Researchers unlock mystery behind Terracotta Army

China’s Terracotta Army has fascinated millions since its discovery 40 years ago, near present-day Xi’an. Built by Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, the Terracotta Army was massed below ground, to protect a spectacular underground palace complex that was based on Qin’s imperial capital.

To create his Terracotta Army, Qin “issued instructions that his imperial guard be replicated, down to the finest details, in red-brown terracotta clay, poised to do battle,” according to Science China Press.

When the army was uncovered in 1974, thousands of these imperial guards were initially discovered, with some containing patches of pigment that had survived 22 centuries buried underground, along with minute remnants of binding media that had aided in the creation of this polychrome Terracotta Army, the publication added.

Since then, efforts to conserve these figures from China’s First Empire have been hindered by scientists’ inability to discover the binding material used in applying pigments to Qin Shihuang’s underground army.

However, recent research has revealed “the surfaces of the terracotta warriors were initially covered with one or two layers of an East Asian lacquer … obtained from lacquer trees,” according to Hongtao Yan and Jingjing An, scientists at the College of Chemistry and Materials Science, Northwest University, in Xi’an.

“This lacquer was used as a base-coat for the polychrome layers, with one layer of polychrome being placed on top of the lacquer in the majority of cases,” according to an article co-authored by Tie Zhou, Yin Xia and Bo Rong, scholars at the Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery Conservation, the State Administration for Cultural Heritage, which is connected with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang‘s Terracotta Army.

Qin (260-210 BC) united China in 221 BC and ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors found in Qin’s underground palace were to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization described the site in glowing terms more than a quarter century ago: “Qin … is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the center of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyang. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

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Asked to risk lives overseas, many veterans can’t get help at home

No matter what one’s opinion of US involvement in the Middle East it would seem a no-brainer that the men and women called upon to serve their nation in danger zones deserve competent medical treatment once they’re back home.

As numerous reports have shown, that’s not the case.

A 2012 Suicide Data report estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. Thousands more suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which leaves many unable to handle the basics of everyday life.

Unfortunately, it appears the Veterans Administration and US Department of Defense are often exacerbating soldiers’ problems, rather than alleviating them.

Last month during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing, a panel of parents asserted that failures in the VA and the Department of Defense contributed to the mental pressures that led their sons to kill themselves.

Jean and Dr. Howard Somers, the parents of Army Sgt. Daniel Somers, detailed their son’s experience navigating the VA system in Phoenix, according to a report by ABC News.

“He presented there in crisis, he said he needed to be admitted to the hospital,” Jean Somers said, having to finish for his wife who had started the story but broke into tears. “He was told by their mental health department that they had no beds, and he was told there were no beds in the emergency department.

“The fact is that he went in to the corner. He lay down on the floor. He was crying. But he was told you can stay here and when you feel better you can drive yourself home.”

Daniel, 30, had largely condemned his experience with the system in his suicide letter published by Gawker 12 days after his death.

“Thus, I am left with basically nothing,” wrote Somers, 30. “Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out – and thus deserve better.”

Also at the hearing was Peggy Portwine, the mother of deceased Army veteran Brian Portwine. She blamed the VA and Department of Defense for clearing her son for redeployment after multiple traumatic combat experiences, ABC News reported.

“Upon returning from the second deployment in 2010, Brian was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury), depression and anxiety,” Portwine said. “I never knew of his conditions. He deteriorated quickly from December 2010 to May 2011 when he took his life. If the DOD and VA assessed Brian for high suicide risk, it was their duty to treat him, but he received nothing.”

This blog doesn’t normally post music videos, but the above clip by the group Five Fingered Death Punch, titled “Wrong Side of Heaven,” includes a number of staggering statistics regarding veterans: 300,000 are homeless, 1.4 million are at risk of becoming homeless, an estimated 460,000 veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and 5,000 commit suicide each year.

Also included at the end are the names of several military-support organizations the band supports. The group has also launched the website www.5fdp4Vets.com where more contact information for veterans with PTSD can find support.

(HT: North Carolina Union Volunteers; Jitterbugging for Jesus)

Remembering the Miracle Braves and the 1914 World Series

This Saturday’s Atlanta Braves-Oakland Athletics game will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 World Series, in which the Braves and Athletics met in one of the more improbable championship matchups in Major League baseball history.

The game, to be played at Atlanta’s Turner Field, will include a tribute to the 1914 Miracle Braves, who were then based in Boston, and feature both clubs wearing retro 1914 uniforms.

In the 1914 World Series, the Braves shocked the sporting world by sweeping the vaunted Philadelphia Athletics (they wouldn’t land in Oakland until 1968, by way of Kansas City).

By mid-season of that year, however, the Braves appeared en route to a dismal finish. On July 15 they were in last place, 11-12 games behind the New York Giants. They caught fire as the summer went on, though, and won the National League pennant by 10-12 games.

The Athletics, on the other hand, were defending champions, having won the World Series in 1913, and also in 1911 and 1910. Philadelphia had four of the last five American League pennants and was heavily favored.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field to call its own; they had forsaken aging South End Grounds in August 1914, instead choosing to rent Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox while awaiting construction of Braves Field, which would open the next season.

On paper, the Braves would seem to have been no match for the Athletics. The latter had three future Hall of Fame pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock, along with second baseman Eddie Collins, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker and Manager Connie Mack.

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Amid ruins of Soviet dystopia, an avant-garde gem shines

There’s not a whole lot going for Karakalpakstan, the sparsely populated autonomous republic that occupies the whole northwestern end of Uzbekistan.

Once home to the Soviet Red Army’s research labs and testing sites for chemical and biological warfare, it’s a Grade A ecological disaster area.

In addition, the region suffers from extensive drought, largely due to exploitation of the Amu and Syr Darya rivers in the eastern part of Uzbekistan. As a result, the Aral Sea has all but dried up and crop failures in Karakalpakstan have deprived tens of thousands of their livelihood. If that weren’t enough, shortages of potable water have created a surge of infectious diseases

While the name Karakalpakstan may not ring a bell, you likely have seen the desolate pictures of the dry Aral Sea, which features grounded rusty Soviet-era ships, desert-like conditions and overall desolation.

To get an idea of how much damage the Soviets wreaked on the region, consider this description from the blog The Travel Lust:

The Aral Sea, situated in the Karakalpakstan State of Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth-largest in-land sea, it has since shrunk by 90 percent, the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a failed Soviet cotton production project. The disaster had ruined the once-robust fishing economy around Moynaq town and left fishing trawlers stranded, … impoverishing the whole area. The whole area lost so much water that the whole area has turned into a salty sandy wasteland.

Added the website Strange Maps, “The former lakebed is the birth chamber of countless toxic sandstorms plaguing the region, keeping local life expectancy in check.”

Strange Maps adds, perhaps unnecessarily, that the capital of Nukus doesn’t exactly rank high on the list of the discerning tourist – or any tourist, for that matter:

Calum Macleod and Bradley Mayhew, authors of The Golden Road to Samarkand, one of the best introductions to Uzbekistan, describe Nukus as ‘a grim, spiritless city of bitter pleasures whose gridded avenues of socialism support a centerless town, only to peter out around fading fringes into an endless wasteland of cotton fields punctuated by the random, surreal exotica of wild camels loitering in neglected apartment blocks.’ Even those trying to talk up the tourist potential of Karakalpakstan ruefully admit that the Tashkent Hotel in Nukus is ‘abysmal … certainly a prime candidate for the worst hotel in the world.’

Apparently, the area does have one thing going for it: It’s home to the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art, the world’s second-largest collection of Russian avant-garde art, after the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.

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Idiot fined for pretending to be ghost in graveyard

It was said that Samuel Colt’s famed revolver was the great equalizer in that it put men on a comparable footing when it came to defending themselves. That wasn’t necessarily the case, however, unless one knew how to wield a weapon.

The real equalizer has always been and will always be alcohol, for if one imbibes enough one can sink to a level of idiocy on par with most any other Grade A souse.

Take Anthony Stallard of Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, who was fined for, among other things, pretending to be a ghost in a cemetery, according to The Guardian.

The unemployed 24-year-old had been out drinking with friends when they went to Kingston cemetery in Portsmouth, where they started to play soccer.

Witnesses reported the group then began engaging in rowdy behavior, with one – Stallard – throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” within earshot of mourners visiting graves, according to a Hampshire police spokesman.

Stallard was fined £35 (nearly $60) and ordered to pay a £20 (nearly $35) victim surcharge and £20 in costs.

Stallard also had an extra three months added to a conditional charge for previous harassment which he was found to be in breach of, according to a Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman.

A charge of causing criminal damage to gravestones was dismissed.

Sure, some potted lout throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” is good for a laugh, but the part about doing it while people visit the graves of family members and the damaging of gravestones is hardly funny.

As the photo above indicates, Kingston cemetery is filled with many old gravestones; just because Stallard is without self-respect doesn’t mean he should get away with disrespecting others, whether they be dead or living descendants of the dead.

Wreaking havoc in cemetery may seem to some a victimless crime, but the desecration of gravestones shows a very real contempt for society as a whole.

A more fitting punishment would have been to have Stallard repair damage done and spend weekends maintaining the graveyard. While unlikely, there’s always the chance he would have gained at least a small understanding of why cemeteries are held to be reverent and historic locales by many.

However, one suspects this won’t be Stallard’s last brush with the law, so it’s likely there will be future opportunities for a judge or judges to consider interesting sentences for this miscreant.

(Top: Kingston cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Photo credit: The Guardian.)

April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

fort-sumter-bombardment

Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor remembered at historic Savannah church

flannery

Fifty years after famed writer and Savannah, Ga., native Flannery O’Connor died, a memorial mass was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the same church she attended as a child.

The Memorial Remembrance, which took place Sunday, was held in one of the South’s most spectacular houses of worship, a downtown Savannah church that O’Connor once viewed as a child from the window of her parents’ bedroom.

“In the great scheme of things 50 years is not a long period of time, however in the life of Flannery it takes on significant meaning,” said the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of Savannah, who led the Memorial Remembrance and delivered the homily. “Last year her prayer journal was published: What a beautiful treasure. Praying is the lifeblood of our relationship with the loving God.

“Fifty years after her death Flannery still speaks to us,” he added.

Mary Flannery O’Connor, born March 25, 1925, wrote two novels – Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away – and dozens of short stories before she died at age 39 of lupus.

She is said to have practically defined the genre known as Southern Gothic, a form that accentuates the grotesque, horrifying and, for lack of a better phrase, that which just isn’t right.

O’Connor’s writing was noted for its flawed characters and disturbing events, much of which was set in the South.

Her own mother is said to have asked her why she couldn’t just “write about nice people.”

O’Connor, who first gained a measure of fame at age 5 when she trained a pet chicken to walk backward, which caught the attention a newsreel company, moved to Milledgeville, Ga., in 1941 at age 15 after her father died of the same condition that would take her life 23 years later.

There, she lived with her mother and other relatives in an 1838 columned Federal clapboard house, which was not only the family home, but was briefly used as the governor’s mansion when Milledgeville served as the antebellum capital of Georgia.

After O’Connor graduated from today’s Georgia College & State University she enrolled in graduate school at today’s University of Iowa in 1945, with the goal of becoming a political cartoonist.

However, within a few weeks she had discovered the Iowa Writers Workshop, run by noted poet, playwright and novelist Paul Engle and switched to the school’s Master of Fine Arts program.

Discovering her vocation as a writer, she dropped ‘Mary’ from her name; had her first story, ‘The Geranium,’ published in Accent magazine, and received a Rinehart fellowship to work on a novel, according to The New York Times.

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