Archive for November, 2014

Unspeller now available in Japanese and Russian

Thanks to the efforts of Masayuki, Oji, Natasha and Mirra, Unspeller is now available in Japanese and in Russian. Click on the links to read the language-specific introductions.

We are looking for translators/proofreaders/editors for the following languages: Chinese (traditional and simplified), Korean, Vietnamese, Farsi, Arabic. If you are proficient in one of these languages, please consider volunteering.

English is the most commonly used international language in the world, and for every native English speaker who struggles with English spelling, there are at least ten who come from some other linguistic background. Over a billion people around the world are studying English, and for most of them their efforts will turn out to be a complete waste of time: they will memorize how to read and pronounce a few words, and then forget them, because what they are being taught is not a language but a code.

Recently, the Chinese have moved to remove English from the list of subjects on which applicants to higher education are tested. This is being done in recognition of the fact that the Chinese students who study for the English exam are not learning a language but simply memorizing patterns of Latin characters (which they then quickly forgot). But studying English using Unspell is not a waste of time, because Unspell records the actual sounds of the living, spoken language, not some random, ancient and corrupted orthography.

To learn to read unspelled English, all a non-English-speaking student has to do is:

1. Memorize the English names of a handful of animals. This can be done using this online tool.

2. Purchase a copy of Unspeller in their native language and work through it. This adds up to a few days of effort.

The student then gains the ability to read any arbitrary English text, correctly pronouncing every word, provided this text has been unspelled. And the intent is to eventually unspell all English text, since this is just a matter of running it through software.

Peak Prosperity Podcast: Russia\'s Patience is Wearing Thin

My interview with Chris Martenson:

With the western propaganda flying thick and heavy, it\’s more important than ever to cut through the chaff and learn what we can about the most important geopolitical realignment (and renewed tensions) in recent memory.

Well, look, Russia is a place that\’s extremely dynamic as changing response to challenging environment, to changed environment, very popular throughout the world, at peace with most of the world, even with nations that are at war with each other, both sides will still talk to Russia and have friendly relations. Russia has a splendid relationship with both Israel and Iran for instance.

The United States is a nation that can\’t get anything together, can\’t get anything on, not education, not healthcare, nothing. It\’s basically sinking into a cesspool of its own making it can\’t respond at all. And now, it is basically being shown up to be quite incompetent in playing this international game. Now, what happens if you can\’t play a game by the rules is you\’re penalized and you forfeit the game. So, either the US leadership will learn how to play by the rules or they forfeit. I see those are as the only two real outcomes.

There\’s a difference to how the Russians approach the world and how the Americans approach the world. So, for instance, Americans like to threaten. If you don\’t do this, then we will do X, Y and Z. That\’s a typical American behavior.

That\’s not something that the Russians would ever do because they don\’t threaten, they just act because if you threaten, then you take away the element of surprise which is very important. The other thing is Americans refuse to talk to their enemies, they won\’t negotiate with terrorists, they won\’t do X, Y and Z and can\’t be reasoned with at all. You can just listen to them and do what they say or they\’ll bomb you whereas the Russians always talk to their enemies. Russia keeps the channels of communication open.

And the other thing is that all of this endless trash talking is very detrimental to the business of democracy and there\’s been a constant stream of basically garbage emanating from the west, some of it social media, some of it through the old fashioned press. But, just basically all kinds of lies and disinformation and slander, which makes the tedious business of diplomacy establishing various links at various levels very difficult, if not impossible. So there\’s just this incredible level of disgust with their, as they say, partners in the west in Moscow and the result is they\’re not really eager to talk anymore. They\’re not very interested in communicating. They\’re far more interested in acting. So, what we\’ll probably see is a constant stream of surprises coming from Russia that will be completely unannounced and not predicted by anyone.

You know, for kids…


Something for them to do while waiting for their copies of Unspeller to arrive: learn the names of all the animals featured in it.

Again, don\’t use Internet Explorer, or it won\’t work. This is not something I am ever going to fix, so please download and install Firefox or Chrome.

The Only Way to Stop the Empire


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Dear friends,

The final days of US empire are fast approaching. Perhaps its end will pass slowly and gradually, or perhaps the event will unfold rapidly and catastrophically. Maybe chaos will break loose, or maybe its demise will be organized well and proceed smoothly. This nobody knows, but the end of empire is coming as surely as day follows night and sun follows rain. Overexpansion, overreach and over-indebtedness will take their toll—as all past empires have discovered. Empires are like bacteria in a Petrie dish; unthinking, unseeing, unfeeling, they expand until they run out of food or contaminate their environment with their waste, and then they die. They are automatons, and they just can’t help it: they are programmed to expand or die, expand or die, and, in the end, expand and die.

