Passion Blog Week #10: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

From left to right: Jake Portrait (Drums), Ruban Nielson (Guitar & Vocals), Riley Geare (Bass & Vocals)

From left to right: Jake Portrait (Drums), Ruban Nielson (Guitar & Vocals), Riley Geare (Bass & Vocals)

I find it amazing how music can bring up such striking reactions from the human mind. Whether it be memories, stories, feelings, or even visualizations, I cease to be amazed how some musicians can use their sounds to create such vivid pieces of sonic artwork. Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a band that has this magical ability. They use their instruments as tools, like paint brushes or pastels, to produce brilliant pictures on the canvas that is the listener’s mind. Having formed in 2010 with members from New Zealand and the United States, they have already released two albums and have toured Europe, Australia, and North America. To describe their “style” as one genre would be an injustice to their creativity and originality, but it fits in with a lot of other psychedelic rock artists like the Flaming Lips or MGMT. However, don’t let that description fool you. When you strip their music down to its very core you find influences as soul, 60s pop, funk, and 90s alternative if it weren’t for the effects and filters. So really with so much depth, it is truly a unique sound they produce. And that is what I enjoy the most about this band. They don’t play one style, or have one specific tone. Ffunny FFriends, their most well known song off the first album, has obvious neo-psychedelic sounds, with a riff that will be wonderfully stuck in your head, a hip hop like beat, and instrumental breaks that invoke visions of coasting through the universe or cruising through a brilliantly lit cityscape. Thought Ballune, is like a mashup of Sly and the Family Stone and the Beatles of 1967, pulling a groovy bass line together with wonderful vocal harmonies and a punchy chorus and reverb laden guitar to produce a wonderfully vivid sonic portrait. And the guitar solo (my favorite part) sounds like Jimi Hendrix came back from the grave. Finally, the song From the Sun starts of with a beautiful spacy acoustic guitar. When the vocals kick in it has a “Strawberry Fields Forever” vibe, but 3/4 through, its as if David Gilmour shows up and begins to jam, producing a totally different but complementary soundscape. All in all Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a wonderfully interesting and talented group, able to melt the mind or caress the eardrums with their musical masterpieces.

FFunny FFriends

Thought Ballune

From the Sun

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Work In Progress Week 10

For the advocacy project, I was planning on covering the amount of food that Americans waste every year. Its topic that I feel isn’t overly done, and is a rather significant problem that is not frequently seen in the media. The purpose of the project is to get more people to be conscious of how much food they waste each year, and for them to lessen the amount of wasted food they throw in the trash each year. Our strategy (I’m hopefully working with a partner on this one) is to have a visual 20lb pyramid of food be put in some public place for a day on campus. Of course this visual representation will be accompanied by posters and what not to bring awareness to this issue. By the way, the food used in the pyramid will be donated, so no ironic wasting of food in the visual component. We are also planning on filming this and using some of the footage to make a small film on the issue. Our audience really is anyone who sees the project, since its kind of hard to miss a 20lb mound of food. Kidding aside we feel that when you see something physical with your own eyes, and not just on the TV, you are more likely to be compelled to action. Like in my civic issues blog, showing statistics and pictures of dead fish from marcellus drilling accidents is not going to get the average person to do much. But if they were to see the fish kill first hand, where all the senses can take in the situation and show how terrible such an environmental disaster is, it brings that problem to a more personal level. Even the most pro-drilling individual would agree upon witnessing such a tragedy that more environmentally friendly techniques must be used.

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Civic Issues Blog Week 10

I honestly have enjoyed doing these civic issues blogs on Marcellus Shale. I must admit I’m actually a tad disappointed this is the last one I will be writing. In the first post I discussed the issue as a whole. Hopefully anyone who read it learned about what exactly Marcellus shale is and the reason why it is so controversial in Pennsylvania and surrounding states where the rock formation is (or will be) drilled for its massive natural gas reserves. In the last two posts I discussed both sides of the issue, between those who want to restrict drilling and its harmful potential to our environment, and those who just want to “drill baby drill”. In this last post, I’m throwing out the rhetoric, and looking at a responsible way that we could utilize this great energy potential while keeping the environment as safe as possible.

Map of natural gas drilling wells. The orange dots are wells that have violated environmental standards, and the extent of their damage.

Map of natural gas drilling wells. The orange dots are wells that have violated environmental standards, and the extent of their damage.

To say that natural gas drilling does not affect the environment is an ignorant statement. In the above image we see how many drilling wells in the state have been reported for environmental violations (in orange) and the are that they have affected. So regulation of these drilling practices and strict standards must be put into place to protect the environment from suffering the destruction it felt under the coal mining and steel mills that once dotted Pennsylvania. Already, effect standards have been put in place by the Center for Sustainable Shale Developement, a group which both environmentalists and gas companies have come together to work towards common interests. It is a 12 person panel consisting of four environmentalists, four gas representatives, and four independent representatives that are looking to responsibly drill for natural gas and reduce and eliminate any negative consequences of Marcellus shale drilling. The group will require gas companies to hire independent reviews of their drilling practices.  Additionally, new standards including limits on emissions of methane, reductions of the flaring of unwanted gas, increased monitoring and protection of groundwater, improvements of well designs, stricter wastewater disposal, using less toxic chemicals in frack water, and seismic monitoring before companies begin drilling have been agreed upon by the group. I know there are some environmentalists out there who will feel either that this is not enough, or that gas companies will disregard these restrictions. However, with such energy companies like Shell, Chevron, Consol, and EQT participating and looking for the groups seal of approval, it seems that this coalition is a significant step in the right direction. Besides, these restrictions proposed by this independent group are stricter than state and federal standards, and they were agreed upon by the gas companies participating.

Center for Sustainable Shale Development

Center for Sustainable Shale Development

However, there are still out of state companies, and even in state ones like Range Resources that have yet to, or will not sign on. What should be done about them? Well the first step should be to make state regulations as strict as the Center for Sustainable Shale Development’s restrictions. Some companies may just choose not to drill in Pennsylvania, but it will only be their loss. But this is not enough. The process of hydraulic fracturing at its very core still has a potential to cause environmental problems. Thus, gas companies must look at safer, even biodegradable frack water additives. Already, Haliburton (another large natural gas company) has developed a new formula for its fracturing fluid, which contains only additives that are used in processed foods and is environmentally harmless. Other companies like Baker & Hughes and Flotek have developed alternative fluids that use chemicals found in toothpaste and citrus fruit respectively. That’s not only impressive and promising, but it means that these gas companies are willing to do what ever it takes to drill for marcellus shale responsibly.

Who would have thought that citrus fruit could play a role in cleaner Marcellus shale drilling?

Who would have thought that citrus fruit could play a role in cleaner Marcellus shale drilling?

As previously stated though, this alone is still not enough. Drilling companies must be required by regulation to test the water of surrounding wells and streams before drilling, which at the present time is not required. Also, more treatment plants must be built to effectively treat the flowback water. This will be costly, but if a reduction in drilling must happen in order for these plants to be put into place, then there will be far less environmental infractions and the economic outcomes for the region will still be just as great.

Cross Creek Lake: This is part of the watershed that I did science experiments on Marcellus shale drilling.

Cross Creek Lake: This is part of the watershed that I did science experiments on Marcellus shale drilling.

I got into this issue and have followed it since I was a freshman in high school. As a fly fisherman and conservationist, the Dunkard Creek fish kill shocked me, and I became devoted to making sure that such a gross disregard for the environment would not occur again. I did three scientific experiments on the subject in high school which I got awards for in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science and the Pittsburgh Regional Science Fair. I want Marcellus Shale drilling to revitalize all of the little towns that have suffered since the absence of the steel and coal industries, but not at the expense of nature and the safety of the people of the region. Geologists say that the Marcellus shale formation could yield natural gas for at least fifty years, and hopefully by that time we will see economic rebirth of the depressed little towns who once thrived on coal and steel jobs, an environment that is still just as healthy as before, and renewable energy sources in the region.

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Work In Progress Week #9: Persuasive Essay draft

Will Ament

Professor Minbiole

CAS 138T

March 2013

A Case for the Support of the Free Syrian Army

For a little over two years, the Syrian Civil War has raged on. The conflict has been between the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad, a man who has oppressed and killed thousands of his own citizens over the time of his rule, and the Free Syrian Army. Assad is not only a frequent violator of human rights, but he has actively supported terrorist organizations that have attacked Israel and supported policies that conflict with US interests in the region. If we do not support the Syrian rebels, then we risk Assad being replaced by an equally oppressive and violent, Sunni Muslim theocracy. So far, the United States government has stood by, believing that if we do nothing to support these rebels, then we will not hurt our foreign policy interests. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and the assumptions with which the Obama administration has used to support this policy have been flawed at their very core. Thus, we must support the Free Syrian Army, both with arms and financial contributions, to hopefully create a new successful, secular, democratic government in Syria, rather than simply another anti-American theocracy, or the continued rule of Bashar al-Assad.

President Bashar al-Assad has ruled Syria since 2000 after his father, Hafez al-Assad, passed away. Since his rise to power, he has been recognized by the international community for violations of human rights. Syria has the second worst record on freedom of expression, behind only North Korea. Internet censorship and censorship of the media by the government is extensive, with many journalists being arrested for their reports. Along with the journalists, those who are opposed to the regime or speak negatively about Bashar al-Assad are commonly thrown in jail without a fair trial. Joining them are also human rights activists, homosexuals, and sometimes even people of certain ethnicities or religious beliefs, such as Kurds and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

With the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the human rights situation has only gotten worse. As in all wars, civilians will be killed, it is simply an unfortunate, uncontrollable result. However, Assad has routinely bombed whole towns that have almost no opposition presence in them. He has also allowed the use of cluster munitions, which were banned world wide in 2008 with the Convention on Cluster Munitions treaty. The Syrian military has also routinely tortured POWs and even civilians in order to obtain tactical intelligence, arbitrarily arresting innocent and peaceful protestors to silence dissent, and even using civilians as human shields. What is even more sickening is the amount of sexual violence that Assad has allowed his soldiers to commit. Once again, war is terrible, and in every conflict soldiers will get out of line and do horrible acts. Even US soldiers in the past have committed war crimes like the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. However, it is absolutely inexcusable that the Assad regime has allowed its soldiers to rape women and even young boys in order to quell dissent in rebellious towns. The regime has a record of gross negligence of human rights, willing oppressing, arbitrarily arresting, torturing, raping, and killing innocent civilians, all in order to inspire fear in the opposition, and keep a ruthless regime in power.

In addition to the human rights violations, President Assad has a record of being less than friendly to the interests of the United States, and has violated the safety and sovereignty of Israel. Assad has actively funded Islamic militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), which have all routinely attacked Israel and killed innocent civilians. He has even allowed Hezbollah to carry out military operations against the Free Syrian Army, allowing them to terrorize his own people. Now, Israel has routinely oppressed the Palestinian people, and they too have their own human rights issues too, but to support militant opposition to Israel’s wrongdoings will, and has only perpetuated violent conflict and the death of innocent people. With regards to the United States, these same militant groups that Assad supports have supported or partaken in military action against the US in the Iraq War. Whether one believes that the Iraq War was right or not is one thing, but the Syrian government has inadvertently thus supported military action against the US by supporting these groups. Only with a change of leadership of the country can we expect to see a presence in Syria that would not be open to killing US soldiers.

The last thing the United States needs is to have one enemy in the Middle East replaced by an equally hostile regime. If we do not supply the Syrian rebels with arms or aid, the rebels will instead get assistance from radical Sunni Muslim militant groups like Al-Qaeda. Yes, a regime that supports militant Islamist groups is also being attacked by other, equally extreme, Islamic groups.  The reason this is the case is because Assad is an Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam, and Sunni Islam does not believe that someone who is not a descendant of Muhammad can rule an Islamic country and that therefore, Assad’s presidency is against the very principles of their interpretation of Islam. Already, we are seeing Sunni militant groups fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army against Assad, and it won’t be long before they will exact their influence across the whole opposition movement, just as they have done with the revolutions in Libya and Egypt.

So far, the United States has given only rhetorical and vocal support to the Syrian rebels. The Obama administration has followed a delusional, flawed, and repeatedly failed policy concerning Syria and other countries in the Middle East. First, the President and his administration have operated under the misconception that both Russia and the US would benefit by the removal of Assad from power. That is why so far the only true assistance we have given to the Syrian rebels is to attempt to negotiate with Russia so they will no longer supply weapons and give monetary support to Assad’s regime. However, with Russia making millions off of these weapon sales, why would they suddenly believe that Assad’s removal from power would be beneficial to them? Not to mention the totally ignorant position that by supporting the Syrian rebels that we would anger the Iranian government. Of course this would be the case, but the Iranian government has never had a positive relationship with the US since the Ayatollah came to power in 1979. The Obama administration has operated under this idea though because of another delusion: that Iran can be peacefully negotiated to give up its nuclear program. Time and time again the UN and President have attempted to negotiate with the Iranian government, imposing sanctions and supporting talks in order to coerce them from pursuing technology that they would use to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”. This policy has repeatedly failed, only working to delay the program, not stop it.


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Civic Issues Blog #3: The Benefits of Marcellus Shale

Last post, I covered the environmental dangers of blindly pursuing Marcellus shale drilling and its other associated negative consequences. However, this week we will take a look at the benefits that this new natural gas drilling industry has for America. When the steel industry left America, the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania were hit hard. Combined with the slowly dying coal industry in these states and West Virginia, many people have lost employment and small coal towns have become crippled economically. With Marcellus Shale drilling coming to these areas, a new breathe of economic life has saved many families and businesses. Now, men can work for a business that is booming, and will continue to be economically viable for many years to come, due to the massive amounts of gas that have been surveyed in the shale.

Not only will thousands of jobs be created by this new energy industry, but the state of Pennsylvania will also benefit as a whole. In 2008, the state of Pennsylvania imported nearly 75% of the natural gas it used. It is projected that by next year, the state will become a net exporter of natural gas, due to shale drilling. Penn State University projected that $10.1 Billion would be generated from Marcellus shale drilling. From this, $1.1 in tax revenue would be generated. Of course, if this money is used efficiently, the state will greatly benefit. Along with the tax revenue, the businesses like restaurants and family stores in these otherwise depressed towns are already seen economic growth, from out of state well drillers moving to Pennsylvania and spending their money here. My Dad and I would look at the different license plates of frack trucks whenever we’d drive to drilling sites for my experiments, nearly all of the come from Texas. These men are estimated to spend nearly $350 million in local businesses. Opponents to drilling commonly make the misinformed point that fracking is not creating new jobs, but men from Texas are working on these new wells. Though that is not the case, if it were, there would still be economic growth and job creation from drilling.

And lets not forget the largest benefit from natural gas drilling, the gas itself. Natural gas burns much cleaner than other fossil fuels, and by using it the United States can eliminate the importation of foreign fossil fuels. We can also sell it to other nations, by constructing pipelines. By now some of you may be thinking: “But what about the environmental problems caused by hydraulic fracturing?”. Well, the number of accidents on wells has gone down. Not only that but the industry is constantly working to make the hydraulic fracturing process much safer for the environment. Companies like Range Resources and Consol Energy have local investments and are located in the Western PA area. They are looking to keep a good public image otherwise, it won’t be called the “Consol Energy Center” anymore (For those of you who are unfamiliar, the arena where the Pittsburgh Penguins and concerts play in Pittsburgh is sponsored by Consol Energy). These energy companies will take necessary precautions to keep the environment safe. However, out of state companies have less investment in the area, and have been observed to be the culprits of drilling pollution more often than not. So with such valid points on both sides, what should we do about Marcellus shale drilling? Next we will finally answer that question.


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Civic Issues Blog: Fracking

I thought I would start off my second discussion on Marcellus shale on what it is exactly and how the natural gas it contains is extracted. The Marcellus Formation is a wide belt of shale that can be found underneath southern New York, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and over half of Pennsylvania. It formed in the Devonian Period (approximately 420-360 million years ago) and has massive natural gas deposits in the pores of the rock due to prehistoric organisms decomposing in the subterranean sediment and being heated from geothermal energy. Obviously, with America’s dependence on foreign oil being a concern, this is a great resource to have to solve that problem. Knowledge of the formations natural gas capabilities have been known since the 1973 energy crisis, but the rock’s potential was not pursued because improper drilling techniques could not efficiently extract the gas. In the 1990’s a new system for extracting natural gas from shale formations was developed in Texas for the Barnett Shale formation. The new “slick-water frac” system was finally able to efficiently extract gas from deep pockets. It would later be known as hydraulic fracturing, and informally, fracking.


The hydraulic fracturing process begins by drilling vertically as deep down as 10,000 feet, but most often 5,000 to 9,000 feet. A steel casing is put down this well, and sealed from the surrounding rock with concrete. From there, the process varies. Most companies have begun to drill horizontally after first drilling vertically. This is achieved with a MWD drill bit, which creates a curve, entering the shale at a totally vertical position, allowing more shale to be processed with one drilling rig. From there a second casing is added and sealed just like the first. Next, a “perf” gun is placed down the casing at the extraction point. Small explosions from the gun create perforations in the casing and break the surrounding shale. Then, hydraulic fracturing fluid (also known as frac water) is pumped down the well at extreme pressures, causing more shale to be crushed through the perforations created by the explosion. We’ll talk more about the “water” later. Finally, the natural gas is released from the pores of the rock and captured at the surface. The whole formation is expected to contain as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and some wells are reporting to extract as much as 3 million cubic feet a day. To put that in perspective, 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is enough energy to power the US for 14 years.


Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? But there’s a problem. Remember the frac water? About 750 different chemicals have been identified to have been used by gas companies in their hydraulic fracturing fluid. These chemical additives help the fluid dissolve more rock, flow down the well, and in the case of sand and plastic pellets, create additional pressure and abrasion of the shale. Some chemicals based from chloride, barium, ammonium, sodium, and even arsenic can be very harmful to humans and the environment. Though these gas wells are drilled far below those used for drinking water, no nearer than 200 feet in the case of structures, water wells, or springs, and 100 feet from streams and wetlands, cracks in the surrounding rock and faulty casings can lead to pollution. After the frac water has been used, it is sometimes recycled and used again in other wells. Eventually though, most of it ends up on big trucks that dot the roads of Pennsylvania, transporting it to sewage treatment plants that treat the water and release it into our rivers. Of course leaking trucks, traffic accidents, and bad treatment can lead to disaster in this step of the process too. Trust me, I live in Western PA, I’ve driven behind frac trucks and seen them in enough parking lots to tell you they get rusty and leak. Even methane from the disturbed rock formations can rise up through the limestone and pollute wells that are only drilled as deep as 200 feet. Which leads into what I will be discussing next time, the pollution due to Marcellus shale drilling and my first hand experiences with it.


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Passion Blog: 2/1/13


The Murlocs are a bluesy-garage rock outfit from Australia starting to tap into the indie-rock scene. Their swampy, Lousiana bayou drenched sound with its twang and harmonicas brings up classic Creedence Clearwater Revival memories but with a indie lo-fi twist. But thats only scratching the surface of the character and warmth this band has. The lyrics are incredible for a band whose lead singer is only 19. Words about a love obsession like:

“Her persuasion is invading my thoughts

It’s engaging me from all I got

Step & Stagger falling to my knees

Girl you’re all I want as I stretch out for your release”

have such emotional depth that trigger so many feelings when listening to their music. Their sound has a unique quality. It harbors all of the essence of southern blues with a gritty garage rock fashion, distancing itself from contemporaries like say the Black Keys or White Stripes. Its heart-bending vocals aching guitars harken back to the earliest days of blues, singing the about the pain and poverty of African-Americans life. Currently, the band has released two EPs, a significant achievement for a band thats only two years old. Their first self titled EP had their characteristic tone but with at times an uptempo drive and psychedelic flair. Their second EP titled TeePee delved more into their blue roots, abandoning previous tonal experimentations and concentrating on the true essence of their sound. The band has become a popular live act, known for their electricity and excitement. In the future, this band will see much success, if they sign with record company.

Occupied     Step & Stagger     Psychotic Reaction


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Work In Progress 2/1/13

I think this video puts forth a very true argument at the end of its run when he points out the damage that fertilizer and boxcutters have caused America. That’s because these tools have not been anointed labels like pistols and semi-automatic rifles have been given. I think an interesting example is in the Columbine tragedy. If the two boys plans had worked right, several propane bombs would have wrecked far greater damage than they eventually did. But no one is looking to regulate propane tanks. These murderous instances are more about deranged minds than firearms. I think back to lessons I learned in my sociology class last semester. These social problems are simply manifestations of what some person has convinced others is bad. In this case, that undesirable is guns. This is an easily solvable problem, ban firearms and all the crime issues will end. But it neglects the real issue. If we ban these dangerous “assault weapons” then we create a black market, creating even larger issues. Just look at the War on Drugs. We as a society will choose an easy fix over an actual solution which is to somehow, someway either prevent access to these weapons from those who are dangerous or treat those who are dangerous.

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Work In Progress: Podcast

This I Believe

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Passion Blog: Kixxie Siete


My passion blog is normally about underground, unknown, or up and coming bands but I was thinking, why not expand that a little. So I decided this week instead of doing the usual indie band thing I would cover a rap artist. Kixxie Siete is a west coast rapper who first began his music career writing poems at the age of 11 after listening to Eminem. After dropping out of high school he decided to make music his career. He isn’t the poppin’ bottles, gettin’ laid, big money kind of rapper (you know what I mean). As he puts it: “You sit and think to my music. My music is not anything to dance to…I’m for the hip hop heads”. His rhymes are electric, with an old school tempo, kinda like Snoop Dogg. It has that vibe that can only be described by one word: chill. Siete’s style is excellently complimented by his lyrical depth which doesn’t require racial slurs or language you wouldn’t use around your mother in every line. Siete mostly talks about his life growing up as a Filipino kid, and his path to getting where he is today. In some songs he also discusses how he views the world, smoking reefer, and, most interestingly, criticizing some parts of hip hop culture. You see, Siete has “haters” just like every other rapper. However, his critics do not criticize his poetry, but rather that he “acts black” by rapping and doesn’t belong in the hip hop world since he is an Asian-American. Sort of ironic since many black rappers are critical of their treatment by white people and wish to be treated equally. Kixxie hasn’t let that bring him down though, and he has been gaining fans through touring and making music videos. Soon he’ll be coming out with a full length album.

Bang Bang ft. Artie McCraft

7th Sense

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