Monday, December 22, 2008

3 of Canaduh's New Ottawa Senators

Prime Mystery Stephen Harpie today appointed eighteen new Senators. These new Senators will represent the Constipated Party. Mr. Harpie is trying to even up the odds cuz the Constipators have been playing short-handed for quite a while. Never mind that he holds the Prime Mysteryship at the pleasure of a malleable Governess-General and a fractious Parliament, which isn't even in session thanks to him. Never mind that he swore he would never appoint Senators who had not been elected (cuz he's in favour of a triple-E Senate...effective, elected, and equal...) (Actually, not really a bad idea...the main reason Senate reform hasn't happened yet is because it's being blocked by those nasty Gliberals who have been on the power play forever, and the Constipators have been short-handed...) Never mind all that. Never mind that Christmas is only a couple days away. Prime Mystery Harpie delivered some early Christmas presents.

Here are 3 of Canaduh's newest Ottawa Senators:

Pamela Walleye: Former TV person, alleged journalist, wrote a book about cats, former Consul-General to the US of A. Now she has the plum assignment of Senator from Skatchewan. OK, so it's a big apple.

Mike Puffy: TV Personality, alleged journalist, has a political gabfest talkshow. When not being an ostensibly unbiased reporter and interviewer, he expresses quite hard-line conservative opinions. How these two things may be reconciled is difficult to say. Mr. Puffy suffered a serious heart attack some time ago. His doctor told him he really should lose some weight, so Puffy unpuffed to the tune of 100 pounds. Not.

Nancy Greene: Skier. Famous. Loved by everyone. Shill for Mars Bars and GM.
And Constipators.

It occurs to me that except for Nancy Greene, the other two have journalistic backgrounds. And it further occurs to me that there are quite a few journalists or former journalists or alleged journalists holding high positions in the government of Canaduh. Yessir, Canaduh is run by journalists. Hey, if journalists don't know spin, who does?

This could actually be the defining characteristic that differentiates us Canajuns from Murricans. Canaduh is run by journalists. The US is run by comedians (both intentional and unintentional) and actors (both intentional and unintentional).

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Political Christmas in Canaduh

Christmas is just around the corner, and since Parliament is no longer in session (in fact, barely in session since last spring...) I'm sure our federal politicians will have plenty of time for partying and gift exchange.

What to give your favourite politician....?

Here are some suggestions for my favourite politicians.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 60

Today is the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I urge everybody to read this document which you can find here. It's a shimmering statement of human hope and aspiration, a template for the evolution of humanity.

After reading it, decide for yourself whether we are living up to the sentiments laid out in this document.

To help you focus your mind, here are a few events off the top of my head which have occurred since this declaration was made:

1. the creation of the state of Israel
2. the Korean War
3. the Cold War
4. the invasion of Tibet
5. the invasion of Hungary
6. the Cuban revolution
7. the institution of apartheid in South Africa
8. the Congo
9. the Berlin blockade
10. the Cuban missile crisis, US embargo
11. VietNam
12. Cambodia
13. the Duvaliers in Haiti
14. the anti-nuclear movement
15. the anti-war movement
16. SALT I & II
17. Famine in Biafra
18. Famine in Ethiopia
19. Rwanda
20. Somalia
22. Nigeria
23. Tienanmen Square
24. Pinochet in Chile
25. the Sandinistas in Nicaragua
26. the Green Revolution in India
27. the disintegration of the Soviet Union
28. the disintegration of Yugoslavia
29. Palestine
30. Taliban
32. 9/11
33. Abu Ghraib
34. Guantanamo
35. Burma/Myanmar
36. Patriot Act
37. the end of apartheid in South Africa
38. Canaduh's adoption of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms

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Asymmetric Aphorism #4

The thing about God is, he deifies description.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Will The Real Accordion Please Stand Up?

Here's a photo of two of the accordions currently at HWSRN's house:

The black one on the left is the one he's had for many years. It's the one he plays with BFB. It has appeared on numerous recordings, travelled to the east, to the west, to the south, had its keys broken by luddite airline employees, and been to more than a few late night parties.

The red one on the right is one that he's had on loan for the last couple of weeks from the Lunchbucket Music Store. Here's a closer look.

As you can see, it's made by Roland. It's called a V-Accordion. This model, the FR-7 is the top of the line.