What does the empire feed on? It feeds on money and fear; your money and your fear, both obtained with your cooperation. It is bigger now than when it faced an actual adversary in the Soviet Union. Russia is no adversary; all it wants is to be a normal country, at peace with the world. But the empire won’t let it, will it? It must create enemies. Who are our enemies? According to the authors of endless war they are North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Islamic terrorists. Are any of them actually capable of threatening the US? Well, yes, but they are all quite easy to deter. But the plan of the authors of endless war is not to deter them; it is to back them into a corner with political instability and sanctions, while whipping up the population on both sides into fear-filled frenzy.

We all know that the US military-industrial complex has become a self-perpetuating and uncontrollable organism, just like Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us in 1961. Everyone knows the phrase and Eisenhower\’s warning—it is part of our collective memory. At a trillion dollars a year and growing, with over 1000 bases ringing the planet, it has expanded far beyond what Eisenhower could have imagined in his worst nightmare. We can’t say we didn’t know: he warned us. After the National-Socialist episode in Germany, many good Germans voiced regrets at not speaking up, claiming that they didn’t know what was being done in their name. But we do not have that excuse: we all knew all along.

Nor was it the first time we were warned. General Smedley Butler told us before, in 1933, and his words are still with us, posted online. Why is it that everyone, generals included, suddenly gain wisdom immediately upon reaching retirement? Butler offered an explanation: his “mind was in suspended animation while serving as a soldier and following orders.” In 1933 Butler told us that he “was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” He said:

“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912…I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”

This empire is nothing new, and we knew what it is and what it does all along. We can’t say we didn’t know. We have watched throughout our lives as the US put down every popular uprising against local autocrats and oligarchs, placed countries under US control, then helped organize and train the death squads that killed off the opposition. Think of Indonesia, Argentina, or Honduras. We watched as the empire crushed every democratic government that threatened US business interests under the false pretext of “anti-communism,” starting with Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and proceeding to Congo, Haiti (numerous times), and most notably and infamously Chile in 1973 (assassinating president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973), Nicaragua in the 1980’s, and many, many others. (For details see William Blum’s Killing Hope.) And of course, many of us lived through the epic lies and genocide of millions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the so-called “Vietnam War.” We knew, we watched, and we paid taxes that paid for the bullets and the bombs.

More recently we’ve seen the barefaced lies of empire laid out for all to see in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Georgia, Pakistan, Yemen, Ukraine… they never end! But the trouble we stir up in other places never seems to come home and ring our doorbell, does it? Maybe that’s why it keeps on going. We think that we can just ignore it and go on with our lives—that it won’t affect us. Or does it?

Let’s leave aside the destruction of democracy that always accompanies a militarized, fascist police state that the US has gradually turned into. And let’s ignore the violence that pervades US society, or the vast gulag of incarceration that disposes of our useless eaters. Consider that the only military attack on US soil that actually scored a palpable hit since Pearl Harbor was 9/11. Pearl Harbor was on the periphery, way out in the Pacific, “A Day that will live in Infamy,” the more so since FDR knew it was coming and did all he could to provoke it by cutting Japan off from oil supplies, directly provoking it into launching the attack. But Hawaii is the periphery while 9/11 struck at the heart of the empire, the financial center in New York that drives the imperial wealth pump, and the Pentagon, which is charged with the mission of US world domination.

Whether you believe that 19 Arabs armed with box cutters who couldn’t fly propeller planes took down 3 World Trade buildings that plummeted straight down at the speed of freefall in what looked like controlled demolition (yes there were 3, look up “Building 7”), and destroyed a section of the Pentagon, or whether you believe it was an inside job, doesn’t matter. The point is, in that act of destruction, the wars of the empire finally came home.

What was the result? Did these events cause us to reconsider what we are doing? Of course not! Instead, we went all-in for war. Remember, the empire is an automaton, a self-perpetuating organism, living on money and fear. What better way to whip up fear than to stage, or to allow, or to simply fail to prevent, an attack on the “homeland”—which is, by the way, a Nazi propaganda term. The purpose of war is simply to cause more war, since it is so profitable for the badly misnamed “defense industry.” Butler told us in 1933 that “war is a racket,” and documented massive war profiteering during WWI. Do you know how much money Lockheed, Northrop-Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon et al. are making from the “War on Terror”? The sums are astronomical.

As you read these words, the empire is busy doing its work in Ukraine. Here is how that works. First, it overthrows the elected government in a US-backed coup. Next, it directs its local puppet regime to unleash a military attack and organize death squads to deal with the population in the east that won\’t go along with the US-backed coup, in this case using actual Nazi-branded death squads, complete with Nazi SS Insignias. (Anyone can verify these facts with the most cursory internet search.) And for the final, consummate imperialist touch, it votes in the UN (together with Canada) against a resolution condemning the Ukrainian Nazis and other racist murderers, while the Europeans shamefacedly abstain. This sort of plan used to work really well, and so the empire keeps repeating it over and over again, even though the results are worse every time.

