Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Musical Sanity Break: Eric Whitacre and the Virtual Choir

by Nomad

This is certainly a time that calls for a little harmony and calmness. For that reason, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to a special person.

Meet Grammy-winning American composer and conductor, Eric Whitacre. Although you might not have heard of him before, The Daily Telegraph has called Whitacre a "rare thing, a modern composer who is both popular and original."

He has won numerous awards for his work, including awards from the Barlow international composition competition, American Choral Directors Association, American Composers' Forum
But that's only half of the story.

By combining his choral, orchestral and wind ensemble music, the power of the Internet and thousands of talented strangers- as well as Whitacre's determination- his Virtual Choir projects have  pushed the boundaries and inspired the world. 

I will let him explain the concept in this 2011 TED lecture the rest of the details.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How the Facts about Benghazi Bring an End to the Republican Lying Game

by Nomad

After two long years of investigating the Benghazi incident, the Republicans were forced to admit that all of the slanderous claims made against Obama and his administration were, in fact, untrue.
Nobody wants to talk about holding anybody to account now.

This week the last chapter in the pathetic Benghazi attack saga was finally written.
After years of constant (some said faked) outrage about the tragic events in September 2012, the final report by the Republican Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was very quietly released. It should have been big news. The mainstream media however barely reported it. 
That's not a surprise perhaps since this report- direct from the Committee itself- absolutely vindicated the Obama administration's version of events.

The investigations really started on that night with presidential candidate Mitt Romney's famous smirk. For a president seeking re-election, the timing of the Libyan event couldn't have been worse. The tragedy allowed the Republicans to paint the entire administration as incompetent, careless, and able to react to an unfolding crisis. Weak leadership, in a word.

Unfortunately, Romney overplayed his hand and his opportunism backfired miserably, leading one commentator to call the candidate's press conference   "one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign." 
Fox News however called Romney's remarks about the Benghazi attack a demonstration of his "Reaganesque commitment to American resolve in our might."
On that night, the battle lines were drawn.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why an Oil Company Plans to Sue County for $1.2 Billion After Voter-Approved Fracking Ban

by Nomad

Following a vote against fracking and other enhanced oil extraction processes, voters and local officials in one California county are learning what happens when you cross an ambitious corporation.

Local government officials in central California's San Benito County have every reason to feel bullied and bruised by recent events in the area. 

Measure J
In a November ballot, a referendum known as Measure J was put before its citizens. That initiative was a proposed ban on all "enhanced petroleum extraction such as fracking, cyclic steaming and well acidizing along with all petroleum activities in rural residential zones."

Supporters argued a so-called fracking ban was necessary to prevent possible environmental impacts. According to Measure J supporters, the toxic chemicals used in the extraction process had the potential to cause cancer and other illnesses through groundwater and watershed contamination. The impact to endangered species in a nearby national park was also cited as a cause for worry. 

The Washington-D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity pointed out 
“These enhanced recovery methods include steam extraction, acid extraction, and hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Although all of these methods involve chemistry not used in traditional oil and natural gas extraction, in California none of them is regulated or tracked any differently than are the traditional methods. Statewide, there is no requirement that companies declare the chemicals used in their extraction operations, or even that they are using enhanced extraction methods. Any regulation on these activities therefore (need to be) enacted at the county level.”
Finally, Measure J supported also noted  in quake-prone California,  the possible impact of fracking  on fault-lines should be matter of grave concern. Even in areas where there is little seismic activity, where fracking has been used, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tremors. San Benito County already has its risks. The notorious San Andreas Fault runs through the region. 

Opposing the ballot initiative was in Newport Beach- based, Citadel Exploration. The oil company, founded in 2006, was set to begin its Project Indian in the Bitterwater area near Pinnacles National Park. In 2013, the company had received approval from county supervisors, over the objections of environmental groups, for a this limited pilot project.

