Monday, February 16, 2009

Unemployment during the Great Depression

It seems that there are no actual measurements of unemployment during the Great Depression; all the numbers are later estimates by economists. Eric Rauchway notes that some folks are relying on earlier estimates rather than more contemporary ones.

Rauchway has a graph on his blog, but not the actual numbers. The Historical Statistics of the United States has their data online, but they charge a fee. Fortunately, my city taxes fund a useful educational institution known as a public library, which I pass every day on my bicycle ride home from work, and which holds a usefully broad collection of standard reference works. In few minutes, and for little more than two bits, I obtained photocopies of the relevant tables.

There are four editions of HSUS. The first three were published by the US Department of Commerce; the most recent of these was the Bicentennial Edition in 1975. The most recent edition was the Millenial Edition, published by Cambridge University with the permission of the Department of Commerce in 2005.

The earlier edition was based on a 1964 reconstruction by Stanley Lebergott, while the revision relies on a 1992 study by David Weir. The key difference is the handling of WPA and CCC workers, HSUS reports, but Weir also drew on a broader range of sources to assess non-manufacturing unemployment.

Below are the unemployment estimates from the two editions, from 1928 to 1943.

Historical Statistics of the United States, Millenium Edition
Unemployed, as a Percentage of Civilian Labor Force:
1928 - 4.74
1929 - 2.89
1930 - 8.94
1931 - 15.65
1932 - 22.89
1933 - 20.90
1934 - 16.20
1935 - 14.39
1936 - 9.97
1937 - 9.18
1938 - 12.47
1939 - 11.27
1940 - 9.51
1941 - 5.99
1942 - 3.10
1943 - 1.77

Historical Statistics of the United States, Bicentennial Edition
Unemployed, Percent of Labor Force
1928 - 4.2
1929 - 3.2
1930 - 8.9
1931 - 16.3
1932 - 24.1
1933 - 25.2
1934 - 22.0
1935 - 20.3
1936 - 17.0
1937 - 14.3
1938 - 19.1
1939 - 17.2
1940 - 14.6
1941 - 9.9
1942 - 4.7
1943 - 1.9

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Didgeridoo Sleeptime

My girlfriend helpfully informs me of a study indicating that practicing the didgeridoo every day helps with snoring, by training the muscles of the upper airway with circular breathing exercises.

But this story about didgeridoos has perhaps the most nonsensical statement I've ever read in a piece of science journalism.

"If didgeridoo players had ears in their mouths, they'd go deaf."

What kind of sense does that make?

Didgeridoos are interesting instruments. I've often wondered how a didgeridoo would sound in a jug band. Jug bands are so named coz they included instrumentalists who focused on playing the jug. But some jug bands instead had performers playing the stovepipe: a length of stovepipe played identically to the jug, a few inches away from the mouth.

Most homemade didgeridoos are just lengths of PVC pipe, with a mouthpiece made of beeswax. The playing style is much more sophisticated, creating a complex drone with circular breathing, rather than the simple rhythm of the jug. But it certainly seems like it'd fit in the novel aesthetic of the jug band. Plus, it'd probably be great fun to play "Foldin' Bed" on the didgeridoo.

Apropos of nothing, here is Rufus Harley, the jazz bagpiper.

Whistled Language & Palatal Whistling

I've been interested in whistled languages for a while now; replacing the voiced sounds of speech with whistled sounds seems like it would be really fun to hear. It's a phenomenon which has cropped up in languages across the world, mostly in isolated, rugged terrain, and most frequently among tonal languages.

Silbo Gomero has the best known whistled language, which was adapted from the indigenous language into Spanish. And who wouldn't like to visit the Canary Islands? Whistled languages are fairly common in West Africa, especially among the tonal Niger-Congo languages. has a couple of interesting videos demonstrating the whistling of the silbadores. They use fingered whistling, which is very loud. But it consequently seems like they map spoken phonemes to whistled phonemes that are different. It seems like whistled languages are more common in languages with a fairly small set of sounds.

Whistling is an interesting skill. Some vaudeville performers integrated whistling into their acts, usually as a novelty activity; several were able to whistle tunes with a variety of objects such as spoons in their mouths. Apparently, some people can whistle and hum at the same time, or whistle two tunes at once, or all sorts of strange things. Whistling has fallen out of favor as a musical enterprise, though. In elementary school, I whistled several tunes at my elementary school talent show.

I only have one or two memories of learning to whistle when I was a kid. I remember trying to pucker whistle in the passenger's seat of my Dad's old brown VW pickup in Oklahoma, some 20 years ago, when I got my first whistling sound. I never learned to finger whistle, because while it seemed usefully loud, I could already pucker whistle so much more fluently.

This NPR story, Whistling to Communicate in Alaska, is what really sparked my interest in whistled language. One of the Yupik girls interviewed whistles an English sentence, which was mostly readily intelligible to me, although she said whistling English was "difficult." It's been a little hard to figure out how to do this, though, because people can whistle in different ways and audio-only recordings aren't very instructive. I can only do pucker whistling, and since your lips are busy making the whistling sound, they can't make the consonant sounds of speech. English doesn't reliably distinguish vowels based on tone only: There's a limit to what Harpo Marx can communicate using only a slide whistle or a bulb horn.

At some point, I got the idea that whistled language like the Yupik girls were using was palatal whistling. I had never heard of such a thing: in the world of my childhood, you could whistle with your fingers, or you could whistle like how they explained it in that clip from "To Have and Have Not."

Trying to figure out palatal whistling, I found the Web site of whistling virtuoso and professor Tamas Hacki, which is both amazing and enormously helpful. He has recordings of whistled classical music on his site, but more helpfully, there are a number of YouTube videos of him performing. Apparently, he's been doing this since the 1960s.

It seems that the way to start to learn to do this is to make a "sh, sh, sh" noise until you get some whistle harmonics, and improve on that sound. The first few times I tried doing this for 10 minutes or so, the hyperventilating made me light-headed, so I only practiced it very rarely. In the last month or so, I've taken to attempting this on my 10-minute bicycle ride to work every day. It's a convenient block of time that I use for little except trying to avoid getting hit by cars.

Progress has been slow. At first, I was only shushing, with some rare, weak whistle harmonics here and there. Shushing a tune helped sometimes, but mostly because it forced a variety of changes in position of various parts of the mouth. About two weeks ago, I started to reliably be able to produce a whistle tone, although I can't vary it much without losing the whistle. Trying to memorize the position of my tongue when I successfully whistle this way has helped. Now, I can generally produce a whistle tone without many misfires, although I cannot control it well yet. Certainly I am not ready to join the International Artwhistling Philharmonic Society.

It's hard to describe, but it feels like my tongue is pressed against the rear of the roof of my mouth. It has a slightly rolled shape, presumably with a small opening for air at the front. Usually, my lips have a somewhat narrow rounded shape.

If I had to do this over, I'd learn Morse code at the same time, because it would give you something more interesting to do while you practice one note over and over.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009





It looks like I have actually started the blog here. I've been blogging at since...April 7, 2006, wow!

It's been fun there, but Mojo lacks a couple of features I would like. Unicode is the main issue: I want to blog in Japanese, as well as unconventional or made-up languages and alphabets.

Who is Panglott? Perhaps a foolish disciple of the optimistic doctor, a necromaunt of inkhorns, or merely boring, pedantic, and unfun.