Vast numbers of Americans support the empire’s wars of conquest because they help maintain their lavish lifestyles. They bother some of us more than others. Many of us are adamantly against them, but only a few find it emotionally unbearable to countenance the destruction of millions of lives in our names and with our money. What makes them different? Who knows, you would have to ask a psychologist.

The question for those who oppose endless war is, What have we done about it? A mass movement in the 1960’s that added up to an uprising by a vast segment of society perhaps had something to do with ending the conflict in Vietnam. In spite of these protests, the empire was able to extend the war by an extra five years all the way to 1973, when it agreed to end it on the same terms that had been offered in 1968 to Nobel “peace laureate” Henry Kissinger. There has been no significant anti-war protest since then, and certainly none that succeeded in preventing or ending war. Why?

First, the draft was ended. This put an end to the involvement of average US families in the wars of empire, and therefore ending the requirement for consent of the governed. The strategists realized that the draft was a disaster for the empire. The new, much better and cheaper way to procure cannon fodder for the endless war is to enlist the children of the underclass, by using economic oppression in order to deprive them of any other means of advancement except military service.

Second, the military has been outsourced and privatized, requiring even less involvement by US families in the military, and less need for their consent. “You’re all volunteers, so shut up” is the attitude.

Third, the vastly increased scope of domestic spying by the NSA and other government agencies has helped keep everyone under control and stifle dissent.

Fourth is the tight government/corporate control of the US media, which has become consummately successful in brainwashing and propagandizing the population.

Finally, there is the war on whistleblowers and journalists who expose the truth, from Tom Drake to William Binney, Sibel Simons, Jesselyn Radack, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. If necessary, the police, who are vastly more militarized than in the past, together with national guard troops, can squash any dissent like a bug. All these measures ensure that efforts at reform pursued through legal, nonviolent means such as voting, protest, civil disobedience, civil resistance, etc. will have absolutely no effect. The only action that can possibly stop the empire in its tracks is cutting off its food supply—the tax money on which it lives. We have to starve the beast through divestment, capital expatriation, tax resistance, tax refusal and tax revolt. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig told us this flat out in the 1980’s when, being confronted with huge protests over US Central American policy, he said: “Let them protest all they want as long as they pay their taxes.” Truer words were never uttered by a US official. Is there any evidence to contradict his statement? Has any other measure had any impact on the war machine? The honest answer is no. Millions of people around the world protested before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. These protests were ignored. No amount of protest or other efforts can stop it, because it doesn’t cut off the empire’s food supply of money and fear. Only by cutting off its funds by not paying taxes can we stop the empire.

Many have said that the US doesn’t need tax money as it survives on endless debt. Yes, the empire lives on debt, but the ability to sell debt is based on the bond rating of US treasury bonds. Most recently in June, 2014 S&P gave the US a AA+ rating with “stable outlook.”

If there is any doubt about the US credit rating, the ability to sell debt to continue financing the empire comes into question. The ability to collect taxes is what maintains the US bond rating. Any reduction of the US bond rating, and interest rates have to go up in order to continue attracting more investment. Then the interest on the debt balloons out of control and becomes unrepayable—never mind the principal, which they have no intention of ever paying back. By the way, the Tea Party’s efforts to shut down government by refusing to raise the debt ceiling was helping this effort for a time, although for different reasons. They thought that the welfare system is bankrupting the country. This is a laughable claim, because welfare spending looks negligible when compared to military spending. Still, they did manage to lower the bond rating for a time. Shutting down the federal government is a step in the right direction, and since in recent years only the Tea Party has managed to do it, lets give them some credit

If the US became unable to reliably collect taxes, then its ability to finance the empire with debt would be diminished, and the US would have to turn to increasing taxes—another politically unpalatable choice, especially in the age of the Tea Party, when the empire’s main constituency is dead-set against more taxes. So it is absolutely clear that the only thing that could stop the empire is a tax revolt. It wouldn’t even have to be that big; the slightest question about the ability of the federal government to collect taxes could reduce the bond rating. Even a minor reduction could raise interest rates enough to make the US debt unrepayable.

Let\’s get down to brass tacks: How do you avoid paying taxes, when the IRS withholds our salaries, and the tables are rigged to withhold about 15% more than necessary on average, so 80% of people get a refund? Did you think that this is a coincidence? No, this is a one-year interest-free loan to the empire from taxpayers. But it’s actually quite simple not to pay taxes. Get a W-4 form, write EXEMPT in the space provided, and turn it in to your friendly HR office. Your employer is not allowed to change it unless directed by the IRS. Normally they have no reason to question it.

