Monday, April 24, 2017

Recent notes on the Irish language

(in reply to a question of why Irish spelling is so weird)

One reason for some of the quirks is the (generally) precise indication of consonants being broad or slender. This is reflected in pronunciation most obviously for d, t, and s. Broad d is like a hard [TH], slender d like [j]. Broad t is like a soft [th], slender t like [ch]. Broad s is [s], and slender s is [sh]. Spelling rules require that when consonants are broad they are flanked by broad vowels (a, o, u) and when slender by slender vowels (e, i). So there are often vowels that are there not for their own pronunciation but to indicate that the consonant has broad or slender pronunciation.

Many of the double-vowel and triple-vowel combinations (as in the name Saoirse [Seershuh or Sairshuh]) likely evolved out of the above rule.

Then there’s the softening (or aspiration or lenition) of consonants, which is indicated by an h after the consonant. (In traditional Irish, it is indicated by a dot over the consonant.) Some softened consonants are pronounced differently when they are at the start, middle, or end of a word. And if they are broad or slender. Often the lenition makes them silent.

Besides causing lenition, various declensions cause eclipsis of a consonant at the start of a word, a voicing or nasalization indicated by an eclipsing consonant in front, so that the original consonant after it is essentially silent. Examples are mb, gc, nd, ng, bhf, bp, dt. In words starting with a vowel, an h (sometimes hyphenated) is added before, but does not “eclipse”, the vowel.

Some declensions also cause an h or t to be added to the start of the word. If the word starts with an s, the added t eclipses it (eg, the street: an tsráid [un trawd].

Those are some of the reasons there often seems to be too many letters, even though there only 18 in the traditional alphabet.

PS: In 1948, Irish spelling was standardized and greatly simplified!

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(in reply to a shared article by Barry Evans, on distinct “do” (particularly in the past tense, e.g., “I do not think ...”) and “-ing” forms betraying a Celtic influence in the formation of English)

Irish (these are all literally present-tense forms):
Scríobhim - I write
Tá mé ag scríobh - I am writing [at this moment]
Bím ag scríobh - I am (‘I do be’) writing [these days] (present habitual tense of “be”)
Tá mé tar éis scríobh - I was just (‘I am after’) writing
Tá mé scríofa - I have written [in the past]
Tá leabhar scríofa agam - I have written a book
Tá an leabhar ar scríobh - The book has been written
Also of interest is the past habitual tense compared with the conditional mode:
Scríobhainn - I would (‘I used to’) write [in those days]
Bhínn ag scríobh - I would (‘I used to’) be writing [in those days]
Scríobhfainn - I would write [if I could]
Bheinn ag scríobh - I would be writing [if I could]
Note: “scríobh” is a verbal noun (gerund) and “scríofa” is a verbal adjective.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Letter in support of proposed wind turbine sound rules

To the Clerk of the Vermont Public Service Board:

I support the proposed wind turbine sound rules as a first step to protect the aural environment of our mountains.

As you know, a quiet rural night in Vermont is likely to have a sound level of only 25 dBA or even less. An increase in ambient noise of 5 dB is recognized as a cause of widespread complaints. So limiting the sound level at night to 35 dBA is not severe but actually rather lenient.

The proposed rule does not address low-frequency noise, which Denmark (the world's leader in wind energy technology and implementation) since 2011 has limited to 20 dBA indoors (10-160 Hz).

Infrasound (which is not heard but instead felt) is also a concern, with many acoustic engineers determining that a C-weighted indoor limit of 50 dB is necessary to protect health.

Nor does the proposed rule address amplitude modulation, the distinct "swish" or "thump" of large wind turbines. In the UK, planning permission for the Den Brook project included a rule to limit amplitude modulation: A 125-ms pulse of 3 dBA or greater (3 dB being the difference in noise level detectable by the human ear) can not occur in any 2-second period five or more times in six or more minutes of any hour, when those minute-long average noise levels are 28 dBA or more.