It's very sparkly, isn't it?

The thing is, it's not an accordion. At least, it's not a "real" accordion. The V-Accordion is completely electronic. There's not a single reed in the box.

It runs off a battery, (or optionally plugged in to a pedal board which plugs into the wall.) The sound emanates from speakers inside the accordion. But in order to make the speakers go, you have to play it just like a real accordion, pulling and pushing the bellows.

The accordion sounds in the V-Accordion are not digital samples. They're created by what Roland calls Physical Behavior Modeling. Now, HWSRN is not a techie. He still doesn't know the difference between a Low-Pass Filter and an Amplitude Modulator. And if he doesn't know, why would I? But it would appear that what Roland has done is created digital models of what the accordion reeds do physically when you pass air over them, and it's these models that are the templates for the sounds you that? They've come up with their best electronic examples of how an accordion actually works and translated them into the V-Accordion. (V for virtual I presume...) So the V-Accordion, rather than playing back someone's digital recording of an accordion, emulates the physical characteristics of the accordion sound. Physical modelling is not a new idea. It's at least ten years since the first synthesizer based on modelling appeared. But the idea to use it for an accordion is only about three years old.

However, the V-Accordion is not just an accordion. Out of the big cardboard box, it's actually about 35 accordions! The V-Accordion packs 35 "sets" and about 5 empty "sets" so you can program your own and put them into memory. A "set" is essentially a group of accordion registers ranging from Bassoon to Piccolo, the reeds of which are tuned to a specific style of accordion. The sets include Concerto, Classical, Studio, Italian, French, Tex-Mex, Cajun, Scottish, Irish, Celtic and a few variations of these.

See, for all you accordion non-afficionados, not all accordions are equal. Every culture seems to have its own characteristic sound. The Cajun sound, for example, is based on small but powerful diatonic button accordions. The Parisian sound is typically based on a chromatic button accordion tuned in a specific way. The V-Accordion has 35 different accordions, each tuned to emulate the characteristic sound of whatever style you're working in.

So what does HWSRN think of the sound? Well, let's put it this way. When he plays Under Paris Skies on the OldParis set of reeds, he wears a beret and smokes Gauloises. When he plays Come Back to Sorrento on the CiaoRoma set, you get pasta and prosciutto for sure. When he plays Laissez les bon temps rouler on the Cajun set, you know the crawfish got soul. And when he plays Misty on the Jazz set, it's so cool even the most jaded hipsters start snapping their fingers.

"On the other hand," sez HWSRN, "Do you remember the debate about the sonic differences between vinyl and CDs? The V-Accordion is something like that. It's disconcerting to hear the sound coming from little speakers in the accordion, and the quality of the sound is just a little harsh and the difference between the "warmth" of vinyl and the crystal clarity of digital..."

The V-Accordion's features don't end with offering just 35 accordions, though. The next thing you discover is that it's convertible from a Stradella style accordion to a Free Bass accordion.

What does this mean? Well, OK, again for accordion non-afficionados, the type of piano accordion most people are accustomed to is one which utilizes the Stradella configuration for the left hand. This means that the first two rows of buttons on the left hand play single bass notes. All the other rows play chords -- major in the third row, minor in the fourth, seventh in the fifth, and diminished in the sixth. It is this configuration of bass and chords that gives the Stradella accordion its characteristic "oom-pah" -- bass-chord, bass-chord, bass-chord -- which has marred the reputation of this venerable instrument for decades, but which, it must be said, also provides it with considerable versatility because it essentially comes with its own rhythm section.

When you turn on the V-Accordion, its default mode is the traditional Stradella configuration. But even here, it has some surprises, because the V-Accordion has four Stradella configurations -- the standard two bass row setup, and three others that provide three rows of basses (and consequently fewer rows of chords.) This allows a bit more flexibility for playing bass runs.

And then! With just the flick of a few switches, the V-Accordion can be transformed into a Free Bass accordion. This is a whole different accordionish animal! Free Bass is what it implies. All the buttons on the left hand are transformed into single-note buttons. No chords. In other words, you can play melodies, counterpoint, or harmonies with both left and right hands. Free Bass is what has made the accordion a legitimate classical, orchestral, contemporary chamber music instrument.

