Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"A Prayer for the World"

"A Prayer for the World"

"Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges,
the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly,
So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness,
So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrow of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to
surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven."

- Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Paulo Coelho, "The Cry Of The Desert"

"The Cry Of The Desert"
by Paulo Coelho

"As soon as he arrived in Marrakesh, Morocco, a missionary decided he would stroll through the desert at the city’s boundary every morning. On his first stroll he noticed a man lying on the sand, caressing the ground with his hands and leaning his ears towards the earth. “He is mad,” the missionary said to himself. But he saw the man every morning during his walks and after a month, intrigued by that strange behavior, he decided to approach the stranger.

He knelt beside him and asked, in broken Arabic, “What are you doing?”
“I keep the desert company and offer solace for its loneliness and its tears.”
“I didn’t know the desert was capable of crying.”
“It cries every day, because it dreams of being useful to mankind and turning into a huge garden where people could cultivate, flowers and sheep.”
“Well, then, tell the desert it accomplishes its mission very well,” said the missionary. “Every time I walk here, I am able to understand the true dimension of the human being, as its open space allows me to see how small we are before God. When I look at its sands, I imagine the millions of people in the world who were raised alike although the world isn’t always fair towards everyone. Its mountains help me meditate. As I see the sun rising on the horizon, my soul fills with joy and I get closer to the Creator.”

The missionary left the man and went back to his daily chores. To his surprise, he found him the next morning at the same place, in the same position. “Did you tell the desert everything I told you?” he asked.
The man nodded.
“And even so it keeps crying?”
“I can hear each of its sobs,” answered the man, his head tilted towards the ground. “Now it is crying because it spent thousands of years thinking it was completely useless and wasted all this time blaspheming God and its own destiny.”

“Well, then tell the desert that despite having a short lifespan, we human beings spend much of our days thinking we are useless. We rarely find the reason for our destiny and think God has been unfair to us. When a moment finally arrives in which we are shown the reason why we were born, we think it is too late to change and keep on suffering. And as the desert, we blame ourselves for the time we have wasted.”
“I am not sure the desert will bother to hear it,” said the man. “It is used to suffering and it can’t see things differently.”
“So then let us do what I always do when I feel people have lost faith. Let us pray.” Both of them went down on their knees and prayed; one turned to Mecca as he was a Muslim and the other joined his hands in prayer, as he was Catholic. They prayed, each one to his own God.

The next day when the missionary resumed his daily walk, the man was no longer there. The ground where he used to embrace the sand seemed to be wet as if a small spring had formed. During the following months that spring grew and the city’s residents built a well around it. The place is now called “The Well of the Desert’s Tears”. It is said that those who drink its water will be able to transform the reason of their suffering into the reason of their joy and will end up finding their true destiny.”

Musical Interlude: 2002, "We Meet Again"

"A Look to the Heavens"

“The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Pictured above is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. 
 
 Click image for larger size.
The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. The above image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

"A Grindstone..."

 
"Life is a grindstone.
Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us."
- L. Thomas Holdcraft

“Powerball, Part One”

“Powerball, Part One”
by Robert Gore

“What makes Donald Trump tick? Why has he done the things he has done? Analytically, it’s advisable to set aside partisanship and other emotions when attempting to answer those questions. Thus, the following analysis is Machiavellian, in the sense that it is stripped of moral considerations, condemnation, or approbation. It is an attempt to ask the right questions and construct from the available data the most plausible hypotheses. Only time will tell if the emergent hypotheses are correct.

Machiavelli’s touchstone was power—getting and keeping it. Let’s hypothesize that Trump ran for president first and foremost because he wanted power. For 99.999 percent of politicians that’s true, so ostensibly that’s an unremarkable assertion, but especially among Trump’s supporters, power is usually not acknowledged as a motivation, much less the primary one. In his quest for power, he had several advantages: his opposition did not think he could win and wrote him off as a blowhard idiot, they publicly denigrated his supporters, and Hillary Clinton ran an inept campaign. That opposition included a considerable number of establishment Republicans and most of the Deep State.

