Friday, November 30, 2012


The Fiscal Cliff will get you if you . . .

. . . believe the narrative spun by most of the pundits and the main stream media (MSM).  It makes me very angry to see some rich man or woman intoning the words that we must reign in entitlement spending to avoid the ultimate disaster.  While our President bravely urges us to accept shared sacrifice, this wealthy blowhard is telling us that the sacrifice must be borne by those individuals living on "bloated" pensions and social security.  He's won't even think about any sacrifice he might make, such as paying a higher rate of income tax.  For the past fifty years the rich have been getting richer while the rest of us are barely holding our own.  Now the sacrifice must be made by the great majority - those of us who are relatively no better off today than we were many years ago - and that the small minority who are immensely better off shouldn't have to bear any of the pain or expense or even inconvenience.

Like the boogie man, the fiscal cliff is a story meant to scare us into behaving the way our masters wish.

This is not a well-organized post.  I'm too angry to be well organized.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


New Palestinian State

The United Nations has just voted to accept Palestine as a nonmember observer state.  The right-wing Israeli government is annoyed.  Israel's patron, the United States government, is concerned that this development will interfere with or prevent the resumption of the peace process.

I agree that this development has put a slight crimp in the plans of the right-wing Likud government of Israel to achieve its goal of the restoration of all the Biblical land of Eretz Israel.  It remains to be seen whether it will impede negotiations between Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government.  In the past, the negotiations went nowhere.  There was never any agreement on where the boundary should be between Israel and a hypothetical Palestine.  Any apparent boundary was repeatedly changed by the actions of Israeli settlers, who would go into territory that was provisionally reserved for the Palestinians and create a new settlement to be annexed to Israel.  There seemed to be no way to stop the settlement activity.  The Israeli government agreed that the settlements were illegal, but still permitted them to be built and occupied.  Once occupied, they were protected from retaliation by frustrated Palestinians who had lost access to their farms.  Every American President has declared that the settlement activity hinders the move toward a settlement of the two parties in the form of two separate states, Palestine and Israel.  No American President has dared to use the power at his disposal to stop the settlement activity.  That is the power of money.  The United States provides Israel a generous foreign aid income.  If that income were stopped, Israel would be brought to its knees and would have to abandon the settlements.  If that income were stopped, Congress would be outraged and would impeach the President.

I read occasionally that a majority of Israelis and a majority of Palestinians favor and end to hostilities and the establishment of two independent states, side by side, living in harmony and peace.  The coalition supporting the present Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not support that view.  I suspect that the present Israeli government does not always act in accord with the wishes of the majority of the Israeli people, just as our own elected government does not always act according to our wishes.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


The angry sixty percent

Yesterday I received a forwarded e-mail from a friend.  The friend and the guy who sent him the same forwarded e-mail were, like me, two old white guys.  According to the polls, the strongest support any Republican Presidential candidate has is this group of old white guys.  At least sixty percent of us are loyal Republicans.  Or, if not loyal Republicans, sixty percent of us support Romney because we detest Mr. Obama.

This sentiment is evidence to me that racial prejudice is still alive and thriving in the United States.  Four years ago the sixty percent grudgingly accepted Obama and hoped he would turn out to be a remarkable and memorable leader.  In fact, a lot of us who are not members of the sixty percent group expected and hoped for great things from this young man from Chicago.

He has disappointed us.  He has not been a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi, a Desmond Tutu, a Martin Luther King, jr.  At best he has been a big change from George W. Bush.  He may not be the great leader we hoped for, but at least he has been competent.

He has also been and always will be an "African-American."  That's the rub.  The sixty percent of white guys, old and young, will not accept an African-American as President unless he is as inspiring and as effective a leader as Mandela or Gandhi.  Mr. Obama has been neither of these.  For example, when the Occupy movement was started, a Gandhi would have left the White House and joined the movement as its leader.  Let the Republicans and Democrats in Washington simmer; show the public where your true sympathies are and do something political and effective that doesn't involve Washington.  When the Bush Administration left office, leaving behind a record of torture, a needless war, arrogation of constitutionally forbidden power, and other high crimes and misdemeanors, a Mandela would have put together a truth and reconciliation commission and invited Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Yoo, Mr. Gonzales, and others to own up to what they had done and at least offer public apologies.  These would have been great acts of leadership.  Mr. Obama didn't go near them.

The sixty percent might accept a man with a brown skin if he were a great and inspiring leader.  Mr. Obama has been merely a competent President, dealing with a bad economic problem and a snarling, uncooperative Congress.

Saturday, November 03, 2012


About my Hearing

           On November 2, 2011, at about 6:55 AM I was involved in a serious auto accident.  My car and another vehicle collided almost head-on.  The air-bag in my vehicle deployed.  The windows of my vehicle were closed.  The result was a terrific acoustic shock to my ears.  At the same time my body lunged forward on to the steering wheel and  I suffered a broken sternum.  I was hospitalized until Saturday, November 5.  I came home and recuperated from the accident with the help of a hired care-giver during the day.  The pain in my chest, especially when I tried to lift myself from a lying position in bed was severe enough that I had to sleep in a Laz-e-boy reclining chair for more than a week.