Here’s what happened last time it was tried on a big scale. In 2007, Code Pink joined the War Resisters League to organize a national project for war tax refusal, to “Stop Bush’s Wars.” This was not a true tax revolt, just more or less a referendum on how many people would potentially support withholding a portion of their taxes owed, even a token amount. The online petition asked people if they would be willing to commit to withhold some of their taxes, even $1, if 100,000 other people would agree to do the same. Out of the US population of 316 million, how many people do you think signed it? About 2,000. So you see, there is not much evidence that people will do the only thing that could stop the empire: a true Tea Party tax revolt.

What this implies is that the empire will continue to churn along, and debt will continue to build up, because any other approach to paying for it is not feasible, and therefore collapse is inevitable. The aftermath of collapse is unpredictable; maybe there will be a soft landing, maybe not. But unless you are willing to engage in some form of tax revolt, collapse is inevitable. You will get to live with the results: stage a tax revolt now, or face collapse later.

Are you sure you want to take your chances on collapse? The results of a personal tax revolt are predictable: retribution with penalties and interest from the IRS; living in fear of having your salary, your property, even your house seized, or worse, your door broken down by federal agents (although these extreme measures don’t happen too often, they happen often enough to instill fear). Perhaps there would be loss of income, or even your job. Losing one’s job often leads to depression, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, etc. So you may prefer collapse after all: loss of your savings, no heat, electricity or trash removal, shops looted or closed, armed gangs roaming the streets… Your choice!

On the other hand, collapse might go well! Hope springs eternal in the optimistic American heart. We are (or used to be) the “can-do” people. Maybe we can-do collapse better than anyone else? Doubtful though if you read Dmitry Orlov’s Collapse Gap presentation.

The results of collapse later are likely to be worse then the effects of tax revolt now. Especially, since the IRS takes years to catch up to exempt W-4 forms, and it would be even harder to crack down if it were being was done en masse. But it’s perfectly understandable if you opt to do nothing now and suffer no consequences, while engaging in ineffective protest to assuage your conscience. You probably have a family to support, an expensive hobby, or some other excuse. So you decide to take your chances with collapse later. After all, collapse might turn out OK for you! This psychology is quite understandable. I truly hope that collapse will be as painless as you wish it will be, but somehow I doubt it. Good luck though! Whatever happens, you will have to live with your decision for the rest of your life—be it long or short.

Signed, expat and long-time conscientious tax refuser, Gary Flomenhoft.

Unspell gets a glowing review

How To Teach Your Kids To Read Good In Bad Sitchuwayshins by Don Feathers. Long but heartfelt.

Unspell Sound Charts

The Consonants

Here is a nifty interactive tool to help people with learning Unspell. Click on a shape, and hear my careful rendition of the associated sound.

It was put together with all free software: OfficeLibre for design, Audacity for audio, Aquamacs for coding and Mozilla for testing/debugging.

The Vowels

If you are on a slow internet connection, the sounds will take a little while to load the first time you click on them.

It was tested with Firefox, Chrome and Safari. It probably doesn\’t work with Internet Explorer because it uses Wave files for the sounds, which are originally a Microsoft standard, so it makes perfect sense that it works with every browser except Microsoft\’s.

Calling all English teachers!

It\’s been brought to my attention that English teachers are not immediately receptive to Unspell. When presented with a copy of Unspeller, they ask the rather obvious question: Why do my students need to learn this? And so here is the answer. If you are an English teacher, please read this. And if you know any English teachers, please send the link to them, and tell them that this is something they need to read. Thank you.

[Download printable PDF] [Japanese version]

The Unspell Teaching Method

1. Problem Statement

Students in English-speaking countries do significantly worse in learning to read and write than students in most other countries with comparable educational systems. Whereas in most countries it takes just 2-3 years to learn to read arbitrary texts with good diction and to take dictation accurately (although comprehension may lag), in English-speaking countries this process takes on the order of ten years. What\’s more, often it never completes: the failure rate is unacceptably high, resulting in functional illiteracy rates that approach 50% in some countries. The effects of such systemic failure are wide-reaching. There is the opportunity cost: students waste years attempting to acquire rudimentary skills instead of learning something interesting. There is the hit to economic productivity from so many people incapable of retraining themselves on their own but requiring oral instruction. There is an adverse effect on health and public safety from so many people unable to read safety instructions and brochures. Functional illiteracy is especially widespread among the prison population and hampers the efforts to rehabilitate prisoners upon release.