In their overconfidence, Trump’s opponents made mistakes. Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was gunned down July 10, 2016. There was no sign of robbery; his watch and wallet were not taken. Twelve days later WikiLeaks released a trove of embarrassing DNC emails that documented DNC favoritism towards Hillary Clinton and a concerted effort to stop her opponent, Bernie Sanders. The emails led to the resignation of party chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz. There has been speculation that Rich was the WikiLeaks source. WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of his murderer.

Let’s make two plausible assumptions, clearly labeled speculative. First, assume Rich was the source of the WikiLeaks’ disclosure. Second, assume DNC operatives instigated his murder. There would be two explanations why Rich’s killing was not set up to look like a garden-variety Washington robbery and murder. One is simple incompetence: Rich’s murderer or murderers botched it. The more plausible is that the murder was meant to send a message to anyone else in the DNC who might have been considering “betraying” the organization. Making it look like robbery and murder would have muddled the message. Within the DNC, the instigator or instigators believed that a proper investigation would be quashed by the Obama administration and what they overconfidently reckoned would be the incoming Clinton administrations.

After the WikiLeaks’ disclosure, the DNC concocted the Russian hacking story to discredit the disclosure and hired cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike to “verify” it. CrowdStrike did no such thing, but the imaginary hacking served as the foundation for the specious Russian-Trump collusion story. Again, the DNC and its allies within the intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the media made an egregious mistake born of overconfidence. They assumed that with a Clinton victory the Russian story would have done what it was designed to do—discredit both the embarrassing disclosure and Trump—and most probably would have let it die.

Except Trump won the election. As SLL explained in “Plot Holes,” this put the entire establishment in a panic, and not because of policy differences.

The real story isn’t Russia. Do you mount a “soft coup” over policy differences when, after all the Washington give and take, those policies will, at worst, marginally affect your influence, power, and payola? Doubtful. (Keep in mind Trump wants to increase military budgets.) If, on the other hand, you’re facing complete disgrace and ruin, including a long stretch in a penal institution, there’s nothing you won’t do to save yourself.

It’s not what politicians and bureaucrats do sub rosa that poses the biggest danger to the country and the world, but what they do in broad daylight. However, there’s no denying that Washington is the world capital of sub rosa—the unethical, immoral, and illegal. To use a favorite Trump adjective, it’s a crooked place. Trump knows or suspects where some of the bodies are buried, and the powers that be fear he’ll go after them for everything from garden-variety graft, bribery, theft, and influence peddling to crimes as sordid as child molestation and murder.

Thus the frantic effort to depose Trump that began as soon as he won the election. The Russian story couldn’t be abandoned. Flimsy as it was, it was all his opponents had, although using it reeked of desperation and weakness (see “Desperation” and “Plot Holes”). The intelligence community, James Comey’s FBI, and the captive media did their best to put some lipstick on this pig, but anyone with a three-digit IQ and a shred of intellectual integrity could see there was no real evidence to support it. How could there be? Ominously for them, illegal intelligence and FBI leaks to the media were giving Trump and the Justice Department grounds for a counterattack: investigation of the leaks.

Two curiosities stand out in FBI Director James Comey’s firing. Unlike many stories in the leak-prone Trump administration, the dismissal came out of the blue; secrecy was tightly maintained. Also, Comey was essentially fired by television (a letter was later delivered) while he was 3,000 miles away from Washington in California. Per its usual practice the mainstream media attributed both to Trump’s shortcomings: impetuosity and rage at Comey’s investigation of the Russian connection. For the following contrary analysis, SLL is indebted to an article by a Mr. Livingston—who goes by the name of Doc—received in an email from a friend. Again, we are entering the area of speculation, but this speculation provides a more plausible explanation for the curiosities.