While still in the testing and initial production stage, the oil drilling project was expected to recover an estimated millions of barrels of heavy (11-14 gravity API) oil. Alongside the oil companies were local farmers ready to sign lucrative real estate deals. The company pointed out that strictly speaking the technique to be used was not fracking

It turned out to be a showdown between environmental groups and powerful corporations which reportedly spent $2 million in advertising to defeat the initiative. That's not surprising. Armen V. Nahabedian, President and CEO of Citadel Exploration. has talked up the project
"Having worked on this project for over seven years, I can't overstate the importance and magnitude of our discovery at Project Indian."
When the measure passed by a strong majority (57.36%) in this month, citizens might have thought that would have been the end of the matter. As of Jan 1 next year, because of the vote, all enhanced extraction practices are to be banned and existing projects would have up to three years to comply with the provisions. 
End of story? 
Not quite.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Tale of Empires and Elephants 2/2

by Nomad

Here's the conclusion of the historical tale of the last days of the Roman Republic and the revenge of the slaughtered elephants. We will also compare those brutal times to our own.

In the first of this two-part series we recounted how the ambitious masters of Rome were step by step destroying the Republic. In public spectacle in 55 BC, the audience, so used to bloodshed, were suddenly unexpectedly repulsed by the cruel slaughter of 18 elephants, who had begged in vain for mercy. Instead of applauding Pompey, the sponsor of the celebrations, the disgusted citizens of Rome denounced and cursed him.  
Let's watch the rest of this classic tragedy play out.

Destinies Fulfilled
It didn't take long for the Gods to answer the calls of revenge from the dying elephants and the curses of the Roman public. Within two years, the First Triumvirate tottered and collapsed.
The intermarriage ties between Caesar and Pompey- Pompey was married to Caesar's daughter Julia- dissolved upon her tragic death in childbirth.

First to die was Marcus Crassus, one third of the three-way alliance. After a military disaster in the East against the Parthians, his troops mutinied in Syria, and was later murdered while trying to arrange a humiliating peace negotiation. According to accounts from one Roman historian, his particularly gruesome death at the hands of his enemy was meant to be a testament to his greed. Molten gold was supposedly poured down his throat while he still alive.

A showdown between Caesar and Pompey now seemed all but inevitable.

For five more years, Pompey managed to hold onto Rome. That all quickly unraveled when Caesar returned from successfully conquering of Gaul (modern day France) with his sizable armies and considerably more wealth. Certainly enough to bribe whomever stood in his way.
In open defiance of Senate orders to bring his troops into Rome and to come alone and unprotected, Caesar and his armies continued a march south, crossing the Rubicon. That act was a declaration that he would no longer take orders from the Senate.

The political crisis had now become an all-out civil war. After losing battles in Spain and Greece, Pompey's hold on power became less and less convincing. With the Roman people' and the city armies' allegiance unreliable, Pompey had little choice but to flee (along with much of the Senate) to Egypt, with hopes of later re-establishing control. From there, he presumably planned to cut all grain shipments to Rome and force Caesar into negotiations.
It was not to be.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Story of Empires and Elephants 1/2

by Nomad

In this first of a two-part post, I want to go back to one of the most important moments of Western history, when the Roman Republican was beginning to unravel  and the small but surprising part that elephants had to play in the story.

History has all kinds of hidden treasures. One thing that I find exciting is discovering some forgotten tale with a nice mix of drama and effect.

The one I am about to tell takes place in the last years of the Roman Republic. It involves the cruel and arrogant politicians, a desensitized public that suddenly awoke and the lamenting tears of elephants preparing to die. First of all, we need to set the stage. 
Literally, in this case.

Roman Politics and the Theater
Politics in ancient Rome down through the centuries was rarely very stable, the situation at Rome In the spring of 55 BC, was  particularly strained. The Roman Republic was in disarray and many worried, (rightly so, as it turned out) that it could not be restored.

The Roman general and consul Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better know as Pompey) was preparing the dedication of his great theater project the first stone theater in Rome. 
To prevent Rome falling into tyrannical monarchy- something that patriotic Romans feared above all else- a joint rule was established between the generals. It was called by later historians as the First Triumvirate. It was made up of Pompey, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was also the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Gaius Julius Caesar

That arrangement was never official approved by. the Senate. Out of necessity, the three-way leadership  was for some time kept secret from both the people and the Senate.
Actually, that alliance was much more like modern day gangsters agreeing on territories. than a military overthrow.