Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hearing Bell

This wax-and-cardboard disc from 1885 contains a recording of Bell’s voice.  Photo courtesy of Richard Strauss, Smithsonian Institution.

This wax-and-cardboard disc from 1885 contains a recording of Bell’s voice. Photo courtesy of Richard Strauss, Smithsonian Institution.

It’s a tribute to science and ingenuity when ambitions technicians use new technologies to connect to older ones and thereby bridge the present with the past.  That’s exactly what happened when physicist Carl Haber of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California; fellow physicist Earl Cornell; and Peter Alyea, a digital conversion specialist at the Library of Congress, succeeded in extracting the sound of Alexander Graham Bell’s voice from a wax and cardboard disc that he’d received from the Smithsonian Institution.  Bell, a native of Scotland, is best remembered for inventing the prototype to the telephone in 1876.  He had spent years trying to devise a way to transmit the human voice over telegraph wires.  Even afterwards, Bell continued experimenting with recordings he made on various cylinders and discs.  Between the 1880s and his death in 1922, Bell donated his extensive collection to the Smithsonian.  Aside from wax, Bell and his assistants utilized metal, glass, paper, foil and cardboard to record sounds.  But, whatever methods they used to play back those recordings remains lost to history.

Two years ago Haber, Cornell and Alyea began analyzing Bell’s materials; determined to retrieve the sounds locked into those discs and drums.  Towards the end of 2011, Patrick Feaster, a sound media historian at Indiana University, joined the team by compiling a comprehensive inventory of notations made on those discs and drums.  One of the discs, dated April 15, 1885, contained a recording of Bell speaking:

“In witness whereof – hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.”

Technicians are still analyzing Bell’s materials, and it’s possible they’ll locate other samples of the inventor’s voice.  Bell was certainly steadfast in his goal to record the human voice for all to hear.  His inspiration may have come from his wife, Mabel, who was deaf.  Sometimes, the personal elements of our lives can lead to the most incredible of accomplishments.

You can listen to the recording here:

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Marionette Presidency


In his 1979 novel, Shibumi, author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) told the tale of the fictitious Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin.  After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress.  Everything is grand and everyone is gorgeous in this story!  But, Hel is coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by an attractive young woman.  Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.”  The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate.  The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists.  I first read Shibumi about a year after its publication and still find it one of the most fascinating works of fiction I’ve ever encountered.  I’m surprised – and disappointed – that it hasn’t been made into a film yet.

The recent opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas made me think about the novel.  No, I don’t believe Bush is an American version of Nicholai Hel.  Hel is a polyglot and a skilled chess player.  Bush can barely pronounce such complicated words as ‘nuclear’ and looks more comfortable holding a chain saw.  It’s the notion of a “Mother Company” – a massive and ruthless international organization – that captures my attention.  It’s easy to criticize Bush, or any president, for his domestic and foreign policies.  But, in a true democracy, that one person isn’t completely in charge of the nation’s affairs.  He simply represents the totality of the country’s population, as well as the nation’s successes and failures.  And in the face of that reality, I don’t feel George W. Bush really wanted to be in that position.

I honestly believe Bush would have been content to serve two, perhaps three, terms as Texas governor and be done with public life.  But, after gaining control of both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1994, the Republican National Party was determined to take back the Oval Office, too.  They didn’t seem to have many viable candidates, so they zeroed in on Bush and – in my analytical opinion – virtually forced him into running.  He formally announced his candidacy in June of 1999, well after all of the others.  But, I surmise it was Dick Cheney – who had served as Chief of Staff for Gerald R. Ford and as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush – who wanted to be president, or more importantly, wanted to have the kind of power that comes with it.  Yet, with a personality less fluid than a chessboard, Cheney wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The fiasco that was the 2000 presidential elections certainly caught the nation off guard.  But, its roots go back a mere three years; when Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense under Bush, Jr.), Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense, 2001 – 2005, and President of the World Bank, 2005 – 2007) and several others formed the Project for the New American Century.  PNAC had a simple mission: the United States needed to reassert itself as a global superpower, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

In its “Statement of Principles,” PNAC declared:

“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power.  Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades?  Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.”