According to Livingston, Trump had long wanted to fire Comey but had to wait for the right moment. That moment was when Comey was out of Washington. Secrecy was maintained because if he had any inkling of what was going on, he would clean out his office and purge his computer files after saving them to a secure cyber-location. By handling the firing the way he did, Trump allowed his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to take control of Comey’s office and files. Livingston asserts that Sessions, as head of the Department of Justice of which the FBI is a part, had the legal authority to do so.

If Sessions, and by implication Trump, have Comey’s files and other materials, what are the implications? At the least, they have proof the Russia story was a fabrication. They probably know whatever Comey knows about the Seth Rich murder and Comey’s allies (some of whom may be leakers or receivers of leaks), not just within the FBI, but within the intelligence community, other agencies within the federal bureaucracy, the legislature, and the media. As head of the FBI, Comey, a seasoned and cynical Washington hand, undoubtedly collected secrets about both friends and foes. That’s the job’s best perk. If in fact Trump and Sessions have all this information, then they have much of official Washington by its testicles.

The question then is whether they use the information to launch a public swamp draining, or use it sub rosa to further their political goals. Part Two argues that in light of Trump’s recent trip abroad, the latter is more likely than the former, and that he has changed both the power calculus and American foreign policy.”

"A Japanese Proverb"

 "We're fools whether we dance or not,
so we might as well dance."
- Japanese Proverb

The Poet: Thomas Centolella, "Splendor"

"Splendor"

"One day it's the clouds,
one day the mountains.
One day the latest bloom of roses-
 the pure monochromes, the dazzling hybrids-
 inspiration for the cathedral's round windows.
Every now and then there's the splendor of thought:
 the singular idea and its brilliant retinue-
words, cadence, point of view,
little gold arrows flitting between the lines.
And too the splendor of no thought at all:
hands lying calmly in the lap, 
or swinging a six iron with effortless tempo. 
 More often than not splendor is the star we orbit
without a second thought,
especially as it arrives and departs.  
One day it's the blue glassy bay,
one day the night and its array of jewels,
visible and invisible.
Sometimes it's the warm clarity
of a face that finds your face
and doesn't turn away.
Sometimes a kindness, unexpected,
that will radiate farther than you might imagine.
One day it's the entire day itself,
 each hour foregoing its number and name,
its cumbersome clothes, 
a day that says come as you are,
large enough for fear and doubt,
with room to spare: the most secret
wish, the deepest, the darkest,
turned inside out."

 - Thomas Centolella

Paulo Coelho, “The Mystery of Discovery”

“The Mystery of Discovery”
by Paulo Coelho

“Tonight, before leaving, I’m going to spend time sorting through the pile of things I never had the patience to put in order. And I will find that a little of my history is there. All the letters, the notes, cuttings and receipts will take on their own life and have strange stories to tell me – about the past and about the future. All the different things in the world, all the roads travelled, all the entrances and exits of my life.

I am going to put on a shirt I often wear and, for the first time, I am going to notice how it was made. I am going to imagine the hands that wove the cotton and the river where the fibres of the plant were born. I will understand that all those now invisible things are a part of the history of my shirt. And even the things I am accustomed to – like the sandals which, after long use, have become an extension of my feet – will be clothed in the mystery of discovery. Since I am heading off into the future, I will be helped by the scuff marks left on my sandals from when I stumbled in the past.

May everything my hand touches and my eyes see and my mouth tastes be different, but the same. That way, all those things will cease to be a still life and instead will explain to me why they have been with me for such a long time; and they will reveal to me the miracle of re-encountering emotions worn smooth by routine.

I will drink some tea that I have never tried before because others told me it tasted horrible.

I will walk down a street I have never walked down before because others told me it was totally without interest.

And I will find out whether or not I would like to go back there.’

The Daily "Near You?"

Brunswick, Georgia, United States. Thanks for stopping by!