But it's a whole different study for the player. The V-Accordion provides five different Free Bass configurations, where the individual notes are in a different order. (These, again, are cultural or ethnic variations...) Just like the Stradella mode, it's a system the player has to learn. (But it certainly makes for hours and days and months and years of happy squeezebox exploration!) HWSRN has not experimented much with the Free Bass section. He has more immediate practical considerations for the kinds of gigs he might be playing with this accordion...)

After you get tired of messing around with the accordion combinations (sometime around the year 2020...) you can start adding the built-in synth sounds. Trombone! Trumpet! Clarinet! Alto Sax! Tenor Sax! Scat Voices! Two kinds of bagpipes...with drone! Four organs! Flute! Violin! Pizzicato! Mandolin! Acoustic Guitar! Piano! All with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch! And that's just on the right hand keyboard! Plus, you can link these sounds to a specific accordion sound, so that when you want to play Come Back to Sorrento with mandolin in the background, all you have to do is call up that good old CiaoRoma musette accordion and the mandolin comes right along with it!

And by the way, the V-Accordion has the cheesiest trumpet you've ever heard! Did I say "cheesy"? Well, yes! What it is, is Mexican style trumpet with that over-the-top vibrato! It's unbelievably cheesy, but it's also the perfect trumpet sound for Tex-Mex, Tejano, and that perennial Johnny Cash favourite, Ring of Fire! If you want to know what I mean, listen to Ring of Fire. That's the Roland trumpet sound!

All right, have we had enough exclamation marks?


The left hand has its own synth combos! Acoustic Bass! Bowed Bass! Fingered Electric! Picked Electric! Fretless! Tuuuubaaa! Tuubaaa and Acoustic Bass together! And that's just the bass rows!

Done yet?


The chords have their own synth sounds too! Trombones! Saxes! Voices! Organ! Acoustic Guitar! Piano!

OK, enough exclamations...!

Back to the accordion for a sec. There are a large number of programmable features on the accordion side. For example, you can take each set of reeds and tune them as you want. There are seventeen sets of reed types -- classic, Italian Folk 1 & 2, French Folk 1 & 2, Bandoneon, German Folk, Jazz, etc. etc. You can program up to 7 sets of reeds to create a sound. You can adjust the amount of valve noise. You can detune or mute certain reeds. You can adjust the volume of the reeds. You can change the octave. It has on-board programmable effects: Delay, Chorus and Reverb! You can change the type of scale the right hand plays because there are eight different scales, plus 3 you can program yourself! You can set the timer, and when the roast is done, a little bell goes off! (Well no, not really...)

So what does HWSRN think of all this?

Here's the thing. Everybody who has seen and heard it...his bandmates, audience members, friends and foes alike...all seem to like the V-Accordion better than he does. They love the colour. They like the sounds. What sounds a little harsh to HWSRN sounds "bright" to someone else. Everybody's entranced with the plethora of features and the versatility.

But to HWSRN, there are some drawbacks. It's 35 accordions plus, yet it's not quite an accordion. The bellows response isn't quite what you get from a real accordion. HWSRN finds that sometimes when he wants to pull just a little harder to get an accent, there's nothing there. Or, to be specific, nothing more. He finds he has to set the accordion at maximum volume to approximate the dynamic range he wants. The key action is pretty good, a little spongier than he's used to, but this is because the keys require that extra little bit of movement for aftertouch.

The thousands of functions and features are what make it so versatile, but they also mean a good deal of time spent programming so that you get it just the way you want it. And this programming has to be done by means of a dinky LCD display on the top of the accordion. This means basically that you have to be wearing it to program it. The LCD display also informs you of what settings you are currently using, but it's so dinky you can hardly read it, and HWSRN finds that he needs his reading glasses to see it clearly, which is a pain in the butt...until he memorizes the screen options and doesn't need to see them clearly...

For HWSRN, the major drawback is that the instrument is always on. In order to play most of the sounds, you have to pull the bellows, just like an accordion. But there is no Treble Cancel switch, which means that when you pull the bellows, you inevitably get both left and right hands. HWSRN has a little secret. He doesn't always want the accordion to sound, even if he's playing something on the accordion keyboard (like, for example, one of his two MIDI keyboards...) So far, he hasn't found a way to "disconnect" the accordion. Also, because you have to pull the bellows, if you use one of the synth bass sounds on the left hand, the volume increases the harder you pull. Or if you forget to pull, the volume decreases. That's all right in one way. It's sort of more authentic and allows for dynamics. But HWSRN would dearly love to see a setting that allows constant volume. There actually is one, but it applies to the entire instrument. In other words, you don't have to pull the bellows anymore, but the accordion plays and the bass plays and it's all one volume and sounds like HAL on Ritalin.