It’s obvious PNAC wanted the world to look and behave like the United States.  The U.S. is often viewed as the beacon of democracy, and its president labeled “Leader of the Free World.”  But, in this case, that noble brand of leadership was twisted to conform to a narrow viewpoint.  For me, proof comes in the Iraq War and the oil gleaned from the bloody aftermath.

In February 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron, said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.”  In May of 2000, Dick Cheney abruptly resigned his position as CEO of Halliburton and moved from Dallas with his wife back to his native Wyoming.  There, the couple registered to vote, and just a few months later, Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate.  Federal law prohibits presidential and vice-presidential candidates from having residencies in the same state.  In 2001, Derr became CEO of Halliburton.  Halliburton was among a handful of companies that were awarded no-bid contracts to assist with rebuilding Iraq.  The U.S. Army awarded the first no-bid contract to Halliburton in March of 2003 (the same month the U.S. invaded Iraq) to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure.  The move generated enough outrage that the Pentagon cancelled that particular contract and opened up bidding to other companies.  But, Halliburton was never shoved out of the loop and eventually earned $39.5 billion from the Iraq War.

Everyone has moments of self-doubt in their chosen profession; those sad times when the pressure of doing the job right makes you question everything.  But, Bush always looked like he didn’t want to be there.  Some say his facial expressions bestowed his arrogance, while others claim it was merely self-confidence.  I think it was just frustration and – to some extent – cluelessness.  Liberals and even some moderates joked that Cheney was the real power in the Oval Office and that Bush was just a figurehead – a puppet.  But, there’s nothing mirthful about it – especially when you consider misinformation about the Iraq War was fed to the media and the American public.  The results are 4,488 U.S. military personnel casualties and 1.5 million Iraqi dead.

After leaving Washington in January 2009, Bush moved to Dallas and has pretty much stayed out of the limelight; an unusual reaction upon vacating the highest office in the land.  In contrast, Jimmy Carter made up for his dismal tenure in the Oval Office by working with Habitat for Humanity and overseeing elections in countries striving for the same brand of democracy Americans enjoy.  Bill Clinton stayed front and center of the public eye.  The Clinton Foundation works to improve global welfare through education and individual health.  Clinton even joined with his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, to provide aid to nations affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamiRonald Reagan probably would have done more after his presidency, had he not become hobbled by Alzheimer’s.

But, Bush, Jr.?  He’s virtually been incognito.  Even after publishing his memoir, Decision Points, it’s like he slipped into the Witness Protection Program.  In a May 2009 speech to students graduating from a high school in Roswell, New México, Bush said, “I no longer feel that great sense of responsibility that I had when I was in the Oval Office.  And frankly, it’s a liberating feeling.”

I don’t fault him for that!  There’s no job like President of the United States.  As with any national leadership role, the individual is president every hour of every day during his time in office.  His movements and his words are tightly controlled and meticulously documented.  He doesn’t really get weekends off, and vacations aren’t real vacations where he could get away and relax without a care in the world.  It’s just the nature of the job; it’s impossible for the President of the United States to rest completely while in office.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most prestigious roles in the world, but also one of the most dangerous.  Presidents have to be self-confident – even a little arrogant – for sure, but it comes at great personal costs.  I recall Jimmy Carter saying several years ago that he wouldn’t take the presidency again if it was given to him.

I’m not a conspiracy addict.  I don’t see evil machinations lurking around every street corner.  I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot President John F. Kennedy and I don’t think Elvis Presley is living on a remote South Pacific island next door to Jim Morrison.  But, I do believe the integrity of the 2000 presidential elections was subverted and George W. Bush was placed (forced) into office at the hands of a few corrupt, but very powerful individuals and corporations.

