December 16, 2014 archive

TBC: Morning Musing 12.16.14

I have 2 articles for ya this morning!

First, the torture argument framed in a food for thought way:

A useful way of looking at torture: the bank robbery analogy

The comparisons between bank robbery and torture don’t end there. Our government and media have made the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” sound perfectly acceptable, when we all know it is simply a euphemism for torture. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley parodied this phrase when he pointed out that waterboarding is no more an enhanced interrogation technique than bank robbery is an enhanced money withdrawal technique.


On This Day In History December 16

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

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

December 16 is the 350th day of the year (351st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 15 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water.

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea coming into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protestors would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston’s commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

The Banjo’s uncomfortable past

Background: As some of you may unfortunately know, this past year I’ve been indulging myself with a musical mid life crisis. I’ve started to learn how to play 5 string banjo.

The short story is this. For just about my entire life there had been this old dusty banjo in the house that no one played. It belongs to my father. In the mid fifties he helped organize a Pete Seeger (a known communist) concert on campus. This means he probably has his very own file folder deep in the Hoover building. My father also has his very own Pete Seeger story but that will have to wait for another blog post. A short while after the concert, inspired by Seeger and other folk artists, my father purchased the least expensive banjo available at Sears. Since he was already making progress learning the guitar he figured the banjo would be easy. After all, it had less strings!

After another short while, frustrated, the banjo was put back in its case to collect dust for five decades. A couple decades in the attic, then about 10 years in the basement, another 10 years below the plant rack in the den next to the LPs we haven’t played since we couldn’t find replacement needles for the old HiFi. Followed by some time in the garage before moving to a storage unit.  Except for the few times I’d sneak it out of the case and strum it as a little kid looking for trouble, this specific instrument has had a pretty uneventful life. Until recently at least. Now I annoy people with it for at least 5 minutes every day. I know, I know, 5 minutes a day is not enough to make any measurable progress but I don’t want to drive the people I live with completely insane.

I’m not sure exactly what drew me to rescue the banjo from storage and start playing it at age 46. Maybe it was Seeger visiting Occupy Wall Street. I’m sure that was a factor. I was also a band geek in high school. One of my greatest achievements was making it into the All-State Band playing Small Tuba aka Euphonium. It’s been a long time since I’ve been The Best at anything and I admit to missing the stage and everything that goes along with it. Anyone who says they don’t like the cheers and adulation is just lying.  Small Tuba does have its drawbacks. There’s not much you can do with it beyond joining a circus or military band. While a circus band would be loads of fun, the musicians who play in them are world class. And it’s been a quarter century since I’ve played seriously. So I asked myself, why not find a new passion? Why not lead people in a robust chorus of Solidarity Forever & Which Side Are You On? Everybody and their brother plays guitar. But banjo? That would be bad ass cool!  I knew where I could find an instrument, and of course the most important factor – it was FREE – just sitting there in storage waiting for me. Enough about my  uncomfortable past…

About the Banjo’s uncomfortable past…

The banjo is a four-, five- or (occasionally) six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator. The membrane is typically a piece of animal skin or plastic, and the frame is typically circular. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in Colonial America, adapted from several African instruments of similar design.[1]

The banjo is frequently associated with country, folk, Irish traditional and bluegrass music. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African American traditional music, before becoming popular in the minstrel shows of the 19th century. In fact, slaves both were influenced by and influenced the early development of the music, which became country and bluegrass, particularly in regard to the innovation of musical techniques for both the banjo and fiddle.[2][3][4] The banjo, with the fiddle, is a mainstay of American old-time music.

Part of learning a new instrument is learning its’ history. What I meant by its past being uncomfortable, is not the banjo’s fifteen minutes of pop culture fame as the sound track for Appalachian man on man rape in the movie Deliverance (BTW if you’re ever on Jeopardy, the Dueling Banjos tune is traditionally performed with banjo and guitar, not two banjos). I’m talking about the history of the banjo, heavily promoted at the time as “The American Instrument“, and its association with American blackface minstrel shows of the 19th and early 20th century. Basically you have an instrument with African roots, being popularized by white American performers in blackface, then later black Americans in blackface, using exaggerated stereotyped… well you can understand why the instrument lost a great deal of popularity over the 20th century.

So how are actual black American minstrel show artists and performers viewed? As you might imagine, their work has a long history of being celebrated and vilified. Even now there are black banjo performers getting called Uncle Toms in the comment threads on You-Tube.  


Late Night Karaoke

TDS/TCR (Acts of War and Hacker Attacks)


Jessica Williams

Martin Freeman’s Second Fiddle

The real news and this week’s guests below.

Thoroughly Modern Meatless Mince Pie

Republished from 11/6/2011 from the What’s Cooking Archives at The Stars Hollow Gazette

Mince pie is a old holiday tradition that can be traced back to 13th century when European crusaders returned from the Middle East with recipes for meats, fruits and spices. Mincing was a way of preserving meats without salting or smoking. The pie has been served at royal tables and, at one time, was banned by the Puritans since it was a symbol of the Pagan Christmas celebration.

Traditional mincemeat pie contains shredded meat and suet along with fruits and spices and cooks for hours. Mostly made with beef, there is a record of a recipe that used whale meat.  Today, most cooks buy mince in a jar, like Cross & Blackwell or None-Such, to make pies and small tarts. I use to do that as well, adding chopped apples, walnuts and extra brandy.

Several years ago, I came across recipe for a meatless mince full of apples, dried fruits and lots of spices. It cooks over low heat for about ninety minutes filling the house and the neighborhood with its spicy aroma. This recipe calls for pippin apples but MacIntosh, Granny Smith or any pie variety of apple is a fine substitute. I use a combination. It can be made a week or so ahead of time and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. The recipe will make one pie or about a dozen medium tarts. I like the tarts even though it’s more work making the crusts. For the top crust, I make decorative cutouts with small cookie cutters, shaped like leaves and acorns. I’ve also just made a few cutouts in the top crust and surrounded the pie edge with the dough cutouts.

Modern Mince Pie


   3 1/2 pounds small pippin apples (about 7), peeled, cored, chopped

   1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes

   1/2 cup golden raisins

   1/2 cup dried currants

   1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

   1/4 cup unsulfured (light) molasses

   1/4 cup brandy

   1/4 cup orange juice

   1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

   2 tablespoons dark rum

   1 tablespoon grated orange peel

   1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

   1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

   1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

   1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

   1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

   Pinch of salt


Combine first 17 ingredients in heavy large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook over low heat until apples are very tender and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool filling completely. (Can be prepared up to 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Roll out 1 pie crust disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch-diameter round (about 1/8 inch thick). Roll up dough on rolling pin and transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie plate. Gently press into place. Trim edges of crust, leaving 3/4-inch overhang. Fold overhang under crust so that crust is flush with edge of pie pan. Crimp edges with fork to make decorative border. Spoon filling into crustlined pan, gently pressing flat.

Roll out second disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut out about 28 three-inch leaves using cookie cutter. Press leaves lightly with tines of fork to form vein pattern. Brush bottom of 1 leaf with milk. Place leaf atop mince, overlapping crust slightly and pressing to adhere to crust. Continue placing leaves atop pie in concentric circles, overlapping edges slightly until top of pie is covered. Brush crust with milk. Bake until crust is golden brown and mince bubbles, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. Serve pie with rum raisin ice cream if desired.

(To make this recipe vegan substitute light olive oil for the butter.

Bon appétit!