, I believe, collected and analyzed social surveys relating annoyance to sound levels.  As a further outcome, in 1978, Ted published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, his “Synthesis of social surveys on noise annoyance,” (see also my blog of April 2010 ).  This article provided in its Figure 6 a curve giving percent of people highly annoyed as a function of noise exposure in terms of day-night average sound level.  This curve became associated with much of present federal policy for determining noise “impact” and is commonly called the Schultz curve.

For the past few years, there has been general concern that this curve may no longer accurately represent how people respond to aircraft noise.  Because Federal Aviation Administration noise policy is required by legislation to use a system of noise measurement that has “… a highly reliable relationship between projected noise exposure and surveyed reactions of individuals to noise….” (49 U.S.C Section 47502) it is important that the relationship of annoyance and noise exposure be reliable and reflects current conditions.

The Airport Cooperative Research Program is sponsoring research to design a new national survey of annoyance reactions and sleep disturbance caused by aircraft noise.  One objective is to develop an up-to-date, unbiased estimate of the annoyance / noise exposure relationship for US airports and surrounding communities – potentially an update of the Schultz curve.   We were fortunate enough to put together a team and a winning proposal to conduct this research.  Now, I must say that I knew Ted Schultz, Ted Schultz was a friend of mine, and I’m certainly no Ted Schultz, but I am nevertheless honored to be leading this team in work that is a direct follow-on to Ted’s impressive  accomplishment.