            About a week after the accident I endeavored to play a recorder or longitudinal flute.  I was able to play correctly the notes from F (349 Hz) to B-flat (932 Hz).  The next note, C (1047 Hz) sounded like D-sharp (1245 Hz), a minor third higher in pitch.  Notes above that were similarly displaced upward in pitch by a minor third.  My first reaction was that I had forgotten how to finger the instrument correctly.  I went to the piano and played notes of the same range of pitch as those I had just played on the recorder.  The effect was the same.  Above 950 Hz all musical notes seemed to me to be a minor third too sharp or high in pitch.

            This was not hearing loss but pitch distortion.  It has persisted to this day (October 31, 2012).  It is no longer possible for me to enjoy music with notes that cross this strange discontinuity in my pitch perception.  I hear some favorite music by Bach, such as “Sheep may safely graze” or “Jesu joy of man’s desiring” and the high notes on a flute or recorder don’t sound right to me.  I am confined to enjoying music without the high notes above high B-flat.

            I have given this problem a lot of thought.  I haven’t found any account of another person who suffered this type of hearing change.  I have read that an air bag deployment can cause temporary deafness.  I haven’t found any literature on pitch perception change.  To be honest, I haven’t conducted a thorough literature search of the subject.

            I have worked out a model to explain what happened to my sense of hearing.  I start by imagining the little cilia in the cochlea, the little coiled tube in the inner ear.  Imagine the cochlea straightened out as illustrated in the left hand part of the following diagram.  On the left are the cilia or little bristles immersed in the fluid.  Any musical note that is transmitted to the inner ear causes the little bristles whose resonant frequencies are near the frequency of the note to vibrate. 

            One might think of a frequency meter for an electric generator with vanes or stiff metal reeds that vibrate. When the generator is running at the correct speed, the vane corresponding to 60 Hz vibrates with a large amplitude.  Vanes for adjacent frequencies, 60.1, 60.2, ..., 59.9, 59.8, etc, vibrate at amplitudes that are lower the farther the resonant frequency of the vane is from 60 Hz.  In the same way a single frequency excites several of the little bristles in the cochlea.

            Next, I come to the question of how does the nerve bundle convey this information to the brain?  Is each bristle part of a nerve that communicates its frequency directly?  That sounds highly unlikely.  One would have to have nerves that in a normal youthful human could conduct electrical impulses at a rate of up to 15,000 Hz and above.  Nerves don’t work that way.  In my model, each bristle is part of a nerve that transmits a regular signal in the range of 10 to 100 Hz whenever the bristle is caused to vibrate.  The frequency of the signal indicates the amplitude of the vibration.  In the brain, each nerve fiber is connected to an individual nerve cell.  That nerve cell interprets the incoming signal as a musical note.

            In the diagram above, G denotes the frequency at which the pitch displacement occurs.  The other notes in the diagram are self-explanatory.  The brain cells on the right enclosed in the heavy dashed line are those that the connections from the bristle nerve were originally attached to.  As a result of the concussion those connections were all shifted to nerve cells that interpret impulses as higher frequencies.

            There is one feature of my present hearing that the model doesn’t explain.  It is true that there is a gap or difference between my pitch perception below and above a frequency of about 950 Hz, at least in my right ear.  However, the pitch does not jump immediately by about a minor third (approximately 20 percent in frequency).  The perceived pitch changes rapidly but, as far as I can tell, smoothly from b-flat through b-natural to c.  The model can not be an accurate diagram of the mechanism of pitch perception in my head.

Friday, November 02, 2012


Privatize FEMA?

During the Republican Primary Debates, some of the candidates proposed abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and letting private contractors deal with emergency relief from fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other disasters.  The excuse provided for such a change was that the federal government is just too big to deal with such disasters effectively.  Basically, it is the current "small government" idealism that the Republican Party has embraced.  Some of you youngsters may take this "excuse" as a valid reason and evidence that the GOP really and truly stands for small government.

Being an Old Democrat (of 89 years) I can claim to have heard this argument all my life.  Before the days of such idealists as Howard Jarvis and Grover Norquist the reason was based on economics.  Government should perform those functions that can not be done in a way that makes a profit for investors.  Any function that can make a profit for investors and entrepreneurs should be done by private business.

It is clear that disaster relief can be operated as a profitable business.  The relief firms provide relief to persons and organizations who can pay them.  Those that can't pay get no help.  This is a simple principle, one that is easy to explain and understand.  Application of this principle allows both relief companies and insurance companies to prosper.  You as a voter can choose to support or oppose candidates who express and advocate this principle.

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