Then there's the question of reliability. This sort of has no answer because the instrument is too new on the market to have much in the way of reporting. But if it breaks down, how fast can you get it fixed? And of course, on a gig, because it's completely electronic, if it breaks down, you got nothin'! Not even acoustic accordion.

Finally, there's the price. It lists for $5,500 Canajun. That's a lot of money, even for a high-end synth. But it's actually not a lot of money for an accordion. The electronic/acoustic accordion he's played for the last twenty years cost about the same...twenty years ago.

He's played it in several performance situations now. With a band it's virtually indistinguishable from a real accordion. To most listeners it's an accordion! It's in the playing that the fine points are revealed. HWSRN hasn't decided yet.

If you're interested in seeing or reading more about the Roland V-Accordion, check out the website.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Yoni School Federal (Re-)Election Watch 2008 Pt. 3

GG Serves Harpie Pierogies

That's the rather bad joke being served around the country today as the Governess-General agreed to prorogue Parliament so that Prime Mystery Harpie would have seven weeks to blanket the nation with propaganda and do whatever he can to undermine the possibility of the Unholy/Unpatriotic Triumvirate of Dion & the Belmonts, Jack Layoff and Gilles Deceit.

Am I bitter?

No. It was a long shot anyway, and in some ways a little too weird to contemplate. Mainly because, in spite of the opprobrium which the use of the word brings, Gilles Deceit is a separatist. (Of course, I believe him & the coalition partners when they say that the support agreement is narrowly defined and the so-called Quebec national question is off the table. But really, why should I believe this? Almost nothing a politician says holds good for longer than it takes to say, "What's in it for me?")

And secondly, M. Dion & the Belmonts has not, in almost two years, proven to be an effective leader. What has really changed in the last week? Last night's video response to Mr. Harpie demonstrates a certain lack of savoir faire.

And then today, Mothercorp and EKOS released poll results, (done, spookily, by auto-response telephone technology with no actual people involved including, presumably, the poll respondents...) which show that significantly more people would vote right now for Harpie than voted for him in the last election. Which means that, once again, my political views are in the distinct, (and according to the harrumphing talk-radio class) anti-democratic, unpatriotic, far-left loony, socialist, dangerous intellectual spectrum.

I am used to this. In 30 years, I have never voted for the candidate who won. How's that for not having your vote count?


Here's what I think is going to happen.

If the coalition actually does hold together over the next seven weeks, which is rather doubtful...

They will vote against the Harpie budget. Automatically a vote of non-confidence. Harpie will then go to the Governess-General and this time the fuzzy Parliamentary and constitutional issues will not be so fuzzy. He will present it as a straight case of defeating a budget, which should trigger an election. And the GG will again accede to his "advice" and we will be having yet another election. (Hence the Yoni School Re-Election Watch....) Just when even Finance Mystery Jim Blowhardy today admitted that we're in the worst economic situation in a generation...Another two or three months of governmental inactivity should help with that, eh?

And the Constipators will win the election, this time with a majority and we'll be stuck with Constipation for four more years. Because M. Dion & the Belmonts is a lame-duck leader, the Gliberals have no money, Jack Layoff never really stood a chance, and the Floc will be circling the wagons in Quebec. As a matter of fact, because the Constipators have managed to alienate many Quebecois in the last week, the Floc (which, need I remind you, is a separatist party) could very well end up gaining seats and becoming the Official Opposition again.

What a country!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yoni School Federal (Re-)Election Watch 2008 Pt. 2

The Great Canajun TV Showdown
Constipated vs. Gliberal
No Floc

Prime Mystery Stephen Harpie demanded TV time so he could go to the nation and present his case for why the three opposition parties should not be allowed to form a coalition government. M. Dion & the Belmonts demanded equal time to explain why he should get to be the replacement Prime Mystery. Here is an exact transcript of what they said:

"Quack quack quack quack quack....quack..."