X22 Report, “This Is Why The Dollar Empire Is About To Fall”

X22 Report, “This Is Why The Dollar Empire Is About To Fall”

“This Map Of America's Most Commonly Misspelled Words Is Highly Disturbing”

“This Map Of America's Most Commonly Misspelled Words Is Highly Disturbing”
by Jon Tayler

"The English language can be a complicated one for even the best native speakers, littered as it is with bizarre conjugations and spellings. Take silent letters like the "B" in plumber, for instance, or our use of double consonants. There's no reason for most of those to exist, yet there they are, constantly tripping us up as we try our best to write out "psoriasis" or "embarrassment."

Every year, though, we get a reminder that for some, spelling is easy - absurdly, terrifyingly easy. The Scripps National Spelling Bee - which begins on Wednesday night and will continue through June 4 - annually puts on display the best spellers from across the land, horrifying us as children as young as eight years old deconstruct words that most of us have never even heard of or used in front of many people and on national television without missing a beat. As it turns out, though, those kids are far and away the exception, because most Americans apparently can't even spell the most basic words in our lexicon without needing help, if Google Trends is to be believed.
Click image for larger size.
There are so, so many upsetting things about this map. Don't get me wrong, there are some legitimately tough words scattered across the lower 48 states: "pneumonia" (Washington State's bugaboo), "diarrhea" (apparently a common ailment in New Hampshire), the always popular "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (from the musical theater fans in West Virginia and Connecticut). But some of these are downright depressing. How on earth do the people of the good state of New Mexico not know how to spell "banana"? It's all of six letters! The residents of Mississippi have somehow mastered "Mississippi" but can't wrap their heads around how many Ns are in "nanny." That's more than can be said about Wisconsinites, however, who are apparently clueless as to how to spell the name of their own state. (Also, I'm shocked that Florida's most looked up "how to spell" word isn't something like "arraignment," "extradition," "felony" or "parole.")

Anyway, the whole map is worth perusing, if only to be flabbergasted by the idea of adults not knowing how to arrange correctly the letters in "liar," "angel" or "college" (way to tell on yourself with that last one, South Dakota). But the greatest irony is this: In its initial tweet about misspelled words, Google Trends misspelled Maryland's most searched word as "Nintey."

"Be Happy..."

"Be happy. Decide to be happy. If you want to be happy, be happy! No one cares if you're happy or not, so why wait for permission? And did it really matter if you had been deeply unhappy in your past? Who but you remembered that?"
- Amity Gaige

"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. 
The amount of work is the same." 
- Carlos Castaneda

"Trump Is Launching 1-800 VA Complaint Hotline Tomorrow”

"Trump Is Launching 1-800 VA Complaint Hotline Tomorrow”
by John Falkenberg

"When it comes to our veterans, there’s never enough that can be done to say “thank you.” That’s why ensuring respectful and excellent treatment of veterans within the Department of Veterans Affairs is so important. To that end, the Trump administration will “soft launch” a hotline for veterans to express concerns or voice complaints about the VA, according to a statement by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Preparations for a fully functional hotline can’t come too soon. Whistleblowers claimed the VA suicide line dropped an astounding 1.4 million calls last year from veterans in desperate need of help, the Washington Examiner reported. Those kinds of numbers are simply unacceptable. Trump is making good on his promises as a candidate, as he included a direct line to the White House for veterans as part of his 10-point plan for VA reform during his campaign, according to the Washington Examiner. ABC News reported that Shulkin is hoping to have this new hotline fully operational by August 15.

For those who may be wondering, the number for the hotline has indeed been released. It’s 855-948-2311.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why we voted for President Donald Trump. The man promised big, and he’s delivering “bigly” where it counts. For folks who have complaints or concerns about the VA, give the number a try.”
A Comment: From personal experience "frustrating" doesn't begin to describe the experience of dealing with the VA. "Disgrace" might be a better term. 