Usually the brightest and most ambitious of individuals lead nations and form policies that impact the global population.  That’s just the way it is; the way it has to be.  Those things can’t be left to chance.  They don’t happen by coincidence.

But, if there is a “Mother Company” running this nation – or this planet – what is it?  The aforementioned World Bank?  The United Nations?  The International Monetary Fund?  All of them?  Or, something else.  Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura has speculated it’s the Bilderberg Group, a Dutch-based organization formed in 1954 to encourage collaboration between the world’s great democracies.  People have debated this matter for years.

History is often written by the victors.  But, the history of George W. Bush’s presidency isn’t carved into stone.

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Drawing Wrong Conclusions




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Jack Ohman 042513

Yes, this cartoon is in poor taste, as it appears to mock a tragedy.  But, the real horror is that 14 people lost their lives in the explosion of a plant that hadn’t been inspected by Texas state regulators since 1985.  Then again, ‘regulation’ is a foul word here – in the same vein as the term ‘Democrat.’  As usual, the average, hard-working citizen suffers the ill effects of business deregulation.

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Smartest Quote of the Week

Grandma Bush in a rare moment of lucidity.

Grandma Bush in a rare moment of lucidity.

“We’ve had enough Bushes.”

– Former First Lady Barbara Bush, to Matt Lauer on Today, about her son, Jeb, running for president in 2016.

Somebody throw cold water on my face!  I can’t believe this old woman actually said something halfway decent!  But, damn!  Where the hell was she 13 years ago?!


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Dumbass Quote of the Week 2

Gohmert keeping East Texas safe from Islamicized Hispanic types.

Gohmert keeping East Texas safe from Islamicized Hispanic types.


“We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border.  We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists.  We know these things are happening.  It is just insane not to protect ourselves, to make sure that people come in as most people do … They want the freedoms we have.”

– U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, warning that “radical Islamists” are being “trained to act like Hispanic[s]” and cross the U.S. – Mexico border.

Damn!  I should have known that wearing diapers on your head and riding camels wasn’t the new ‘Mexican thing!’  Now, I’ll be forced to look at all other Hispanics – especially those dark-skinned ones – in a different beer sign light!  Hell, some of them may be in my own family!   When will the madness stop?!

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Dumbass Quote of the Week 1

Hansen surrounded by apparently clueless vaginas.

Hansen surrounded by apparently clueless vaginas.

“There were two critical ingredients missing in the illustrious stories purporting to demonstrate the practical side of retreat.  Not that retreat may not be possible mind you.  What could possibly be missing from those factual tales of successful retreat in VT, Germany, and the bowels of Amsterdam?  Why children and vaginas of course.  While the tales relate the actions of a solitary male the outcome cannot relate to similar situations where children and women and mothers are the potential victims.”

– New Hampshire state Rep. Peter Hansen, in an argument against repealing that state’s “stand your ground” gun law.

Guns, vaginas…hm.  That’s actually a dangerous combination – especially one week out of the month.  Hansen later apologized in a written statement, but said he’d used the word for its mere shock value.  But, you know, that pussy is already out of the bag!

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Boston from the Air


Boston, Massachusetts has been in the news a great deal recently; unfortunately because of the marathon bombings one week ago.  But, Boston – one of America’s greatest cities, and the birth place of the American Revolution – has the distinction of being the first metropolitan area known to have been photographed from the air.

The first flight of an untethered balloon took place over Paris in 1783, and the first known photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.  In 1858, another Frenchman, Gaspard Felix Tournachon, merged the two technologies to take a picture of Paris from aloft.  Unfortunately, that photograph has been lost.

But, in 1860, photographer James Black managed to capture a shot of Boston from about 2,000 feet above the city.  This was a major achievement, considering photography was still very much in its infancy and subjects had to remain steady while their images were embedded in the glass plates.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, a poet and professor of medicine at Harvard at the time, gave the photo its title, “Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It,” in a July 1863 article in the Atlantic Monthly.