In spite of the vast resources and effort directed at achieving basic literacy in English-speaking countries, and in spite of the excessive failure rate of these efforts, few people have dared to ask the simple question: Why is this? Yet all you have do is look, to find both the source of the problem and its solution. It is curious how a culture that embraces radical change in some ways chooses to remain tradition-bound in other ways, even where these old ways inflict great harm.

English spelling presents a unique set of challenges to any child learning to read, because written English is an opaque code. Unlike most other languages, it is not a rendering of speech that is based on orthographic rules but a hodgepodge of orthographic styles collected over the centuries from an assortment of languages, most of them extinct. Some 40-50% of English spellings displays some degree of irregularity; as for the rest, the student has to explicitly memorize the fact that they are unexceptional. For instance, having learned the words “over,” “open,” “only” and “okra” as unexceptional, the learner then has to discover by trial and error that “oven,” “other,” and “osprey” do not follow the same pattern. In essence, the only way to learn to read English is to memorize both the spelling and the pronunciation many thousands of words—a task that calls for more rote memorization than just about any other task in which humans regularly engage.

What makes this task even harder is that the learner isn\’t being offered any way to directly translate English spellings into sequences of phonemes, for ease of memorization. The human mind is a thirsty sponge for spoken words, which are sequences of phonemes. It is neurally wired for the two very complex, distinct tasks of speech perception and speech production, and phonemic memory is the vital link between the two, for which human mind is wired for it as well. In essence, every child comes equipped for building a mental dictionary, and the symbols that comprise this dictionary are not letters but phonemes. In languages where letters map directly to phonemes this distinction is largely irrelevant, but an opaque code such as written English is a major impediment to learning. This is because the human mind, and especially a child\’s mind, is not especially good at memorizing sequences of abstract symbols, such as phone numbers, lists of random pictures or the spellings of English words. Thus, the task of learning English spelling relies on something that is essentially a talent worthy of a savant, which much of the population does not possess.

A second challenge posed by English is that there is no easy bootstrapping mechanism for learning to read it. The typical sequence of events in learning to read an alphabetic language is as follows:

1. learn what sounds the letters make
2. learn to form syllables out of these sounds
3. learn to form words out of the syllables

Instead, the student has to memorize the spelling of each word as a whole and then look up its sound in non-verbal memory. Any unfamiliar word becomes an indigestible blob, because the student is afraid to sound it out for fear of making a mistake and remembering it incorrectly.

The only work-around, or fallback, that is currently made available is for the student to “spell out” words. This sort of “spelled-out” English is, in essence, a language that consists of just 26 words. All human languages share some important commonalities—they all have both vowels and consonants, and they all have words that consist of syllables. Beyond these commonalities there is a wide variety of linguistic forms, but to date no human language has been found to consist of just 26 different words. The reason for this is simple: such a language would be far too long-winded and far too lacking in variety to be easily learnable.

“Spelling out” explodes a monosyllabic word like “strengths” into “Es, tee, ar, en, gee, tee, aitch, es”—a perfect example of the weakness of this system. “Spelling out” is not a mnemonic technique but a bizarre parlor trick for those who have already memorized words as sequences of abstract symbols. It is like speaking in Morse Code: another savant-type skill of which few people are naturally capable. No other language has anything similar; the usual way to convey how a word is written in an alphabetic language is simply to pronounce it carefully, placing equal stress on each syllable.

In summary, the problem with teaching written English is this: the student\’s mind is naturally adapted to memorizing words as sequences of phonemes; instead, it is being forced to memorize words as sequences as abstract symbols that have no direct and unambiguous relationship to phonemes. The student is not being provided with something vital: a way of converting between sight and sound, and back, that can quickly become effortless and automatic. This is the main cause of trouble with basic education in English-speaking countries—adequately accounting for both its inefficiency and its unacceptable failure rate.

2. The Unspell method

The Unspell teaching method offers a way to cleanly circumvents all of these difficulties. Unspell consists of a minimal set of symbols which directly represent generalized speech sounds of the English language in a way that is maximally independent of accent or dialect. These symbols are largely disjoint with the Latin alphabet, eliminating interference effects with spelled English. Each symbol directly represents a specific sound. The student learns to sound out each symbol, then group these sounds into syllables, syllables into words, and words into phrases in what is essentially a self-governed, self-motivated process. The role of the teacher is to guide the student through this process, and does not involve imparting any specialized knowledge. Virtually all that needs to be memorized is presented on the following wallet-sized card:
It is important that the symbols used by Unspell are not referred to as “letters” because that causes confusion between spelled and unspelled English. Rather, they should be referred to as “shapes,” and it should always be stressed that “shapes” make “sounds.” Each shape makes a different sound, and to read unspelled English all you have to do is drag your finger along, making the sound of each shape. The sounds should not be syllables. This is easier with vowels, liquids such as L, N, M and fricatives such as S and F, which can be sustained. It is harder with affricates such as P, T, and K. But it is important that they be taught as pure sounds, not as sounds embedded in nonsense syllables, because the nonsense syllables can mask the distinction between unvoiced and voiced consonants (P, T, K vs. B, D, G).