A local Vet Group benefits counselor told me, "Expect delay after delay. They really do hope you die before they have to pay you." I didn't believe that then... 9 months later, I do, oh, I do indeed...
- CP

"How It Really Is"

“Covfefe”

“Covfefe”
by Scott Adams

"By now, most of you know President Trump tweeted an unfinished message including a funny typo with the nonsense word “covfefe” late last night. He kept the tweet posted for hours while the Internet had its fun.
My hypothesis is President Trump was composing a tweet and got interrupted. Maybe he stuck his phone in his pocket and “pocket-tweeted” the typo. In any event, it was clearly accidental, as well as delightfully human. The magic of the tweet is that covfefe is an astonishingly funny word. You couldn’t invent a funnier word if you assembled a panel of humorists and experts. But as I say, it was an accident. I also often say, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

President Trump apparently decided to leave his typo-tweet live for hours, as the Internet went wild with delight. If you are a Twitter user, you saw some of the best humor of the year happen late last night and this morning. 

The typo was just a mistake. But the President’s decision (I assume) to keep it posted for hours was a smart move. In movie terms, he created what writers call a “trap door” in the script. The trap door is the laugh that gives you some relief in a scary or dramatic movie. The country needed a laugh. Trump saw the opportunity created by the typo and wrote it into the script. Nicely done.”

"The Hobbesian Net"

"The Hobbesian Net"
by The Zman

"I clicked on a link from Drudge and I was taken to a website called CBS Money Watch, which is obviously a CBS property. The first thing I see is a video trying to load. I see the pause button and stop it before it starts. It then starts itself in a few seconds and I stop it again. I hate baked-in video. If I want to watch videos, I’ll go to a video site or turn on the television. The trend of jamming video into sites borders on the sadistic. No one likes this. No one can possible think it is a good idea. Yet, they keep doing it.

Like everyone, I use a combination of blockers and filters on my browser. It’s not that I begrudge the content makers their money. I get that they need to sell ads. I’m OK with it and prefer it over the paywall model. Having 85 pop-ups and hidden audio play automatically, on the other hand, is a dick move that should carry the death penalty. This does nothing but piss people off, which is why ad-blocking software proliferates, along with tools to block plugins. How did this happen? Why would anyone do this?

The standard answer to these questions is that there is a war between web content makers and the anti-capitalist developers behind the ad blockers. It’s the sort of thing that’s believable if you are new to the internet. The truth is the proliferation of pop-ups got so bad in the 90’s, the web was becoming unusable. I recall some sites having as many as a dozen pop-ups. You would close one and two more would open. Then there was the malware problem. Legitimate web sites would load malicious code onto your PC.

It’s another example of people applying the front lash and then complaining about the backlash. Ad-blockers, flash-block, script blockers, etc., would not exist if the web sites had been slightly responsible for their content. Instead, they got caught up in the hype of the “new economy” and tried to turn their customers into content. Even that could have been done with some care, but they carried on like they were doing you a favor and thereby created a market for these defensive browser add-ons.

This is a curious thing. We’re told that the normal relationship in business is for the seller to curry favor with the buyer. “The customer is always right” is something everyone learns at a young age. TV and radio companies put a lot of effort into making their product attractive by using pleasant personalities and inviting topics. Radio, which lives off ad dollars, is especially ruthless with their talent. Low ratings means you get fired, no matter how much the management likes and supports you. It’s all about the customers.

Even television, which is mostly a cable fee racket now, keeps up appearances by paying some attention to ratings. Even Cult outposts like ESPN pull back a little from their daily proselytizing in order to maintain the facade of respecting their customers. They may still be in the business of chanting the gospel, but they are not quite ready to have their on-air talent giving the viewers the middle finger. It’s still important to be well regarded by the audience, even when you’re a tax farmer.

Internet business, particularly the content side, is the exact opposite. The business model seems to be based on assaulting the customers in ever more creative ways. Twitter, which should be like radio in terms of a business model, is at war with its customers. The web designers appear to be sitting around, wondering how they can make the experience less pleasant for the user. In order to use your mobile devise to consume web content, you need a script blocker. Otherwise, your browser will lock up and force a restart.

It’s tempting to think that it is just incompetence and that may be a big part of it. For some reason, web development attracts a lot of hack coders. It also appears that web development relies on foreign labor. I regularly get solicitations from Indian coding shops and their specialty is almost always web development. There’s also the loosey-goosey standards on the web, which means everyone can be Steve Jobs, reinventing old ideas and calling them new. Much of what ails the web is simply not sticking with what works.

