December 13, 2014 archive

A Diatribe

Often I see it mentioned by folks that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and bemoaning the state of our society. This is often accompanied by myriad reasons, some of which seem to have more merit than others in my opinion.

While I tend to agree with the statement in general, and several of the reasons in particular, I have come upon what I consider a defining moment among the reasons, and that is defending the torture that our gov’t and its operatives did in our name.

I’m sorry, but it’s beyond the pale. There is NO defense for torture. Not for doing it to an animal or a human being, period, full stop. That there are so many people that are seemingly defending it in the aftermath of the release of the Executive Summary of the torture report disheartens me greatly.

On This Day In History December 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.a

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 13 is the 347th day of the year (348th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 18 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1642, Abel Tasman discovers New Zealand.

New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses (the North Island and the South Island), and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Maori language name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, commonly translated as land of the long white cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing but in free association); Tokelau; and the Ross Dependency (New Zealand’s territorial claim in Antarctica).

The majority of Zealand’s population is of European descent; the indigenous Maori are the largest minority. Asians and non-Maori Polynesians are also significant minority groups, especially in urban areas. The most commonly spoken language is English.

New Zealand is a developed country that ranks highly in international comparisons on many topics, including lack of corruption, high educational attainment and economic freedom. Its cities also consistently rank among the world’s most liveable.

Elizabeth II, as the Queen of New Zealand, is the country’s head of state and is represented by a Governor-General, and executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet of New Zealand.

Polynesian settlers

New Zealand is one of the most recently settled major landmasses. The first known settlers were Eastern Polynesians who, according to most researchers, arrived by canoe in about AD 1250-1300. Some researchers have suggested an earlier wave of arrivals dating to as early as AD 50-150; these people then either died out or left the islands. Over the following centuries these settlers developed into a distinct culture now known as Maori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapu (subtribes) which would cooperate, compete and sometimes fight with each other. At some point a group of Maori migrated to the Chatham Islands where they developed their distinct Moriori culture.

European explorers

The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman and his crew in 1642. Maori killed four of the crew and no Europeans returned to New Zealand until British explorer James Cook’s voyage of 1768-71. Cook reached New Zealand in 1769 and mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded European food and goods, especially metal tools and weapons, for Maori timber, food, artefacts and water. On occasion, Europeans traded goods for sex.

The potato and the musket transformed Maori agriculture and warfare, beginning in the frequently visited north then spreading southwards. The resulting Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing 30,000-40,000 Maori, although introduced diseases would play an even greater role in the Maori population’s decline to around 40% of its pre-contact level during the 19th century. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Maori population, although their initial inroads were mainly among the more disaffected elements of society.



The Breakfast Club (Bells)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgBells seem to be a recurring theme at the holiday season.  You have Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland, and Carol of the Bells among others.

Along with Drums and Flutes they’re among mankind’s oldest instruments dating back to the Neolithic period.  What you say?  Bells before metal?  Well, yeah duh.  Haven’t you seen ceramic wind chimes?  The oldest examples are from China, ceramic ones from the Yangshao culture, metal ones start to appear at the Taosi and Erlitou sites c. 2000 BCE and were quite common by the Shang Dynasty in 1600 BCE, sometimes even being used on horse tack and dog collars.

So, jingle bells, but when most people think about bells they think about Church or Temple Bells, large heavy things made of bronze, brass, or iron (rarely silver, though smaller hand held ones are sometimes plated on the outside).  There are many details of the harmonics inherent in bells and the types of ways they can be rung in the Wikipedia article I cite or this alternate one, but what’s important to remember is that they’re primarily a percussion instrument and, while minor adjustments in the way they sound can be made by striking them in different manners, when used alone provide only rhythmic accompaniment.

Well how do you get around that limitation?  By using lots of them in different sizes tuned to different notes.  A set of bells is known as a peal and small sets of 6 or 8 are used in a style called Change Ringing.  Because it’s mathmatically based some of the combinations are distinctly, uhh… unmusical.  I mention it because it’s one of the major plot devices in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors.

Larger peals of at least 23 Bells make a musical instrument called a Carillon which is most similar to an Organ but also closely related to the Harpsichord and Piano.  Like them you can use it to play a tune-

A number of composers have written specifically for the Carillon, among the earliest was Mathias van den Gheyn.  His 11 Preludes are among the most frequently performed works, here’s a Fugue in C Major-

Now the thing is that Carillons are even bigger, more expensive, and less portable than Organs while being equally likely to be melted down for cannons and such.  If you’re a big deal composer like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and you’re writing a grand patriotic tribute such as the 1812 Overture AND you have the backing of the Tsar of all the Russias, then of course you can have as many Bells and Cannons you want.

More commonly the problem is that, while cannon are easily moved around (for authenticity) or sonically duplicated, it’s very difficult to move a Carillon into your Orchestra pit. A good substitute are Tubular Bells.

Today’s example is The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  It’s a choral symphony scored for a choir with Soprano, Tenor, and Baritone soloists, the standard assortment of strings- 1st & 2nd Violins, Violas, Cellos, and Double basses, Piccolo, 3 Flutes, 3 Oboes, English Horn, 3 Soprano Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 3 Bassoons, Contra Bassoon, 6 French Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, 4 Tubular Bells, Glockenspiel, Triangle, Tambourine, Snare Drum, Cymbals, Bass Drum, Tamtam, Piano, Celesta, Harp, and Organ.

The words (in Russian translation) are taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells and when you read it you can see the Romantic themes that would have appealed to Rachmaninoff, a late Romantic composer, 65 years later.

It is said to have been one of his two personal favorites (the other being All-Night Vigil).

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

Late Night Karaoke

Random Japan

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Wear black – The 20 most memorable anime deaths, as chosen by fans

 Casey Baseel

While the gigantic robots and gratuitous nudity were certainly eye-catching, when I first started watching Japanese animation, one of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that anime characters could, well, die. Sure, American cartoons from Tom and Jerry to G.I. Joe were filled with explosions and gunplay, but while the violence was abundant, injuries were conspicuously absent.

Anime tales, though, have no qualms about knocking off their players. As a matter of fact, characters shake off this mortal coil so frequently that a recent poll ranked the 20 most memorable anime deaths.

OMG this slope is slippery: Air Force Secretary supports transgender in military

In an interview with Capitol Download’s Susan Page on Wednesday Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the ban on transgender troops is likely to be reassessed in the near future and that she believes it should be lifted.

Times Change.  [The current policy] is likely to come under review in the next year or so.

From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve.

You know, I think that is likely to come under review in the next year or so. So I think we should stand by, and times change, and we’ll just have to see what happens there.

–Secretary James

James is the first secretary of a branch of the armed forces to openly support the idea of ending the ban on transgender troops.

The Williams Institute has estimated that there are currently about 15,500 transgender people now serving in the US military.

Conservative forces say allowing transgender troops to serve openly would create complications on issues of housing and health care.

Aaron Belkin of The Palm Center called James’ remarks a positive step.

President Obama is the commander in chief and is ultimately responsible for setting policy, and it is imperative for him to clarify his position as well.


[James’ remarks] provide further proof that it is only a question of when, not if, the outdated, discriminatory ban on transgender troops will be lifted.

–Ian Thompson, ACLU