Classwork can proceed as follows:

1. The students are introduced to the 13 basic shapes of Unspell, and learn to draw them in chalk, crayon, ink brush or by finger-painting. (The term “draw” is helpful, to differentiate Unspell from “writing” English, since most children enjoy drawing but don\’t enjoy writing.) If they learn to appreciate the shapes of Unspell as a sort of abstract design they can embellish, so much the better. The emphasis need not be on correct form or penmanship, but on what distinguishes each shape from the rest: this is the only kind of “mistake” that a student can make. However, it should be stressed that all the shapes are formed along a horizontal line, hanging down from it. How far they hang down distinguishes consonants from vowels; how wide they are along the line distinguishes stressed vowels form unstressed ones.

2. The students work through the Unspeller booklet, learning all of the sounds made by all of the shapes. There are 12 lessons, but some of them are quite short, and so anywhere between 5 and 7 sessions may be sufficient. The exercises at the end of each lesson are cumulative, incorporating the knowledge gained in the previous lessons. Repeating the last few exercise at the beginning of each session may be helpful.

3. The students start reading unspelled texts; first, by chanting out the sound of each shape, rhythmically, first in monotone, then giving stressed vowels a higher pitch. Second, by going over the same text, but now grouping the sounds into syllables, stressing each syllable. Third, by grouping the syllables into words. Fourth, by grouping the words into phrases. This sets up the basic pattern for conquering the unfamiliar without the teacher\’s assistance: whenever a student encounters an unfamiliar word, the approach to it is to drop down as many levels as needed to learn to say it.

3. Learning spelled English

Once the student is proficient in reading Unspell, the process of learning English spelling becomes greatly simplified. This because now the student cannot help but sound out spelled English one letter at a time. Of course, it sounds all wrong, because spelled English represents how English sounded centuries ago, if at all, and is essentially a dead language. (Since children like dinosaurs, it may be useful to explain to them that written English is like the dinosaurs—long extinct, but we still admire their majestic skeletons, and try to imagine what their mighty bellows might have sounded like.) Just as with dead languages like Latin and Classical Greek, the fact that we don\’t really know how they sounded does not make the trick of sounding out Greek and Latin words any less effective in helping to remember them. To help the student get the general knack of this entirely informal, subjective and, in the end, private skill, it is helpful to introduce the student to the Pseudolatin Alphabet presented below, in which each letter or letter combination used in written English has been assigned a unique sound.

Note that although the “names” of the Latin letters and letter combinations are presented above as syllables, this is only so because English spelling cannot express sounds except as syllables; the unspelled versions of them are simply sounds.

Also note that although this mapping is largely arbitrary, there is a principle involved: it cannot destroy information. For instance, C cannot be conveyed to either a “keh” sound or a “seh” sound because remembering it that way would preclude going back from sound to symbol; would it be K, C, or S? Similarly, although Ph is phonetically equivalent to F, it is mapped to puheh, because otherwise arbitrary spelling distinctions (“fantasy” vs. “phantasm”) would be impossible to convey in sound.

Lastly, it is helpful to stress that double-consonants, which abound in English, should be pronounced with a sort of stutter. They are largely meaningless, having no phonetic reality in contemporary spoken English. They used to be related to a short/long vowel distinction which no longer exists, were blindly carried over from Latin and French, or were thrown in haphazardly by Dutch typesetters who used them to pad the bill for the job because they were paid by the letter. The stutter makes them easier to remember.

4. Conclusion

The Unspell Teaching Method reduces the problem of teaching students to read and write English to the problem of teaching students to read and write a largely phonetic form of modern English, then using it as a basis for teaching them an archaic dialect of English, in which most words have one-to-one translation in contemporary spoken English but sound somewhat different. This is by no means an insurmountable task.

5. Computer teaching tools

 The task of teaching Unspell, then teaching English spelling, can be enhanced through the use of the following online tools:

1. A tool that presents a table of Unspell shapes, and sounds out each one when touched or clicked on.

2. A tool that pronounces arbitrary sentences written out in Unspell, by sounding out each shape while highlighting each Unspell symbol as its sound is being played.

3. A tool that pronounces arbitrary spelled English sentences using the Pseudolatin Alphabet shown above, highlighting each letter as its sound is being played.