Even if that is all true, why would the business people sign off on the slow-loading crap that passes for web content? Why would the business side say, “Yes, let’s have our hidden and very loud audio ads re-spawn three times after the user figured out how to turn them off. Great idea team!” It strongly suggests the people making these decisions don’t actually spend a lot of time consuming their company content. At the Washington Times, I know this is true as their pages simply will not load on a mobile devise.

As is often the case, there may be things at work about which I’m unaware. The economics of most websites remain a mystery to me. Running ads strikes me as a compete waste of money, especially in the current environment where ad-blocking is the norm. I also suspect most people are trained to just filter out ads as they scan their gab feed or favorite web sites. I don’t recall the last time an ad caught my attention and I stopped to notice it. But, billions are spent on ads so maybe I’m an outlier.

Even so, the web content business model says something about modern society. The hostile relationship between the customer and seller is weird, but maybe it reflects the sterile transactionalism that is modern life. Not only are we strangers to one another, we feel free to treat one another like highwaymen. The sites try to jam us with ads and spyware and we try to break their business model by stealing their content. The internet economy is the war of all against all that Thomas Hobbes described as the state of nature.”
"Billions are spent on ads..."  Not around here, for 9 years on August 14. 
Know why? Because I've always believed this, from the sidebar:

WHO YOU ARE: THE 5%
“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; 
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” 
- Thomas Edison

You don't need the distractions of ads, banners, or popups, that's why.
- CP

"We Never Know..."

"We never know when our last day on earth will be. So, love with full sincerity, believe with true faith, and hope with all of your might. Better to have lived in truth and discovered life, than to have lived half heartedly and died long before you ever ceased breathing."
- Cristina Marrero

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Musical Interlude: Neil H, “The Remembering”

Neil H, “The Remembering”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"What would it look like to approach the Bubble Nebula? Blown by the wind and radiation from a massive star, this bubble now spans seven light-years in diameter. The hot star inside is thousands of times more luminous than our Sun, and is now offset from the nebula's center. 
The visualization starts with a direct approach toward the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635) and then moves around the nebula while continuing the approach. The featured time-lapse visualization is extrapolated from images with the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and the WIYN telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona, USA. The 3D-computer model on which this visualization is based includes artistic interpretations, and distances are significantly compressed.”

Chet Raymo, “Into the Night”

“Into the Night”
by Chet Raymo

"I first became intimate with the night sky on the sleeping porch of my grandmother's house on Ninth Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during the early 1940s. A screened sleeping porch might be found attached to any southern home of a certain vintage and substance, usually on the second story at the back. On sultry summer nights you could move a cot or daybed onto the porch and take advantage of whatever breezes stirred the air.

I slept there when I visited because it was the only place to find a spare bed. I was usually alone in that big spooky space, with only a thin wire mesh separating me from the many mysteries of the night.

Far off in the house I could hear the muffled voice of the big Stromberg-Carlson radio in the parlor, where grown-ups listened to news of the war or the boogie-woogie tunes of the Hit Parade. Outside was another kind of music, nearer, louder, pressing against the screen, which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, a million scratchy fiddles, out-of-key woodwinds, discordant timpani. These were the cicadas, crickets and tree frogs of the southern summer night, but to me at that time they were the sounds of the night itself, as if darkness had an audible element.

Some nights the distant horizon would be lit with a silent, winking illumination called "heat lightnin'." And closer, against the dark grass of the badminton court, the scintillations of fireflies - "lightnin' bugs" - splashed into brightness.

The constellations of fireflies were answered in the sky by stars, which on those evenings when the city's lights were blacked out for air-raid drills, multiplied alarmingly. I would lie in my cot, eyes glued to the spangled darkness, waiting to hear the drone of enemy aircraft or see the flash of ack-ack. No aircraft appeared, no ack-ack tracers pierced the night, but soon the stars took on their own fierce reality, like vast squadrons of alien rocket ships moving against the inky dark of Flash Gordon space.