While these limits, as well as the proposed setback of 10 times the total height from residences (which should be at least 15 times the height, and from property lines, so that people can enjoy all of their property), begin to protect human neighbors, they do nothing to protect the wildlife of the mountains, who in most cases are much more sensitive to sound than humans.

[See also:  Proposal and comments for implementing a rule regarding sound from wind generation projects, by Stephen Ambrose]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Devils take you.

Irish curse:  Go mbeire an dhá dhiabhal dhéag leo thú.

Pronunciation:  Guh mairuh un gaw yeewul yayug luh hoo.

Translation:  May the twelve devils take you with them.

Actual word order:  That carry the two devils ten with them you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jet lag, depression, and the circadian rhythm

From “The Sleeping Cure”, by Richard A. Friedman, New York Times, March 12, 2017:

When you quickly cross several time zones, your circadian rhythm remains stuck in the city you left behind. Arriving in Rome with your New York City brain is what produces the unpleasant symptoms of jet lag: fatigue, malaise, poor concentration and mood changes.

When you leave New York at 6 p.m., the Italians are probably in bed asleep. But you won’t feel ready for sleep until around 11 [p.m. New York time, or around 5 a.m. in Rome]. To make the right adjustment, you need to shift your internal clock earlier by six hours.

Unfortunately, exposure to light in the middle of the night will do the opposite. Instead of shifting you earlier to Italian time, it makes you feel it’s even later — that the night is over and it’s already morning.

If you’re ever in that situation, close the shades and put on dark sunglasses. Keep the glasses on until lunchtime in Rome — or 7 a.m. back home. Then go out into the sun, have an espresso and enjoy the splendor of the ancient city. This will shift your clock closer to Roman time.

The clock in your brain doesn’t just take cues from light, but from the hormone melatonin as well. Every night, about two to three hours before you conk out, your brain starts to secrete melatonin in response to darkness. Taking a melatonin supplement in the evening will advance your internal clock and make it possible to fall asleep earlier; taking it in the morning will do the opposite. (You might assume this would make you even more tired during the day but it won’t; you could think of it as tricking your brain into believing you slept longer.)

So now you know the fix for jet lag: Travel east and you’ll need morning light and evening melatonin; go west and you’ll need evening light and morning melatonin.

...

Researchers have developed a limited form of sleep deprivation that is euphemistically called wake therapy. It has been shown to have sustained antidepressant benefit in patients with bipolar disorder and major depression. The idea is to get up for the day halfway through the usual sleep period, which shifts the circadian clock to an earlier time. It’s thought that this works by realigning the sleep cycle with other circadian rhythms, like changes in levels of body temperature and the stress hormone cortisol, that are also out of sync with each other in depression.

Studies show that it is possible to make wake therapy even more powerful by incorporating two additional interventions: early morning light therapy and what’s called sleep phase advance, in which the patient goes to bed about five to six hours earlier than usual and sleeps for about seven hours. This combination of treatments is called triple chronotherapy, and the typical course involves one night of complete sleep deprivation followed by three nights of phase-advanced sleep and early morning light.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Climacteric, a poem

CLIMACTERIC
by Eric Rosenbloom
copyright 2017

Not the self-consuming fire
In glorious explosion
Leaving the quiet worm
To slowly grow a new self
In the sudden ashes of the old —

Our turnings are slow ones
The growing frailty of parents
And their dying
The growing independence of children
And their leaving
The dogs and cats that grew with them
Their lives now ending
Griefs accruing ...

The slow ending of an age
And the aged required to start anew ...

The fire is in the worm
Nurturing, destroying in turn
The ashes accumulate
Overwhelming
Until we shake them off
And turn to face the new day —
The phoenix of our yesterdays
In the phoenix of our tomorrows —
Burning, burning

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Choices for the Left in the Age of Trump

Boris Kagarlitsky writes at Counterpunch:

The events currently unfolding in the United States, and discussions of the American Left regarding Trump, remind me of the famous Soviet Odessa joke: a lady stops a car in the street, and asks the driver: “Are you a real taxi?” The driver’s answer: “Does madam need a ride, or a checkered pattern?”