It\'s official: US stole Ukraine\'s gold

This just in: it turns out that the rumors were right after all. At least part of the reason the US State Dept./CIA staged a coup in Ukraine that overthrew its democratically elected government and installed a neo-Nazi puppet regime was to steal Ukraine\’s gold. Rumor had it that shortly after the coup the gold was quietly loaded onto a plane that took it to the US. And now comes the official revelation: Ukraine has no gold reserves left. The gold was sold to pay for a failed military campaign in Eastern Ukraine, and to prop up the fake paper gold market for a little bit longer. One would expect that once the fix is off, the price of gold will skyrocket, the US dollar will drop like a rock, and Americans will need to add the word “hyperinflation” to their list of national woes.

Happy talk about the climate


[Update for the rest of you: I\’ve had smarter insects go splat on my windshield than these climate denialists whose comments I don\’t even bother reading. Do your best to learn to ignore them.]

[Update for climate change denialists: please save me the trouble of marking your comments as spam. This blog is not for the willfully ignorant or the scientifically illiterate, so a hearty good-bye to you all.]

The non-binding climate deal which the US and China just signed will allow the Earth\’s atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to go to 500ppm and beyond by the end of the century, far past the current concentration of 400ppm. Historically, this concentration was sufficient to produce an ice-free Arctic, significantly higher ocean levels, and an environment unlikely to be able to sustain large human populations.

According to a November 2011 study published in Science, “On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter.” Scientists participating in the IPCC have warned that just a 4ºC rise will mean that “people won\’t be able to cope, let alone work productively, in the hottest parts of the year.”

In short, this deal does nothing to forestall a complete, total, unmitigated disaster that is likely to spell the end of agriculture, urbanized civilization, and may doom humans, along with most other large vertebrate species, to extinction.

At the same time, May Boeve, Executive Director of, had this to say: “It’s no coincidence that after the biggest climate mobilization in history, world leaders are stepping up their ambition on climate action. This announcement is a sign that President Obama is taking his climate legacy seriously and is willing to stand up to big polluters.”

Perhaps it is time to rename to something closer to reality. This organization has obviously lost its fight to limit atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350ppm, and the fact that its leaders are claiming victory and want to continue the fight can only mean one thing: there never was a fight, just some of the usual useless politicking.

Of course, the White House was also quick to take credit, claiming that “the new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025.”

Against this backdrop of unmistakeable failure of environmentalism, there are actual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions taking place in the US—certainly too small to save us, but real nevertheless. The reason they are taking place is that the US economy is becoming increasingly hollowed out. At this rate, the US will not have much of an industrial economy left in the time frame addressed by this climate deal. Obama\’s willingness to sign it signals, among other things, a recognition of the ongoing economic collapse, and an assumption that it will only accelerate. His “2.3-2.8 percent per year on average” sets an optimistic upper bound on how slowly the US will collapse.

China\’s situation is rather different. In signing the climate deal, the Chinese played to a domestic audience that is increasingly upset by the environmental devastation it cannot possibly ignore, including filthy air, rivers full of dead pigs and other such wonders. At the same time, the Chinese leadership still sees economic growth as something that\’s required for it to maintain political stability, and economic growth in turn requires burning more fossil fuels.

Yes, there was talk of “renewables” such as wind and solar, but wind and solar installations are built and maintained using an industrial base that runs on fossil fuels. They only provide energy when it\’s sunny and/or windy and are incapable of providing for the constant base load that an industrialized society demands. There was also talk of “zero-carbon” energy sources such as nuclear, and the plan requires China to build an additional terawatt of nuclear power generation, but it must be kept in mind that nuclear power plants consume prodigious amounts fossil fuel energy during their decade-long construction phase, then pay it back while operating, but then continue to consume fossil fuel energy into the indefinite future—or melt down like Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

Unlike the US, which, once the current, short-lived fracking bonanza is over, will go back to juggling resource depletion and economic collapse, China is building two massive natural gas pipelines to connect it to Russia\’s plentiful reserves which, unlike the very expensive “tight gas” produced in the US by fracking, can be produced quite cheaply. This may allow China\’s economy to continue growing for some time, and placate its population by reducing the urban smog problem through lessening its reliance on coal.

Thus, this climate deal seems to mean the following things:

1. The US is going to continue collapsing, and even the Obama administration takes this for granted and has set a safe upper bound on how slowly this collapse will unfold.

2. China will continue growing, gobbling up ever more reserves, until something breaks (which it will).

3. Climate activists in the US will continue tooting their horns, expecting us to believe that they have achieved something other than defeat.

Twilight of the Oligarchs

Michael Murph

Last week I published a brave prediction:

I see the political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters becoming endangered species in the United States before too long as the populace, including their own bodyguards, turns against them.

As usual, I made no attempt to specify what I mean by “before too long” because making predictions as to timing is a fool\’s game. And, as usual, I got a flurry of emails expressing a wide range of rationalizations but all adding up to the same sentiment: “not any time soon.”
Some people thought that the populace, consisting as it does of zombified overfed clowns addicted to Facebook and internet porn is unlikely to stage the revolution. Others thought that the oligarchy will manage to manipulate financial markets, destroy one country after another in order to drain all remaining wealth out of the world and consume it, and by so doing manage to placate the populace with bread and circuses, well into the future. The bodyguards are unlikely to rebel, some said, because they are so well paid.

Getting back to basics, it is a fairly obvious and increasingly well-recognized fact that the American empire, the empire of military bases, the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank, is on its way out. And it is a well-known fact about empires that when they fail those who held positions of power and privilege within them are quickly recycled into punching bags and pincushions. Oddly, nobody mentioned any of the mechanisms by which this transformation tends to take place, so I thought I\’d mention them briefly.

First, when empires start falling apart, this is manifested in a few ways. One is loss of control over the periphery, as a shrinking pool of resources is used to shore up the center. Another is loss of control over the use of violence, as a wide variety of violent entrepreneurs enter the scene and the center is forced to play them against each other and make deals with them. And as the unraveling progresses, the violent entrepreneurs develop agendas of their own, which, inevitably, involve having the cooperation flow the other way: instead of cooperating with those formerly in charge, they demand that those formerly in charge start cooperating with them. And it is here that the scene turns bloody.

The violent entrepreneurs tend to follow certain general outlines as well. They form war bands by recruiting angry young men—a demographic which is in ever more plentiful supply in a failing empire. The war band is a totalitarian structure, in which the recruits pledge absolute allegiance to the organization and pass an initiation ritual that involves an arbitrary act of murder. In the case of groups as radical as ISIS, this may involve mass murder. There tends to be a clean break with the old, collapsing society, which is motivated by money and prestige within society at large, because these entrepreneurial groups are motivated by honor and prestige within the in-group only. Another feature is the extent of radicalization that happens within these groups, which influences the type of warfare these groups tend to wage. Whereas official military forces follow certain rules of engagement, such as trying to spare civilians, and especially women and children, and have as their goal the enemy\’s surrender, followed by negotiations, these groups aim for simple extermination, and, as any exterminator will tell you, exterminating the adult males of a population is not as effective as exterminating their young. This level of radicalization can be observed right now among the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, whose death squads have been specifically targeting schools and maternity clinics in the east of the country; burials of some of the schoolchildren recently murdered by Ukrainian artillery were held just week. If you think that Ukraine is too extreme an example to apply to the US, think again: Uncle Sam and his Ukrainian mail-order bride happen to have a lot in common.

Of course, such practices are repugnant to the populace at large, but here we encounter the other key aspect of such developments: terrorized by the war bands, the populace becomes powerless to act. What\’s more, the level of cognitive dissonance between the public messages they hear and the daily reality to which they are subjected causes a large percentage of the population to become psychotic; this is also clearly the case in today\’s Ukraine, where many of the returning enlisted men are found to be too psychologically damaged to serve in any capacity whatsoever. For now, the Ukrainian oligarchs and their CIA puppet-masters are holding it together by throwing the radicalized groups at a phantom enemy—the so-called “Russian separatists,” while most of the country is being controlled by mercenaries hired by the oligarchs, to whom the American-installed junta handed out regional governorships after the February coup. But that campaign is going very badly, with extraordinarily high casualty rates and no victories to report, and it is a matter of time before the radicalized groups turn on those who sent them into battle: the junta and the oligarchs.

The oligarchs are protected by their various bodyguards and security services which go by a variety of names, but there is one name that fits particularly well: mercenaries. These people are paid to fight, and money, it turns out, is far less effective as a motivating factor than the honor and allegiance of a war band. In his chapter on mercenaries, Niccolò Macchiavelli points out a constant about them: they prefer to run away rather than die. This is true even today: in Ukraine, the American and Polish mercenaries fighting on the side of the junta saw very little action and were mostly kept away from areas where casualty rates were high. Some Polish mercenaries did get to see the front lines (and died there). Some said that this was because their life insurance is cheaper. But the general principle still holds: don\’t expect mercenaries to die for you; they work for money, and working for money involves staying alive long enough to spend it.

And so it stands to reason that the battle between the war bands and the oligarchs will be a short and uneven one: the oligarchs\’ body guards and mercenaries run away and the war bands take over. Some of the action is bound to be quite shocking; for instance, while the elites and the oligarchs themselves are rather well defended, at least initially, their children, ensconced in various elite schools, academies and universities, comprise a soft target, setting the stage for school take-overs, mass kidnappings and shootings of a very different sort from the ones seen to date. The general populace will jump of its skin to pledge support to whatever war band intimidates them the most. And the old political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters will fade from view.