“Boston, as the eagle and wild goose see it, is a very different object from the same place as the solid citizen looks up at its eaves and chimneys. The Old South [Church] and Trinity Church [left center and lower right] are two landmarks not to be mistaken. Washington Street [bottom] slants across the picture as a narrow cleft.  Milk Street [left center] winds as if the old cowpath which gave it a name had been followed by the builders of its commercial palaces.  Windows, chimneys, and skylights attract the eye in the central parts of the view, exquisitely defined, bewildering in numbers…. As a first attempt [at aerial photography] it is on the whole a remarkable success; but its greatest interest is in showing what we may hope to see accomplished in the same direction.”
The photograph is now in the possession of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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Bad Drug, Bad Drug!


Yes, drugs are bad – most drugs, that is, like crack cocaine and methamphetamine.  But, it seems as if many prescription drugs are equally detrimental to one’s health – to the point where they’re probably not even worth taking.  If you’ve seen TV commercials advertising stuff like Nasonex or Viagra, it seems the adverse side effects outweigh any potential benefits.  There’s actually a legitimate reason why this information is provided.  For years pharmaceutical companies could not advertise their products on television without also listing the potential side effects.

I remember seeing a commercial for an allergy drug in the late 1990s that showed a person windsurfing through a meadow.  I can’t recall the exact verbiage accompanying the ad, but I got the hint that it was to help alleviate allergies.  And, what better way than to show someone gleefully hurtling through a pollen-laden field on a surfboard!  Hint, hint, the commercial quaintly implied; if you suffer from allergies, you too could do this.  I wondered what people with less vivacious imaginations than mine tried to make of it.  I mean, I would have come up with something more direct, like rubbing your face in the furry but of a German shepherd.  Or, getting drunk on beer at some rural East Texas bar and passing out in a field of bluebonnets.  I once had a German shepherd and I’m from Texas, so I write what I know.  For the record, I never stuck my face in that dog’s ass.  I’m just trying to make a point!

Many of these drugs have the same ill side effects: headaches; diarrhea; nausea; cramping; loosened sphincters; abdominal pain; numbness; swelling of the throat; developing a fascination with Kim Kardashian; shortness of breath; loss of coordination; the urge to write a profane-laced letter to your congressman, etc.  The drug Chantix, for example, has been linked to hellacious hallucinations and violent tendencies.  Ambien has been associated with sleepwalking and even sleep-driving.  I guess from the way people in Dallas drive, every third person in this city is on Ambien.

Now, let’s be honest.  Wouldn’t you just rather just suffer from an ailment, or even die from it, than fall in love with Kim Kardashian?  If I want to see hyper-tanned chicks with big butts who think they’re better than anyone else, I’ll attend a fucking drag show.

But, if you listen closely to these commercials, the dangerous side effects of certain drugs aren’t just dangerous, they’re too damn plentiful!  The voice-over narration rattles them off like spit coming out of Barbara Walter’s mouth when she tries to pronounce supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  Why bother?

The real problem is that Americans are too drug-dependent.  We’ve become a narco-state; reaching for a pill with every ache and every cough.  We want to suppress what often comes naturally – such as reacting to pollen in the air with a sneeze, or to someone who says ‘Axe’ instead of ‘Ask’ with a crow bar – by grabbing a little plastic bottle.

So, what do you folks think?  I’d love to know how my readers feel about this morass.  In the meantime, I need a screwdriver.


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Thoughts and Prayers for West, Texas


“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all,

And round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw;  

For I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit,

And the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops

That made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight,

And in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter,

All the children of one mother and one father.

And I saw that it was holy.”

Black Elk’s Great Vision” – Black Elk, 1931

This is for the victims of last week’s fertilizer plant explosion in the tiny central Texas hamlet of West.  The blast and ensuing fire killed 14 and injured more than 200.  The town is almost completely devastated.  It’s sadly ironic this incident occurred right before Earth Day; considering that highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer is the key component in the debacle.

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