Numerous activists of the left wing organizations who took part in January protests against the new President of the United States made a clear statement: they don’t want to move anywhere, they don’t need any changes. All they want is a correct discourse; they need a correct checkered pattern on the door of the car.

In the meantime, some changes, currently under way in the US, are not only global in scale, but also fully in line with the demands put forth by the same left in the mass protests they have been organizing in the last quarter of the century. Wasn’t it the Left who intensely criticized Northern American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), arguing (and the criticism turned out to be completely justified) that it would harm American industry, workers and the middle class? Wasn’t it the Left, who by the same token, was condemning the signing of a similar Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and was opposed to the forthcoming Free Trade Agreement with the European Union?

President Trump promises to simplify the process of voter registration to facilitate easier access to the voting booth for the lower strata of the society. Openly neglecting his traditional role as the “leader of free world”, he not only refuses to impose liberal principles on the rest of the world, but also calls NATO obsolete. A few days before taking the oath of the office, he also stated that he stands for universal healthcare and for curbing the drug prices.

In other words, he repeated the demands of Bernie Sanders, the most left-leaning American politician.

Trump also hinted that he is interested in the educational reform, but did not offer any details. If such agenda becomes a reality, we are talking about the most radical social reform in the United States since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, much of the American left attends the protest marches, organized with the support of the liberal-conservative establishment, invariably repeats any absurd and false accusations against the President, and enthusiastically joins the campaign against his administration, pretending not to understand that the only goal of all these actions is to block social and economic changes in the country. In less than 24 hours after the forty-fifth President took office, Washington and other big American cities witnessed mass demonstrations.

The public protested not a specific decision of the new Head of the State or against his policies in general, but against his personality. We have time and again been told that Trump is racist, a homophobe and hates women. They tried to accuse him of anti-Semitism as well, but the accusations had to be dropped because of the protests of the Jewish relatives of the President. The protesters never managed to formulate any political demands towards the new occupant of the White House.

Besides, Trump never said anything wrong regarding African Americans, women or gays, except for a private conversation many years ago, when he told his friend about an unsuccessful attempt to molest some lady. But what Trump said, or did not say, does not matter. None of the protesters are interested in Trump’s opinions, statements or even actions. What is really important for them is what the leading New York publications write about him.

In turn, the media showed an unprecedented sympathy for the protests. Many of those who came out in January 2017 to march in Washington and other cities were not protesting for the first time. They have participated in anti-globalization demonstrations or in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Back then, the leading newspapers and TV stations either ignored them or portrayed their actions as antics of bullies and outcasts.

Now, on the contrary, the media is talking with sympathy about what is happening. This is not surprising, because the media establishment itself also plays a crucial role in organizing the protests by working out the ideological basis for the protests, and by disseminating information about the upcoming events and coordinating them.

Some of the Left are wary of all this. But not all. Surprisingly, the majority of “critically thinking” intellectuals turned into an easily managed and manipulated mass, without any personal opinions or will. However, even those who are skeptical about the protests are not inclined to analyze what is happening in class or socio-political categories. All they do is remind their more naive colleagues that the same ladies and gentlemen who now call on them to protest in the street resorted to all sorts of dirty tricks just a few months ago to prevent the left candidate Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic primary.

Such statements are, of course, justified, but they explain nothing. Russian politician Anatoly Chubais expressed the essence of the current moment much better while talking about his impressions of the World Economic Forum in Davos. In the words of the leading ideologist of Russian neoliberals, Trump’s victory plunged the crowd at the forum of the global elite into a state of horror. The only encouraging aspect against this backdrop was the speech of the Chinese leader:
“The keynote speaker Mr. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese communist party, opened the meeting with a speech which was a brilliant ode to the market economy with energetic appeals to remove the trade barriers, reduce taxes, and even ended with a statement that China is opening up a number of markets that were previously closed. Such a super liberal speech in the best traditions of Chicago school.”
The consensus attitude toward Trump, according to Chubais, can be expressed in the following formula: “He will either reject everything he said before, or he will lead us to a catastrophe.”