In time I came to recognize patterns, although I did not yet know their names: the Scorpion creeping westward, dragging its stinger along the horizon; the teapot of Sagittarius afloat in the white river of the Milky Way; Vega at the zenith; the kite of Cygnus. As the hours passed, the Big Dipper clocked around the Pole. And sometimes, in late summer, I would wake in the predawn hour to find Orion sneaking into the eastern sky, pursuing the teacup of the Pleiades.

One memorable Christmas of my childhood, my father received a star book as a gift: "A Primer for Star-Gazers" by Henry Neely. As he used the book to learn the stars and constellations, he included me in his activities. The book was Santa's gift to him. The night sky was his gift to me.

That book, now long out of print, is still in my possession. A glance takes me back half a century to evenings on the badminton court in the back yard of our own new home in the Chattanooga suburbs, gazing upwards with my father to a drapery of brilliant stars flung across the gap between tall dark pines. He told me stories of the constellations as he learned them. Of Orion and the Scorpion. Of the lovers Andromeda and Perseus, and the monster Cetus. Of the wood nymph Callisto and her son Arcas, placed by Zeus in the heavens as the Big and Little Bears. No child ever had a better storybook than the ever changing page of night above our badminton court. My father also taught me the names of stars: Sirius, Arcturus, Polaris, Betelgeuse, and other, stranger names, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, the claws of the Scorpion. The words on his tongue were like incantations that opened the enchanted cave of night.

He was a man of insatiable curiosity. His stories of the stars were more than "connect the dots." He wove into his lessons what he knew of history, science, poetry and myth. And, of course, religion. For my father, the stars were infused with unfathomable mystery, their contemplation a sort of prayer.

That Christmas book of long ago was a satisfactory guide to star lore, but as I look at it today I see that it conveyed little of the intimacy I felt as I stood with my father under the bright canopy of stars. Nor do any of the other more recent star guides that I have seen quite capture the feeling I had as a child of standing at the door of an enchanted universe, speaking incantations. What made the childhood experience so memorable was a total immersion in the mystery of the night - the singing of cicadas, the whisper of the wind in the pines, and, of course, my father's storehouse of knowledge with which he embellished the stars. He taught me what to see; he also taught me what to imagine."

"The Peculiar Impression..."

"Why do human beings have the peculiar impression that belief is the same as truth?"
"Because sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes we need to believe in a better truth."
"What better truth can there be than truth?"
- Gene Brewer

“‘A Tragic, Dumbass Comedy’: Robert De Niro’s Verdict On Life In The US”

“‘A Tragic, Dumbass Comedy’: Robert De Niro’s Verdict On Life In The US”
by RT

It may sound like the description of his latest movie, but “tragic, dumbass comedy” is actually how Hollywood actor Robert De Niro described life in the US at the moment.  The 'Taxi Driver' star made the remarks during a graduation speech at Brown University in Rhode Island where he was awarded an honorary fine arts degree.
Addressing scores of jubilant students, the 73-year-old asked the crowd: “Are you sure you want to do this? Do you have any idea what has happened to our world in the four years you’ve been here? Well the country has gone crazy. In movie terms, when you started school the country was an inspiring uplifting drama. You’re graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy.” 

He advised that graduates lock the university’s ornate Van Wickle Gates and “stay here.” “But if you do leave, work for the change, work to stop the insanity,” he said. “Start now so the class of 2018 will graduate into a better world. It won’t be easy but you’ll figure it out. You’re Brownians.”