"Quank quank quank quank quank....quank...
Oh, and by de way, so sorry I could not get dis to you on time..."

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Yoni School Federal (Re-)Election Watch 2008 Pt. 1

I, like many Canajuns, have been watching with great interest the antics going on in Ottawa. Yessir, we live in historic times. The Constipated Government of Stephen Harpie, having been elected with a second minority only seven weeks ago, is now on the brink of being defeated by a non-confidence motion and replaced by a coalition government composed of the three opposition parties.

M. Dion & the Belmonts, pretty convincingly rejected by the electorate, is suddenly in line to become Prime Mystery...if only interim, until the Gliberal Party can choose a new leader. Jack Layoff & Gilles Deceit are his new best friends. The Nefariously Democratic Party will actually take part in the coalition government, assuming several Cabinet positions, and the Floc Quebecois will remain outside the government but support it in all the crucial votes.

How did this come about? Well, from my perspective, it's almost solely due to the stupidity, arrogance, pettiness and hubris of Constipated leader Stephen Harpie. Last week he and his bully-boy Finance Mystery Jim Blowhardy presented an economic statement which essentially said nothing, did nothing, promised nothing.

Except this:
  1. No more public funding of political parties. (The system whereby parties collected $1.95 for every vote cast in their favour. Money paid by taxpayers. A system agreed upon by all parties several years ago.)
  2. A renege on a rise in wages to the public sector union (which had reached agreement only a couple days before) and, oh by the way, we're going to take away your right to strike while we're at it.
The first was a direct shot at all the opposition parties, a way of kicking them while they were down. Completely gratuitous, at this time anyway. Not something that needed to be done immediately. But Mr. Harpie hardly ever passes up an opportunity to be mean-spirited, and try to manipulate political situations to his advantage. In this case, I think he seriously miscalculated. And it serves him right.

The second was a sort of shot at the NDP. Here we are in times of economic uncertainty, perhaps crisis, and the Constipators take a shot at workers. Nice.

Mr. Harpie most likely didn't expect the Gliberals under M. Dion & the Belmonts to suddenly develop a backbone. M. Dion & the Belmonts comes across a little more jelly-fishy than that. But I think there's more to it than this. I suspect there really is some personal animus now motivating not only M. Dion & the Belmonts but also Jack Layoff. We need not say anything about Gilles Deceit. His greatest satisfaction was to see the power of the Floc deprive Harpie of his majority government, and now to take away the Prime Mysteryship is like icing on the cake for him. But all three of them really want to stick it to Mr. Harpie. And I think he deserves it.

The situation is not without its ambiguities, however. After all, the people did vote more seats for the Constipated Party than any other. But collectively, almost twice as many voted not to have the Constipated Party as their government. The three opposition parties own a majority of the seats. And therefore, regardless of what unthinking parrot-like Constipators say, this is nowhere near being a coup. It's completely constitutional. The Canajun electorate set up this possibility by the way it voted. It's the way the Parliamentary system works.

Technically, the Harpie government has lost the confidence of the Common Bawdy House of Commons. Under ordinary circumstances, in a minority government, this would entail another election. But these are not ordinary circumstances. Now we have the three opposition parties who have just today signed a formal agreement to work in concert as an alternative to the Constipated government. Which puts the Constipators in a real minority. They will have to become the Official Opposition. (Provided of course that the Governess General agrees to let the coalition stand...)

Here's the problem: Stephen Harpie apparently did not get the message from the electorate that he had a minority government. ie. in order to forward his agenda, he required the cooperation of members of the opposition. He attempted to govern in the last Parliament as if he was a majority leader. And he practiced manipulation to humiliate and frustrate the opposition, particularly the Gliberals. This led often to acrimony. And in his arrogance, he ignored his own election law and forced an election so that he could get himself a true majority. But that didn't happen.

At first, it seemed that he and his Constipated Colleagues would embrace the spirit of cooperation in the new House. But then came the infamous economic statement last week. He completely forgot that he still needed cooperation from the opposition parties and decided instead to poke them all in the eye with a financial stick.

What he didn't count on was that the opposition parties might decide to practise cooperation without him.

So that's what we've got right now.

I admit it's a bit of an unholy alliance. I don't think, however, that it's the coming of the end times. Except maybe for Stephen Harpie.

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Help! I've written and I can't get up!