This is a fairly paradoxical, but quite logical, situation: The US is the threat to the world order, while communist China is the last hope of the global bourgeoisie. However, Trump is in no way an opponent of capitalism. He is not a threat to the bourgeois order as such; he is only threatening to its neoliberal version, which was established worldwide after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The forty-fifth President of the United States is firmly committed to the principles of protectionism; he will protect US markets and jobs. And, most importantly, he encourages other countries to do the same, not taking into consideration the interests of multinational corporations based in the United States.

Worse, he considers these corporations to be the main threat to America. The anxiety of the representatives of transnational financial elite, who gathered in Davos, is understandable. They are really threatened with a catastrophe. After all, the trade agreements that the forty-fifth President of the United States is already starting to undo, in fact, are not about trade. They are about the restrictions of sovereignty of governments, elimination of democratic and social rights of citizens, as well as many privileges provided for large international companies. There is, however, a question: why the American billionaire Donald Trump is not only the enemy of these agreements, but also the driving force behind the alternative, which anti-globalists called for.

The fact is that Trump and his entourage, fabulously rich as they are, do not belong to the multinational corporate and financial elite that has developed and established dominance during the past quarter of a century. Fortunes of Trump and his associates reach 3-4 billion dollars. On the scale of the American and international capitalism of the beginning of the twenty-first century, these are not big fortunes. Multinational companies control capitals that are ten or more times greater, often managing hundreds of billions of dollars.

Donald Trump is quite a typical representative of medium-size businesses, oriented on the local market and dedicated to the development of real sector. This part of bourgeoisie quite naturally rebelled against the transnational corporations, which, together with the largest banks, have used their dominant position in Washington in the last quarter-century to change the rules in their favor and to reallocate resources, undermining not only workers and the middle class, but also a significant proportion of entrepreneurs. The average business, which rebelled against transnational oligarchies, was forced to look for allies. In turn, the lower classes of society, who for decades suffered from neoliberal policies, enthusiastically joined the revolt. Such alliance will not last for too long, but it is not accidental. The development of industry, internal market, and social policy that strengthens the position of the workers, and gives them confidence is needed in order to restore the workers’ movement, to allow it to gain momentum. In short, we need protectionism.

Historically, the German Social Democracy and Russian working class, which Bolsheviks relied upon, developed precisely against the backdrop of increased protectionist policies. Without industrial growth and development of the internal market, there would have been no revolution of 1917.

While workers need jobs and decent wages, businesses operating on the domestic market, need consumers, and the same workers could be these consumers.

Once upon a time, Henry Ford formulated the well-known principle: My workers themselves have to be able to buy the cars made by them.

The political embodiment of this principle was the “New Deal” of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. It is this time of “American greatness” that Trump reminds about to his constituency. But it was not only the era of social transformation and strengthening of national industry; it was also the golden age of the American labor movement. The rise of left-wing forces and trade unions in the United States was stopped by the Cold War and McCarthyite anti-communist purges and persecutions against the radical intelligentsia, which ever since lost touch with the workers and took refuge in the comfort of the academic ghetto.

In the mid-twentieth century many Western Left strategists talked about the need for an alliance with the medium-sized businesses against monopoly capital. Paradoxically, such an alliance spontaneously formed now around the figure of Trump, who is supported by workers, farmers, small entrepreneurs, and provincial intellectuals. Only, this bloc is not dominated by progressive left-wing intellectuals, but by a rude and politically incorrect Manhattan bourgeois.