X22 Report, “The Entire System Is Ripping Itself Apart And It's Going Unnoticed”

X22 Report, “The Entire System Is Ripping Itself Apart And It's Going Unnoticed”
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ak1iKOe6dwc
Related Followup report:
X22 Report, “Trump Has Turned The Tables On The Deep State, 
He Is Now Going After Them” 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1vi8qkLAC8

"We’re Hanging Ten Off The Edge Of The Fiscal Abyss And It May Well Be Too Late To Step Back Before We Fall”

"We’re Hanging Ten Off The Edge Of The Fiscal Abyss And It 
May Well Be Too Late To Step Back Before We Fall”
BY IWB

"A trillion here and a trillion there, world’s major economies to come up $400 trillion short on retirement savings. Bloomberg reports“We’re really at an inflection point,” Michael Drexler, head of financial and infrastructure systems at the World Economic Forum, said in a phone interview. “Pension underfunding is the climate-change moment of social systems in the sense that there is still time to do something about it. But if you don’t, in 20 or 30 years down the line, society will say it’s a huge problem.”

A shortfall of about $400 trillion could be reached by 2050, the World Economic Forum said. The figure is derived from the amount of money government, employers and individuals would need to provide each person with a retirement income equal to 70 percent of his or her annual earnings before leaving the workforce. The gap is partially driven by an aging world population. Life expectancy has risen on average by about a year every five years since the middle of the last century, and half of babies born in the U.S. and Canada in 2007 may live to 104, according to the report. In Japan, the figure is 107 years. “In the long run, we are all dead” is starting to sound dated.

For what it’s worth, the life expectancy statistics are badly misunderstood. According to the Life Tables for the United States Social Security Area 1900-2100 life expectancy at birth was 47 for men and 49 for women in 1900, while in 2020 life expectancy at birth is 76 for men and 81 for women (Figure 2a). But for the purposes of pensions and Social Security it makes more sense to consider life expectancy at 65. In 1900 life expectancy at 65 was 77 for men and 78 for women, while in 2020 life expectancy at 65 is 81 for men and 85 for women (Figure 2b), and increase of only 4 years for men and 7 years for women in the past 120 years.

All those stories about how Social Security was intentionally designed to kick in after most people had died are pure bunk. Then as now, if you survived all the childhood diseases and lived to be a tax-paying adult, you were likely to claim several years of Social Security benefits. The problem, at least in the US, is that our spendthrift federal government has borrowed all the money in the Social Security “lockbox” and left IOUs payable by future taxpayers. The Social Security Administration is now cashing in those IOUs.

“The Congressional Budget Office released updated projections of Social Security’s long-term financing, finding an even larger long-term deficit than in the Office’s previous calculations. The new figures, released December 21, find Social Security’s combined retirement and disability trust funds running out in the year 2029, after which benefits would be cut across the board by 29%.” And those projections are based on the assumption that today’s young workers will happily pay ever higher Social Security and Medicare taxes knowing that by the time they retire they’ll receive a pittance in return.

Ps. Don’t think this is the only looming fiscal problem facing us. Josh Zubrin at the WSJ predicts that by 2021 the cost of interest on the federal debt will match the cost of defense and non-defense discretionary spending and will continue to increase, consuming the lion’s share of all discretionary spending after that. Note that in his graph Zubrin presents the rosiest possible future, with defense and non-defense discretionary spending remaining level as the cost of interest increases from $350 billion today to $800 billion by 2025. Where does the other $450 billion come from, thin air?

We’re hanging ten off the edge of the fiscal abyss and it may well be too late to step back before we fall. Interesting times we live in…"

The Daily "Near You?"

Rosemère, Quebec, Canada. Thanks for stopping by!

"Dog Diary, Cat Diary"

"Dog Diary, Cat Diary"
- Author Unknown

"Dog Diary:
7:00 AM - Outside! My favorite thing!
8:00 AM - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 AM - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 AM - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 AM - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 PM - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
2:00 PM - Looked out the window and barked! My favorite thing!
3:00 PM - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
4:00 PM - Chased a bird out of the tree! My favorite thing!
5:00 PM - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
6:00 PM - Watched my people eat! My favorite thing!
6:20 PM - Table scraps! My favorite thing!
7:00 PM - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM -Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Cat Diary:
Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. B*st*rds!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow - but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog continues to receive special privileges. He is regularly released and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded."