Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt Romney's underwear, and why it matters.

In everyday life, what someone wears under their trousers has little effect on anyone other than themselves, but in the case of Mitt Romney we should all take note. Romney is standing for election as leader of the world's most powerful country, and if anything should worry us its his underwear rather than his economic or foreign policies.

You see, Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and as such wears special temple clothing as underwear. Now, I have nothing against Mormons. I went to university with a former Mormon missionary who, at that time, was one of the leaders of the local "stake", and we got on really well, but some of his beliefs were untenable and potentially damaging if they are held by a world leader.

Amongs Mormonisms unusual and untenable beliefs are:
  • that there was an ancient north American civilisation whose story is recounted in the Book of Mormon, but which contradicts known archaeology, although the Mormon church believes that that the book is supported by modern science.
  • that the founder of the religion Joseph Smith translated some ancient Egyptian scrolls called the Book of Abraham which has since been proved beyond any reasonable doubt to be false.
  • that they can baptise a living person in place of a dead person even if that person was of a different religion. One bad taste example are the Jewish parents of Simon Weisenthal.
But of interest here are the temple garments which can be viewed in this Daily Mail article and on numerous other web sites.

One, apparently pro mormon, web site describes it like this:
If you look at a pair of garments, there is nothing physically special about them. They are made from a variety of light-weight fabrics, and most garments are white. (There are some special colored garments that can be worn by members of the armed services, but for the vast majority of Mormons, garments are always white.) The white color symbolizes purity and the length and cut of the garment helps assure modesty in dress and appearance. The garment bears several simple marks related to gospel principles of obedience, truth, and discipleship in Christ.
The marks however, are similar to masonic symbols, and the reinforcement across the nipples and crotch are designed to prevent or discourage visible sexual arousal.

Yet, Romney is getting considerable support from evangelical Christians in the US. As we found out during the last UK general election opposing abortion and homosexual rights are the trump card for gaining their support with the BNP even garnering some support from the evangelical right.

What concerns me is that if someone holds these sort of wild beliefs in spite of evidence how will we know that he will accept factual advice from advisors on issues like climate change, education, sexuality or religious freedom? The same, of course, could be said of a Christian fundamentalist candidate, but with Mormonism there is even less of an appeal to reason in their religious beliefs.

Mitt Romney has every right to hold and practice his religion, but he must represent the aspirations of all Americans, not just his own sect or supporters. I suspect that as president he will turn out to be slightly less religious than he is portraying in order to get elected. We will see. I certainly hope so.

Climate change deniers 'are either extreme free marketeers or conspiracy theorists’

An interesting article from the Daily Telegraph:
“We find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science,” the paper says. “We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings.”
“Blogs have a huge impact on society and so it’s important that we understand the motivations and the reasoning of those who visit blogs to contribute to the discussion,”
Full article here.

I have previously written about the similarity between Christian fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists here. Christian fundamentalists also tend to deny climate change or the human causes of climate change. the same sort of psychology seems to be at work.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are Christians being crucified by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

Christian online news sources have been full of stories for the past few days about the crucifixion of Christians and government opponents by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The earliest version of this story seems to be in a Christian Post article here. All of the articles I have found quote the same article which has since been removed from the Sky news Arabic web site:

Several Middle East news agencies are confirming reports that some of the Muslim Brotherhood operatives have "crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others."

I can't find any corroboration for this story. The Coptic Orthodox Church has no information on this on its official UK news service, another UK Copticnews service or on other Coptic news sources (e.g. www.wataninet.com).

I have found one article rebutting the claim here.

There are also no photos or videos which you would expect given the prevalence of camera phones in the middle east (they even got film of Colonel Gaddafi after his capture and the execution of Saddam Hussein).

On the balance of probabilities - especially given the Copts silence on this when it would strengthen their case - this story is unlikely to be true. It may even have been propagated by Islamists looking to intimidate Coptic Christians in outlying areas of Egypt.

Oddly, the people allegedly crucified were not Christians (as is being reported on Christian discussion boards and Facebook pages) but media opponents of the government. My guess is that the part of the story about media outlets being attacked is true, but the crucifixion part is not.

I have found  a cached copy of the original Sky News Story.
Also evidence of the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt, but not the crucifixion story.

Update 23rd August 2012
This story is continuing to morph. Here is the latest iteration from the American Centre for Law and Justice from 21st August:
Numerous reports have emerged this week that the radical Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, that now controls the government of Egypt, has begun crucifying Christians in that country.
Even though the original source story does not mention Christians and refers to only one instance of crucifixion.

Read the full article here from 21st August:

Interestingly, the ACLJ wrote to Hillary Clinton on 22nd August with a slightly reduced claim:
Supporters of the recently installed Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt have begun to publicly crucify opponents of the regime. It appears that secular Egyptians and Coptic Christians are at heightened risk.
Note that they have not included their earlier claim that the brotherhood has "begun crucifying Christians in that country".

The first widely circulated report of this incident seems to come from Worldnet Daily on the 18th August:

A very good article by Jonathan Kay of the Canadian National Post dissecting the spread of the story:

Which contains a statement from Sky News Arabia:

Yesterday I contacted the management of Sky News Arabic, and asked them about the crucifixions. According to Fares Ghneim, a Sky communications official, the crucifixion claim “began on social media. It started getting pick-up from there and eventually reached us.”
“Our reporters came across reports of the alleged crucifixions and a story very briefly appeared on the Sky News Arabia website,” he added. “The story — which was taken down within minutes — was based on third-party reports and I am not aware that any of our reporters said or confirmed anything along the lines of what is quoted in the article [by WorldNetDaily] … What’s unclear is where websites in North America got [the] Sky News Arabia bit from. As mentioned [previously], none of our correspondents confirmed this issue or commented on it. Clearly there is an intermediate source the websites got the info from, but as of yet we haven’t been able to identify it.”

And Jonathan Kay's opinion from the same article:
Why do so many people believe this made up story? For the same reason that people believe all urban legends — because they play to some deeply held narrative that resides in our deepest fears. In this case, the narrative is that the Arab Spring is part of an orchestrated Islamist plot to destroy Western civilization (beginning with Israel). Believers in this narrative (who are especially numerous in America’s right-wing Evangelical circles) are so hungry for news items that purport to offer confirmation that they ignore the credibility of the messengers. If they had checked out the credibility of WorldNetDaily, for instance, they would have found that the site’s past “scoops” have included the claim that drinking soy milk makes you gay, and that Barack Obama himself is gay (presumably from aforesaid soy milk).

It should be noted that the ACLJ letter to Hillary Clinton asked for all aid to Egypt to be stopped. This is at the same time as Egypt is negotiating for funds from the IMF and president Mursi is planning a visit to Washington. Its not outwith the bounds of possibility that these stories are being stoked by those opoposed to continuing US involvement in the middle east peace process.

Numerous sources?
One of the common threads of all the reports of this story from the past 48 hours is that they are claiming multipe reports and multiple sources as evidence that the story is true. Take for example this article from American Thinker:
This story is hard to believe but comes to us from multiple sources
Although when you read the multiple sources they direct you to they all quote from the original (and now deleted) Sky News Arabia article with no other sources.

Christian Reaction
Reaction from Christians is starting to boil over. See this video from Paul Begley as an example.

Article by Doug Hagmann from Tuesday 21st April "confirms" that it is Christians who were crucified and and concludes:
Based on the limited facts presented above, and there are many more untold, it should be clear who and what is behind Arab Spring, and the motives of the same. If Obama and his cabal of sycophants continue to promote Arab Spring as a success and tolerate the persecution of Christians, it should be clear what’s in store for the Christians and Jews of America.
The time for Christians and Jews in America and throughout the West to speak up is now. To quote Thomas Mann, “Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.”

Update 24th August
Walid Shoebat - a former Muslim commentator on middle east issues has produced some further evidence which he claims proves the story. You can read his article here.

Here is the eye witness report extracted from his article:
...they propped up a young man and tied him up on a tree.....Yes, this is the incident… I saw a young man was beaten to a pulp while he was hung on the tree… Yes this is what I witnessed … he was a young man less the 21 years old...…women even ran to mosques and men ran after them to attack them in the mosques. No one was spared.”
Whilst "beaten to a pulp while he was hung on the tree" is pretty gruesome it is not a crucifixion, so this eyewitness testimony does not corroborate the crucifixion story as Shoebat claims. There is also no indication that the person was a Christian. People running into mosques for shelter suggests otherwise, but it could go either way.

Update 28th August - Final!
I think this will be my final update on this, but its an interesting one. Following on from my questioning of various bloggers and people circulating the crucifixion story via Twitter I am starting to see a revisionist position being adopted to justify their belief that the story is true. Because the "eye witness" account and photograph do not support the original story they are starting to revise their definition of what constitutes crucifixion. Whilst I had been looking for someone who had actually been nailed to something, they are willing to accept much less. Take this revision by Walid Shoebat of his original article:

Here is the truth of the matter: Kay was right on an assumption he made; no one can produce a Passion of the Christ type crucifixion that occurred outside the Presidential Palace with a Jesus look-alike showing bloody hand marks. That is if one defines crucifixion that nails must be hammered into the hands and the feet. Crucifixion is when a victim is affixed to a tree or a cross by ropes or nails, or some combination thereof. In this case, the evidence is clear; crucifixion by roping victims to trees did happen. [from shoebat.com - underlining added by me]

If this definition is accepted then the available evidence fits this definition and you can declare the crucifixion story as true.

We truly are living in a world of doublespeak.

My take on this
From what I can find the actual incident seems to have been that:
A number of government opponents from a media organisation (probably muslims because the survivors ran into a  mosque for shelter)  were ambushed or kidnapped by an Islamist group and taken to a public place where they were beaten up. This included one 21 year old man being tied to a  tree and beaten.  If the photo in circulation is genuine then one man had a wound to his side. One or more people may have died.
How we got from that information to Christians being crucified outside the presidential palace is the real story. It shows how stories can change as they are spread. Especially where indignation is involved and there is an information vacuum. There may also be a perverse form of wishful thinking by Christians who would view an event like this as evidence that prophecies were coming true and the second coming will be soon.

Let me get this straight: I am not denying that these crucifixions happened. They may have done, but there is currently insufficient information to make that statement. Government opponents are being attacked every day in Egypt (Muslims and Christians). These attacks are being widely reported with plenty of corroboration. The difference with this story is the crucifixion angle, the claim that it was Christians and the lack of corroboration.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My “definitive” guide to the Sovereign cornet

Since its launch in 1974, the Sovereign cornet has been the benchmark for all brass band cornets, but it has gone through various models and changes - including a complete redesign in 1984. This article aims to explain the development of the instrument and the differences between models.

For serial number information go here: Besson (Boosey and Hawkes) serial number list.

Sovereign by Boosey & Hawkes AKA “round stamp” (From 1974)
This is the original sovereign cornet supplied in a blue wooden case. There were three models (including the soprano cornet) launched in 1974.

  • 920 Medium bore  (.460 bore)
  • 921 Large bore (.466 bore)
  • 925 Soprano (Eb) - with the tuning slide in the bell crook.

The 920 medium bore was almost identical to the preceding Imperial model and had a second main tuning slide where the lead pipe entered the third valve. This is sometimes referred to as the "flower pot" model due to the shape of its bell flare.

The 921 was a completely different instrument of a larger bore which took many of its features from the Besson International cornet which was also manufactured by Boosey and Hawkes. When people talk about the famous “round stamp” cornet, it is the 921 large bore they are referring to. It described as such because it had the Boosey and Hawkes globe logo engraved on the bell. The 921 was designed in conjunction with Thomas Wilson, principal cornet player with the Scots Guards. Tommy, who came from a Salvation Army background, had already worked with Denis Wick on developing his range of cornet mouthpieces:

In the early 1970’s I was asked by Denis Wick if I would help him develop a cornet mouthpiece – and the rest, as they say, is history. It was also round about this time I was asked by Boosey & Hawkes if I would help in the development of a new cornet for them. After a lot of hard work the first large bore Sovereign cornet was born. I still play the original prototype. It’s still going strong after over 30 years. It was stamped No. 1, (which causes the customs people more than a little curiosity when London Citadel Band goes on trips). http://londoncitadelband.on.ca/tommy_wilson_bio.htm

The famous "round stamp"

920 medium bore
921 large bore

921 third valve trigger

921 valves

Sovereign by Boosey & Hawkes still with the“round stamp” (From late 70's)
At some point in the late 70’s a new medium bore cornet was produced based on the 921 rather than the old Imperial design. This did not have the second main tuning slide and was cosmetically identical to the 921. It was designated “923”. This had the same valves but lever style triggers rather than the ring one on the 921. The rare 922 cornet is a 921 without triggers and seems to have been sold into mainland europe rather than the brass band market. As the range developed the 921 lost its ring trigger and the last ones had lever style triggers and a pinky hook instead of a ring. Some of these very late production models have the more streamlined valves that were developed in the early 80's.

  • 922 Large Bore but without triggers  (.466 bore) 
  • 923 Medium Bore  (.460 bore)
  • 924 [not to be confused with the current 924 which is an Eb soprano cornet]

922 large bore

923 medium bore

Besson Sovereign (1984 - Present)
Designed by Dr Richard Smith. Click here , and here for articles explaining how,and why, he designed it.

These have redesigned, more streamlined looking valves and have “Besson London” engraved on the bell. At some point in the 1990’s they started having the word “Besson” engraved on the mouthpiece receiver.

  • 927 Medium bore (.460 bore)
  • 928 Large bore (.466 bore)

928 large bore

Click here for a spare parts list for the Sovereign model 928. This also shows which parts it has in common with other Besson models, especially the 723.

Over the years these have changed slightly:

The later GS variant had a higher copper content bell and was mainly sold in the US and other export markets. At some point they changed from Monel to stainless steel valves, but went back to Monel before returning to stainless steel when manufacturing moved to France.

Second valve tuning slide
Originally pointed forward like the original sovereign. Eventually pointed towards the player to stop water collecting in it.

Water Keys
Earlier models have "cockspur" water keys with long levers pointing backwards - guaranteed to get caught in your band jacket when you go to play a solo. These were replaced with conventional short ones in the 1980's.

Long vs Short Receiver
All sovereign cornets were supplied with a Denis Wick mouthpiece. If you try a modern Wick mouthpiece in an older Sovereign cornet you will see that it sticks out further than an older Wick mouthpiece does. This may just be a coincidence, but the theory is that at some point Wick introduced mouthpieces with the suffix “L” meaning “large”. These had a fractionally larger taper. In the 1990’s Boosey & Hawkes seem to have changed their cornet mouthpiece receiver to this new, longer, size and Wick may have adjusted theirs to suit. The longer receiver may have been to accommodate the engraving of the Besson name. Whatever happened, the older instruments do seem to work better with the older style Wick mouthpieces.

“Lottery” cornets
During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s  there were large lottery grants available to brass bands for purchase of full instrument sets which led to a battle between Yamaha and Boosey & Hawkes. Prices were kept as low as possible and demand was considerable and the quality of instruments became less consistent. This has led to the term “pre lottery” for a sovereign instrument made before this period. These are considered to be of better quality.

The standard finish for these instruments was bright silver plate but they were also made in lacquer. From my own experience dealers would often get a lacquered cornet plated in order to meet an order for a set because there seemed to be too many lacquered ones being made compared to silver. The quality of third party plating may not be as good as a factory plated one especially if the instrument was over-buffed to remove the lacquer.

The peak period for lottery grants to brass bands were 1996 - 1999. Some of the alleged issues reported with sovereign cornets supplied in the latter part of this period include insufficiently lapped stainless steel valves, leaking joints (especially at the mouthpiece reciever), stays popping off due to tension in the instrument combined with poor soldering. There have also been allegations of leaks being sealed using cyanoacrylate (i.e. super glue) gel. Whatever the truth of this it did damage Boosey and Hawkes reputation.

928E echo cornet
In 1992 Boosey and Hawkes made a limited number of sovereign echo cornets (probably around 100) based on the 928. These have an additional valve in the bell which, when operated by the thumb,  allows sound to be diverted into a mute. This is for use in a number of novelty pieces popular with brass bands like Alpine Echoes. The muted bell is removable and stores in the case allowing the cornet to be played like a normal 928.

928E Echo Cornet


(Photo from Hayes Music)

Launched in 2016, this is a 928 with a main tuning slide trigger in place of the first valve trigger (review). In order to accommodate the main tuning slide trigger the second valve tuning slide now points forward. This is the same arrangement as the Prestige model.

926 Soprano Cornet

Introduced in 1988 this featured a front pull tuning slide like a trumpet rather than a tuning shank. It also came with two screw in receivers. One for a cornet mouthpiece and the other for a trumpet mouthpiece. If you buy one second hand the trumpet one will nearly always be missing. This model was later revised as the 926G which had a gold brass bell.

924G Soprano Cornet
This was launched in 2011 at the same time as Courtois discontinued their AC-107R. This instrument has a bore of .460 which is large for a soprano cornet but is very similar to the Courtois, which was .459 (compared to Schilke at .450 and Yamaha Neo at .445) .

French Production
Since 2009 the 927 and 928 have been manufactured in France by Courtois, although Richard Smith has stated that they have made some changes to his original design. The current Besson range can be found on their web site here.

“Imperial Besson” model by Boosey and Hawkes (c 1980)
For a few years from approx 1980 they made a version of the 923 Sovereign without a first valve trigger, and with a wider bell flare similar to the old 920 which they called model 723. These were badged  "Imperial Besson by Boosey and Hawkes", but should not to be confused with the "Besson Imperial" which was long out of production by then. At the time I was told this was to fulfil military orders, but that might be a myth. Also not to be confused with "Besson International BE-723" which is a different instrument. They originally came in the small sovereign style cases which were coloured black instead of blue, later in the larger cases as pictured here:

Besson "International" 723
Not to be confused with the earlier International cornet which was in many ways the predecessor of the Sovereign cornet, the 723 International utilised the sovereign 927 medium bore valve block, slidesm bell and triggers. The model 622 student cornet also has the same bell.

International 723 Cornet

Besson Prestige (2001- )
This was developed in consultation with Roger Webster (for a video of a masterclass where Roger talks about the development of the Prestige cornet click here). The leadpipe and bell are identical tapers to the 928 Sovereign but the shape of the bends is different to improve the response and reduce the effort required. The model number is “2028” indicating its roots in the 928 sovereign. The prestige cornet has a third valve trigger but no first valve trigger. Instead it has a main tuning slide trigger. On Boosey and Hawkes made instruments this was located in the middle of the main tuning slide and had a tendency to stick. When the Prestige cornet was relaunched by Buffet Crampon this was redesigned with a “miniball” linkage (as found on rotary valve trumpets) and moved to near the top leg of the tuning slide rather than the middle. Later it appears to have moved back to the middle! It also comes with an additional set of heavier valve caps and has black onyx, rather than mother of pearl, inlays on the valve buttons.
There are actually very few differences between the Besson Sovereign and the Prestige models. They both have the same bell size, valve block, metal, finish and tuning slides. However, the Prestige has a slightly larger bore on the lead-pipe and at the start of the shepherd’s crook. (Source: Brass Band World Magazine).

York Variants (2005-2010)
Following the collapse of Boosey and Hawkes in 2005, Schreiber (AKA Keilwerth, who made the parts for sovereign cornets for B&H) decided to start assembling instruments themselves in Germany. These were sold under the name York Preference with model number 3027 and 3028. A version of the Prestige cornet was also sold as the York Eminence. Production of these ended in 2010 as Buffet Crampon (Courtois) started to regain market share with their relaunched Besson range. The York instruments have stainless steel valves, as do the current French made “Besson” models.

LMI Variants (2005- )
Some of the staff from Boosey and Hawkes formed London Musical Instruments and have had some success making and selling “Sovereign style” cornets based on the 927 and 928 designs badged as “Royal” and with model numbers RO28 and RE27 respectively. The valves have been redesigned with better felting to reduce noise. Click here for further information.

Possible of reintroduction of the 921 “round stamp”.
Rumours circulate that Courtois have the original tooling or detailed drawings for the 921 cornet and have considered reintroducing it. However, sales of all instruments are so suppressed at the moment that this seems unlikely.

Round Stamp vs 928 - My View
Having played on a 921 for many years and then a 928 (made in the late 80’s) I would say that the 928 is the better instrument. The 921 was quite stuffy and benefited from the large throated Wick mouthpieces. The 928 is more flexible, but is harder for the average player  to get a nice sound from on a Wick mouthpiece. This might be why the “round stamp”  is still so popular. The key to getting a 928 working well is mouthpiece choice. It seems that the smaller receiver works better with mouthpieces that have the correct taper. Newer 928’s need the larger taper mouthpiece they are designed for. many players benefit from using a mouthpiece that has equal depth, but a  bit more resistance (Alliance, Curry, Warburton or even the Wick 4.5).

Advice for people looking for  second hand Sovereign cornet
I get asked this a lot and the answer is down to two issues:

1. Was it properly built in the first place? 

Make sure all the braces are properly soldered and that the solder joints look correct. The earlier short receiver models of the 928 model are generally better made than the later British made long receiver models. The even later German and French models are usually fine too.

2. Has it been properly maintained? 

Most of these instruments have been used in brass bands and played heavily. Often they rarely get cleaned out and if they do the cleaning can be brutal. I have seen one with almost triangular valves caused by cleaning them repeatedly with "Duraglit". You will need to check the compression or buy from a reputable dealer with a return policy.

Would you recommend the Sovereign 928
As I said earlier in this article I played on Sovereign's for years. I like them, but I don't play on one currently, here are my reasons:

Advantage of the Sovereign:
  • Free blowing 
  • Ability to play loud 
  • Intonation / tuning (usually) 

  • Lack of focus to the sound, especially when played quietly 
  • Pale sounding lower register 
  • Doesn't like very open big mouthpieces
Incidentally, these three disadvantages are addressed somewhat in the Prestige cornet which I find to have much better tone when played quietly and in the low register and is more friendly towards bigger mouthpieces.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why the UK Government loves and hates Kindle

The UK government must be rubbing its hands with glee as the sales of ebooks rockets. The Guardian reports of Amazon.co.uk that:

For every 100 hardback and paperback books it sells on its UK site, 114 ebooks are downloaded in 'reading renaissance'

However, the Guardian article fails to point out that ebook editions are often more expensive than printed copies because ebooks are subject to VAT. This is something the government will be very pleased about. For every £5 kindle book sold approximately £1 goes to the government. This is a blatant tax on knowledge, but according to The Bookseller the government is blaming the EU:

David Gauke, exchequer secretary and Tory MP for South West Hertfordshire, in a written response reiterated the government's position that such a move would be unlawful. He said: "Under EU law, VAT on electronic books must be charged at the standard rate. A reduced rate cannot be applied to digital or electronic supplies, or supplies of text via the internet, as they are classed as supplies of services rather than physical goods. There is therefore no scope in the principal VAT directive to apply a reduced rate on e-books."

However, its not all bad news. Amazon now sells its kindle books out of Luxembourg which has reduced its VAT rate on them to 3%. Nice to see the free market working in taxation too. It may also be a case of the government shooting themselves in the foot. Better 3% than 0%.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Asda bath towels also getting smaller

Following on from my article about Asda's plates getting smaller, the same thing seems to have happened to their bath towels. This photo is of two bought six months apart. The new ones (on the left) is not much bigger than a hand towel:

Its almost like world war 2 utility clothing.