And the intellectuals should blame not Trump, but themselves for this state of affairs – in fact they contemptuously rejected in due time the “outdated” class policy, betting on lobbying liberal establishment and protection of minorities, depicted by them as a kind of socio-homogeneous “suffering” mass.

The fact that these minorities were often constructed artificially and, in any case, have been divided internally by class differences, was deliberately ignored by intellectuals, because otherwise their strategy to form a block with the enlightened liberals (in other words, the ideological apparatus of financial capital) would prove impossible.

In fact, Trump took to consistently fulfill everything that the Left in the US and Western Europe was talking about for a quarter-century. Undoubtedly, the ideology of the forty-fifth President of the United States is woven of contradictions; his program, as well as the coalition of social forces which established itself around it, is transitional, focused only on the decision of one, but absolutely fundamental, task – to undermine the rule of the financial oligarchy.

There is no way we can support his actions preventing Muslim people from Syria or Iran (or any people) from entering the US. There are plenty of other decisions and policies of Trump the Left will never agree with. Yet the administration in Washington, finally, appears to be headed by a politician who is determined to put into practice the demands that the radical activists put forward at least since the time of the protests in Seattle in 1999. And this is really a historic turning point.

What do the radical activists do in this situation? They complain about the insufficiently politically correct vocabulary of Trump. They respond to the call of the conservative-liberal media, acting as an infantry for preparation of an anti-Presidential coup. Do they themselves believe in what they say? Or are they simply hostages and mercenaries of liberal elite?

Of course, not all American leftists are willing to play this game. Bernie Sanders, for example, is brilliantly trying to sit on two chairs at once. He refused to boycott the inauguration of Trump and repeatedly wrote letters to the President calling him to fulfill the progressive promises made during election campaign. At the same time, Sanders makes appearances at protest demonstrations, stands in front of the opponents of Trump, but, just in case, avoids the leading role in these actions.

This is a very sophisticated tactical maneuvering. There is only one flaw in this tactic: there is no strategy behind it. And sooner or later Bernie will have to make a choice. And the later the choice will be made, the less free and effective it will be.

The liberal establishment has set a goal to achieve an overthrow of Trump in the next year and a half, before the next Congressional elections will be held and the President will be able to fill the Congress with his supporters by mobilizing the grass roots. Impeachment of Trump becomes a key strategic objective for Washington’s elite. They will try to achieve this goal by legal methods, but the overall scenario of destabilization, as we see, is not much different from what the US intelligence agencies would do abroad when they overthrow or try to overthrow governments.

The open conflict, which has already unfolded between Trump and CIA leadership, suggests that everything will happen exactly by such a scenario.

There is, however, one significant difference: the US President is well aware that he faces a potential coup and he knows where the threat is coming from. He will be forced to contribute to the mobilization and organization of the lower classes. In this situation, no one will help him but the working class.

In this regard, the demand for universal health insurance, supported by 60% of Americans, but unanimously rejected by the representatives from both parties in Congress, could be one of the decisive factors in the political confrontation. It is important for Trump to show that he is in favor of a reform which is clear, necessary and approved by the majority, while the Congress not only blocks his initiatives, but also acts against the American people. These people will have to take to the streets and determine the outcome of the political struggle at a crucial moment when confrontation between the President and the Congress will reach a climax.

In this situation, the Left has a choice: to promote grass-roots organizations and to put forward significant social demands while defending the movement’s independence in relation to the Trump administration, or participate in the conspiracy of the elites as extras, becoming pawns moved by an invisible hand of the elite on the political chessboard.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Pawns of fascism, or superficial diversity as a tool of conformist groupthink

The marchers against the fascism that they see in the person of President Trump provide a demonstration of how the forces of fascism work.

Fascism depends on manipulating the fears of people via flattery (it’s basic marketing). Thus, for example, we have the doctrine of “humanitarian interventions” by which support for imperial hegemony is cloaked in up-to-date socially progressive tropes (as it always was: the white man’s burden, spreading the salvation of Jesus, spreading the salvation of democracy and free trade).

Calls to war, to regime change (even domestically now, as implied by Chuck Schumer’s call to civil war at Trump’s inauguration), to the destruction of other countries and the death, maiming, and displacement of millions of people – they need only to be preceded by a shoutout to a few trending demographics: LGBTQIA, mothers, daughters, wives and sisters, black and brown and red and yellow sisters and brothers, immigrants, working women, etc. For all of you and our shared dreams and wisdom and struggle, we (the still white-majority Wall St profiteers) are going to war!

Sold!

The voices against the rainbow coalition–sponsored war and pillage are then by definition racist, misogynist, homophobic – a basket of deplorables, irredeemable, subhuman, to be squashed like bugs, exterminated like vermin.

And any policy that does not directly address issues of gender, skin color, religion etc., no matter how unrelated they might be to the concerns at hand, is therefore mocked and opposed and and discussion shut down, violently if need be.

This is not to say that “conservative” fascism is not a threat, but that it should make people all the more vigilant against “liberal” fascism.

A pluralistic society does not mean only in appearance and gender; it also means different world views that can nonetheless accommodate each other and work together for a common good. Making fascism gay friendly is not progress except for gay fascists.

(Fascism may be too strong a word for some. How about “Reaganism”? Since Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party has stood, not for workers or the poor or even the middle class, but simply a slightly more socially liberal Reaganism, which is to say a toxic brew of neoliberalism at home and neoconservatism abroad. Since then, the Democratic and Republican Parties have differed only in which false populism they use to divert the voices of the people. With the hypermilitarization under Bush and Obama of the security state – both at home and abroad – however,  ... [See the pair of essays by Charles Hugh Smith: “The Collapse of the Left” and “The Protected, Privileged Establishment vs. The Working Class.])

Bernie Sanders turned out not to be serious about challenging the Democratic Party with a true populism (his refusal to respect the common cause with voters leaning toward Trump betrayed his true, narrow-minded, loyalty), so he lost and Donald Trump, who was indeed committed to taking on the Republican establishment, won.

Now we have hordes of Clinton supporters calling for unity against Trump. Clinging to the irrelevant fact that more people in general voted for Clinton (though she lost in 30 states and an estimated 85% of counties), they assert the right of the mob to deny the results of the election. With cynical lip service to the trending demographic groups, they assert the righteousness of disregarding the lives of half the people in the country. During the inauguration, many of the security checkpoints were blocked by such mobs, who felt completely justified in preventing fellow citizens, whom they could see only as “deplorables”, from taking part. Militant conformity (but now with your choice of skin color, sexual preference, and gender!).

(Their actions are compatible with China’s severe limitation of news coverage of the US inauguration. They echo the neonazi-friendly Maidan Square protests in Kyiv in 2014, egged on both physically and financially by the USA (to prevent the renewal of Russia’s lease of the naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea), to oust the democratically elected but Russian-friendly President Yanukovych in favor of EU vassalage and the second Tahrir Square protests in Cairo in 2013 to oust the democratically elected but Islam-friendly President Morsi in favor of restoring military dictatorship.)

That’s how fascism works. Above all, it deplores the processes of democracy. Again, it depends on manipulating the fears of people via flattery (simple marketing). It counts on, for example, putting a picture of a model in a head scarf or dreadlocks (or of an eagle and flag) on its posters to exempt it from and provide the excuse to disregard any critical response. It puts symbolism above substance, because the substance is precisely what it wants to hide or at least continue to get away with by distributing a few flattering sops. It is the false populism of power whose greatest enemy is true populism.

Today in the USA, consultant-class liberals fully support the death of democracy as necessary to protect their economic advantage and sense of cultural privilege, telling themselves that they are acting on behalf the lower orders who don’t know any better. And if “those people” don’t appreciate all we do for them, they can drop dead – they deserve to suffer! Vive l’établissement!