Saturday, February 28, 2015

Musical Interlude: Chuck Wild, “Liquid Mind V: Serenity - Awakening.”

“Liquid Mind is deeply relaxing and soothing music for relief 
of stress and anxiety, meditation, healing.
 Music By Chuck Wild, “Liquid Mind V: Serenity - Awakening.”
 Images courtesy of ESA, NASA and The Hubble Space Telescope.”

"12 Rules for Being a Human Being"

"12 Rules for Being a Human Being"
by Marc

"Don’t try to be perfect.  Just be an excellent example of being human. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

   1. Growth requires pain. Be patient and tough, someday this pain will be useful to you.  Those with the strength to succeed in the long run are the ones who lay a firm foundation of growth with the bricks that life has thrown at them.  So don’t be afraid to fall apart for a little while.  Because when it happens, the situation will open an opportunity for you to grow and rebuild yourself into the brilliant person you are capable of being.

   2. You will learn as long as you live. There is no stage of life that does not contain new lessons.  As long as you live there will be something more to learn.  And as long as you follow your heart and never stop learning, you’ll turn not older, but newer every day.
   3. There is a positive lesson in every life experience. Don’t forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way.  If you make a mistake that sets you back a little, or a business deal or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means a new opportunity is out there waiting.  And the lesson you just learned is the first step towards it.

   4. True beauty lives under the skin. When you start to really know someone, most of their physical characteristics vanish in your mind.  You begin to dwell in their energy, recognize their scent, and appreciate their wit.  You see only the essence of the person, not the shell.  That’s why you can’t fall in love with physical beauty.  You can lust after it, be infatuated by it, or want to own it.  You can love it with your eyes and your body for a little while, but not your heart in the long-term.  And that’s why, when you really connect with a person’s inner self, most physical imperfections become irrelevant.

   5. Only you know what you’re capable of. Unless someone can look into the core of your heart, and see the degree of your passion, or look into the depths of your soul and see the extent of your will, then they have no business telling you what you can or cannot achieve.  Because while they may know the odds, they do not know YOU, and what you’re capable of.  That’s something only you know.

   6. Your love creates your happiness. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.  When you love, you subconsciously strive to become better than you are.  When you strive to become better than you are, everything around you becomes better too.  During your youth, love will be your teacher; in your middle age, love will be your foundation; and in your old age, love will be your fondest memories and your greatest delight.
   7. You earn respect by being respectful. Respect isn’t something you can demand or manipulate by saying what you think people want to hear.  You earn respect by listening, acknowledging feelings and treating others with the same respect you hope to get in return.  Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.

   8. Negativity poisons the soul. Don’t let needless drama and negativity stop you from being the best you can be.  Avoid the drama, and focus on what truly matters.  Life is insanely short and your time is precious, so don’t waste your time on trivial matters.  Let go of the things that are weighing you down.  As you unclutter your life, you will slowly free yourself to answer the callings of your inner spirit.

   9. Your health is your life. Regardless of the size and shape of your body, it is the greatest tool you will ever own.  Without it, you wouldn’t be alive.  How you take care of it or fail to take care of it can make an enormous difference in the quality of your life.  Exercise to be fit, not skinny.  Eat to nourish your body.  To truly be your best, you must give your body the fuel it needs.  Toss the junk and fill your kitchen with fresh, whole foods.  Run, swim, bike, walk – sweat!  Good health is essential for having the energy, stamina and outlook to tackle your goals and dreams.

  10. Letting go is part of moving on to something better. You will not get what you truly deserve if you’re too attached to the things you’re supposed to let go of. Sometimes you love, and you struggle, and you learn, and you move on.  And that’s okay. You must be willing to let go of the life you planned for so you can enjoy the life that is waiting for you.

  11. This moment is a gift. The truth is, your whole life has been leading up to this moment.  Think about that for a second. Every single thing you’ve gone through in life, every high, every low, and everything in between, has led you to this moment right now. This moment is priceless, and it’s the only moment guaranteed to you. This moment is your ‘life.’ Don’t miss it.
  12. Your choices design your life. You have a choice each and every single day.  Choose to appreciate what you have.  Choose to make time for yourself.  Choose to do something that makes you smile.  Choose to be excited.  Choose to laugh at your own silliness.  Choose to spend time with positive people.  Choose to be persistent with your goals.  Choose to try again and again.  Within your choices lie all the tools and resources you need to design the life of your dreams, it’s just a matter of choosing wisely."

The Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke, "Book of Hours II, 16"

"Book of Hours II, 16"

"How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing-
each stone, blossom, child-
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Drifting through the one-horned constellation Monoceros, these dusty streamers and new born stars are part of the active Monoceros R2 star-forming region, embedded in a giant molecular cloud. The cosmic scene was recorded by the VISTA survey telescope in near-infrared light. Visible light images show dusty NGC 2170, seen here just right of center, as a complex of bluish reflection nebulae. 
Click image for larger size.
But this penetrating near-infrared view reveals telltale signs of ongoing star formation and massive young stars otherwise hidden by the dust. Energetic winds and radiation from the hot young stars reshape the natal interstellar clouds. Close on the sky to the star-forming Orion Nebula, the Monoceros R2 region is almost twice as far away, about 2700 light-years distant. At that distance, this vista spans about 80 light-years.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Burke, Virginia, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"Desperate Courage..."

“Desperate courage makes One a majority.”
- Andrew Jackson

Chet Raymo, “Strange”

by Chet Raymo

“In a review in the “New York Times” Book Review, Daniel Handler writes: “And strange? Well, let's get this straight: All great books are strange. Every lasting work of literature since the very weird "Beowulf" has been strange, not only because it grapples with the strangeness around us, but also because the effect of originality is startling, making even the oldest books feel like brand new stories.”

Strange: Out-of-the-ordinary, unusual, curious. "The strangeness around us," says Handler. There is a paradox here. What could be less strange than the world around us? It is the same world that was here yesterday, and the day before that. More to the point: It is a world ruled by law. Inviolable causal bonds. That's what makes science possible.

And yet, and yet. I walk wary. Strangeness lurks on ever side. Strangeness leaps out of every pebble in the path, every wildflower, every spider web flung between weedy stalks. In the midst of the utterly ordinary the extraordinary abounds. Nothing is so commonplace as to be common.

The strangeness of the world, as in literature, has its source in the head, in the convoluted interaction of mind with world. Strange, that we should be here, strangers in a strange land, pilgrims on our own yellow brick roads where nothing is ordinary because everything is perceived through the filter of a unique consciousness.

And strange? Well, let's get this straight. I hope never to loose the capacity to see the strangeness in the familiar, the curious in the everyday, the exception in the unexceptional. "I do not expect a miracle/ or an accident/ to set the sight on fire," wrote Silvia Plath. Just being here is enough. Just being here is surpassing strange."

"How It Really Is"

"10 Reasons Washington Has War Fever"

"10 Reasons Washington Has War Fever"
by Ron Holland

"War is merely the continuation of policy by other means." 
– Carl von Clausewitz

"The political elites, Federal Reserve and special interests that really run the show hiding behind Congress and the president of either party in America's closed two-party monopoly seem to be running scared in many regards. They rightly have many fears for their political future as well as the profits and survival of the major international corporations and banking interests that support the current political leadership and regime.

Never has our nation, corporations and wealthy top 1% faced so many new threats to their efforts to grow their power and wealth around the world. Although there is enough blame and mistakes to go around, many of these threats can not really be blamed on our political or financial leaders but rather result from changes in the fast-paced world we live in today.

Conspiracy theorists prefer to see the world in black and white with no gray areas and keep it simple by criticizing secret groups or powerful interests for every problem but I believe the real situation is far more complicated. But everyone should realize the free America we grew up in has been long dead and buried with only the institutions and slogans remaining to lull the dumbed down public into apathy and acceptance. Our leaders are not omnipotent and certainly do not have all the answers and I suggest they have few answers and are actually making everything up as they go along, hence why I fear they will ultimately choose war as a solution to their problems.

Our America Does Not Exist Any More: Of course, conspiracies exist and thanks to Edward Snowden's publicity, America does indeed operate a global police state with intelligence gathering, torture and spying everywhere in the world. While I believe this effort is more directed toward controlling foreign and domestic politicians and powerful individuals than targeting helpless Americans who disagree with policies, this is a frightening situation for what once was the symbol of freedom and liberty for the entire world.

But as Dorothy told her dog, Toto, in the classic "Wizard of Oz" movie, "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," we're also not in the America of our Founding Fathers any more, either. Real capitalism and free markets simply do not exist any longer. A few powerful interests manipulate all markets, unlimited fiat money is a profitable franchise and we are attempting to police and control the entire world to maintain our leadership position held since the end of World War Two.

Today you are a fool to trust what the government or press claims is true, fair and balanced, as it's all just propaganda. Regulatory organizations exist only to protect the favored industries not the public, our legal system is a joke and all wars fought for democracy against evil are just looting expeditions against other nations out for profits, gain and natural resources.

All governments issue propaganda and mainstream news organizations sell the secret agendas and policies to the people. But the world today and especially the United States faces new challenges not even war-gamed or focus-grouped a few years ago and here lies the problem and risks for the nation and citizenry.

War May Be the Only Solution Left For Our Political Elites To Survive & Prosper: As Clausewitz so clearly stated, "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means," and our leadership and the special interests behind them want to continue the policies and actions that have created so much wealth and world power for them. Think for a moment about the threats they are facing at home and abroad and how a major but limited war could solve or postpone most of their problems and threats to their powerbase.

There are two problems with the war solution. First, while it may be in their best interest to guarantee their survival, war would be bad for our military, soldiers and civilians as well as our economy, private wealth and remaining liberties. Second, there is no guarantee that a real war once started would remain limited in nature. I think both world wars are historical examples of how plans for limited wars can turn into major wars killing tens of millions and all of this for power hungry politicians and vested economic interests. Remember this classic quote about war:

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." 
– Helmuth von Moltke, German military strategist

Wars Are Easy To Start and Rally Patriotism But Are Difficult to End: "Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY." – Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

1. Wars can provide a crisis and justification to continue sovereign debt issuance and currency expansion for the duration of the conflict.

2. War would allow the politicians to blame Russia and China for the coming end to the dollar as the world reserve currency as well as the looming dollar and debt crisis.

3. The Federal Reserve and their global central banking cartel have really destroyed the economy of the West through excessive debt issuance, money creation and borrowing. A war would allow the blame to be transferred to the enemy nations for public consumption.

4. War would allow the US to regain control over the European Union, individual European nations and NATO. Today, Germany, France and other nations are wavering in the lockstep support for US policies and war plans in the Ukraine.

5. War would stifle secession movements in Spain and Scotland, Greece and Italy threats to withdraw from the EU and the common euro currency.

6. A war would provide the excuse for the US to reestablish elite control over news and opinion from foreign news organizations and alternative Internet news competition.

7. A war against Russia and Iran would safeguard competition from Russian and Iranian oil and gas delivery pipelines as well as allow us to control Middle East production and continue the Petrodollar system for years to come.

8. As in both world wars, a major war would allow the government to terminate all domestic political movements and adversaries except for "approved" controlled opposition candidates from the two major parties.

9. A successful war against allies of China would delay the global power challenge from a resurgent China for a few years.

10. Finally, during a wartime crisis situation, politicians can always get away with attacks on civil liberties, freedom of the press and wealth confiscation to a degree never possible during peacetime and here lies the ultimate war threat to the majority of the American people. The much hyped and often undercover agent driven fake terror plots designed to keep the citizens living in fear and willing to give up liberties for safety simply does not work any longer now 14 years after 9/11.

But a real war would provide the crisis excuse to confiscate your gold and "excess" retirement plan and IRA assets, reduce or curtail your social security benefits, dramatically raise taxes and institute total exchange controls while curtailing your remaining freedoms and ability to resist for the duration of the crisis. I hope I'm wrong about war becoming the solution of choice for Washington's many mistakes and shortcomings. Watch what happens in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine over the next year and we will likely have the answer. But one of our founding fathers certainly knew better than to allow war or a war crisis to override good leadership and common sense:

"They that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little 
temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." 
- Benjamin Franklin

"American Sniper vs. Baghdad Sniper"

"Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind."
- John F. Kennedy

"American Sniper vs. Baghdad Sniper"
By Pepe Escobar

"Chris Kyle's story is now enshrined in celluloid, taking over $300 million at the box office, but the Islamic Army in Iraq also had its legend, "Juba" – the Baghdad Sniper. A Texas jury found former Marine Eddie Ray Routh guilty of capital murder; in 2013 he shot to death former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the man behind 'American Sniper' – the book later turned into a blockbuster movie directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood. Texas Governor Greg Abbott also made his mark, post-verdict, by tweeting "JUSTICE!" It didn’t matter that Routh’s attorneys — and his family – insisted he suffered from psychosis, caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Texas prosecutors easily brushed it off – "proving" Routh’s episodes of PTSD were provoked by alcohol and marijuana.

American Sniper – the movie – could not but become a pop culture phenomenon in the US. Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, is Dirty Harry in combat gear – a specialist in dehumanizing the faceless "enemy" as he eviscerates them one by one. The "enemy" happened to be defending the homeland against an invading/occupying force. Poetic justice does intervene, and the Ultimate Sniper also becomes dehumanized himself. He is diagnosed with PTSD. In a cruel twist of fate, he ends up eviscerated back home, on a firing range, by someone he was trying to help; a serviceman with – you guessed it – PTSD.

For every US soldier killed in 2014, no less than 25 veterans committed suicide. For the second year in a row, the Pentagon has lost more troops to suicide than to combat. Ah, but in Texas, this stuff is for sissies. Kyle, according to his own version, made more than 300 kills as a sniper for SEAL Team 3. After he left the military, his atonement was to help with war veterans facing PTSD, usually taking them to – what else — shooting.

Clint Eastwood is way more nuanced than he is given credit for — as his deceptively shallow interviews over the years may imply. It just might be that, appealing for the basest instincts, he may have enshrined yet another American hero to better deliver an anti-war movie. Which brings us to the American Sniper’s ultimate opposite number: Juba.

Aiming for that lone shot: "Juba" was the nickname given by the invading/occupying US forces to an Iraqi pop phenomenon; a sniper who became legendary for his kills in southern Baghdad. He was a ghost. Nobody knew his name, how did he look, even whether he was Iraqi or not. Juba became a legend across the Arab world because he only targeted "coalition" soldiers – as in the invading/occupying troops, all heavily protected by armored vehicles, body armor and helmets. Translation; he only killed Americans who were led to believe – by the Pentagon and the corporate media machine — they were "liberating" Iraq from Saddam, who was allied with al-Qaeda and "attacked us on 9/11". I heard this straight from many a soldiery mouth – no irony intended.

Juba scored kills from up to 200 meters away – something that American Sniper would be hard pressed to accomplish. Juba was infinitely patient, and devastatingly accurate. He would fire only one shot – and then change his position. He never fired a second shot. He aimed for the tiniest gap in the soldiers' body armor, and target their lower spine, ribs or above the chest. No US specialist sniper team was ever able to track him.

That explains, in a nutshell, why Juba became an urban legend in Baghdad, the Sunni triangle, and beyond. What is virtually certain is that he was a member of the Islamic Army in Iraq (jaysh al islāmi fī'l-'irāq). A hero of the resistance against the invaders, of course, but far from a Salafi-jihadi.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, by the mid-2000s, was the number one resistance group against the Americans, as promoted by former Iraqi vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi. They were all former Ba'athists – Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds working together. And so was Juba – who was thought to be Sunni. But that was never totally confirmed.

By the mid-2000s, the resistance could not but be popular – with the "liberation" entailing over 50% of Iraqis being undernourished; at least 1 out of 3 literally starving; and at least 50% of the whole population living in abject poverty. By the end of 2005 the Islamic Army in Iraq released a 15-minute video of Juba’s Greatest Kills. By mid-2006 all sorts of figures were circulating about his real tally. That included feats such as Juba eviscerating a four-strong marine scout sniper team in Ramadi, in the "triangle of death", all of them with a single shot to the head.

US snipers were always deployed in teams of at least two, a shooter and a spotter. A spotter had to be extremely experienced, using very complex calculus to factor, for instance, wind variations and drag coefficients. Juba, instead, was a loner.

Rebel with a Dragunov: The Islamic Army of Iraq liked to boast that Juba – and other snipers – were trained essentially by the book 'The Ultimate Sniper: An Advanced Training Manual for Military and Police Snipers' (Paladin Press, 1993; expanded edition in 2006), written by retired US sniper John Plaster. What a fabulous post-Cold War tale; tactics may have been borrowed from the (American) invader; but the weapon of choice was Russian.

Juba's usual "nest" – where he holed up before a kill — was invariably decorated by an assortment of bed mattresses, which muffled the sound of his Dragunov sniper rifle, also known as SVD; a semi-automatic designed by Evgeniy Dragunov in the former USSR in the late 1950s. The SVD has always been highly regarded as the world's first purpose-built military precision marksman’s rifle. So considering the close relations between the USSR and Saddam’s Iraq, no wonder the Ba'athist military was familiar with the Dragunov.

Juba's trademark "souvenir" also became as legendary as his Invisible Man persona; a lone bullet casing, and a few words jotted down in Arabic: "What has been taken in blood cannot be regained except by blood. The Baghdad Sniper."

There was a time in late 2005, early 2006, when I was following the Iraqi resistance closely even when I was not on the ground, that I flirted with the idea of writing a screenplay about Juba. He was a sort of Camus-style hero for a great deal of Iraqis; an existential rebel, but with a Dragunov. In the end I discarded the idea, considering that only an Iraqi would be able to fully examine the psychology of the Baghdad sniper.

Today, the Baghdad sniper may survive only as the ghost of a faded urban legend. Baghdad itself changed its status from mostly Sunni to mostly Shi'ite – and its new fears center on the fake ISIS/ISIL/Daesh Caliphate. American Sniper, on the other hand, is touring the planet as a digital celebrity hero, even as US right-wingers loudly complained neither Clint Eastwood’s movie nor Bradley Cooper got any Oscars. It only goes to show — once again — that since Vietnam, the only place the Empire of Chaos wins its wars is in Hollywood."

History/ The Economy: “How to Learn to Love Disaster”

“How to Learn to Love Disaster”
By Bill Bonner

“I was in Paris when the end of the world came. My company there, Les Belles Lettres, has been publishing the Greek and Latin classics there since 1919. We’ve translated about 900 of the 1,200 texts that still exist. It seemed a shame that the world would end before we completed our work. So, I went into the office, where, amid a thick blue fog, I found Caroline – the CEO – energetically working her way through a carton of Marlboros. She was determined to go out doing the two things she loved most: promoting Aristotle and chain-smoking at her desk – screw the workplace tobacco ban; they can fine me in hell! Impressed with her attitude, I considered writing a nasty letter to the IRS. Maybe I’d park in a handicapped spot while I was at it... 

But first I needed to get coffee. At the nearby “café bar bistro,” however, there was no mention of the impending apocalypse. Apparently, management had decided to continue serving coffee right through the end of the world. Servi kaffe, pereat mundus. 

I looked at my watch. It was 11 a.m., the supposed ETA of our apocalypse. We were all still there. I was perplexed. Could it be that the Mayans were just as thick as the rest of us? Was it all just meaningless guesswork? What if their chief astrologer was one of Paul Krugman’s ancestors? Then it hit me: The Mayans were based in South America. They probably used Eastern Standard Time! But 11 a.m. EST rolled around, and the world was no more destroyed. Caroline tossed her empty carton in the trash and sighed. The cosmos had spared us. That’s the trouble with natural disasters. They never quite show up when they’re supposed to. And for card-carrying doom and gloomers like me, they are a source of much disappointment.

Napoleon’s Hubris: Man-made disasters, on the other hand, are not only far more frequent, but also far more predictable. They’re also extremely entertaining... assuming, of course, you’re into that sort of thing. Take, for instance, one of the worst military campaigns in history: Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. 

Up until then, Napoleon’s career had been a spectacular success. He could seemingly get away with anything. By the time the French senate proclaimed him emperor in 1804, he was already regarded as the greatest military genius who had ever lived. So when he decided to invade Russia, no one blinked… 

No one besides Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt, Napoleon’s longtime aide-de-camp, that is. He knew better. He had been to Russia. Napoleon had sent him there as the French ambassador. He knew invading Russia was a bad idea. He warned Napoleon of the terrible weather, the bad roads and the savage people. He begged him not to go. It would be the ruin of France, he said. Napoleon ignored him… and a few months later, there they both were – freezing their rear ends off as they fled the smoldering ruins of Moscow. 

We have a chart in our library at home that shows what happened next. It records the temperature dropping to -30°C, as the size of the French army dropped along with it. Soldiers burned down barns to try to get warm, but many of them froze. The Russian army shot many of those who survived the cold; still others were attacked by partisans on the roads, packs of wolves in the forests, and prisoners the czar had released into the city streets. If that didn’t get them, they starved to death. Napoleon entered Russia with 300,000 troops. Only 10,000 got out. 

I told this story to my kids over and over again as they were growing up. I can tell you with some confidence that it has had beneficial effects. None of my children will ever invade Russia. They won’t make that mistake! 

It’s Time to Get Out…: Knowledge of Napoleon’s 19th-century disaster didn’t dissuade Adolf Hitler from repeating it in the 20th century on a larger scale. And Hitler was certainly aware of the dangers. The famous German war strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote extensively on Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion. 

August von Kageneck’s history of the German army’s 18th regiment on the Eastern Front in War War II contains a delightful anecdote to this end. The regiment had been annihilated, rebuilt and annihilated again. Finally, near the end of the war, the Russians captured the remnants of it.  A Soviet interrogator with a sense of humor posed a question to the survivors: “Haven’t any of you ever read von Clausewitz?” None of the prisoners raised his hand. 

Why do these disasters happen? That’s what I set out to explore in "Hormegeddon." To use the words of the Scottish poet Bobby Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft agley.” Is that Scots dialect? I don’t know. But the sense of it is probably best captured in the old Navy expression: go FUBAR. The last three letters of that mean “beyond all recognition.” The first two I will leave you to figure out for yourself. 

History is a long tale of things that went FUBAR – debacles, disasters and catastrophes. That is what makes it fun to study. And maybe even useful. Each disaster carries with it a warning. For example, if the Sioux have assembled a vast war party out on the plains, don’t put on your best uniform and ride out to the Little Bighorn to have a look. If the architect of a great ship tells you that “not even God himself could sink this ship,” take the next boat! 

When you are up against a superior enemy – like Fabius Maximus against Hannibal – don’t engage in battle. Instead, delay... procrastinate... dodge him… wear him down… until you are in a better position. And if the stock market is selling at 20 times earnings... and all your friends, analysts and experts urge you to “get in” because you “can’t lose” – it’s time to get out!”

Friday, February 27, 2015

Musical Interlude: Kevin Kern, “Another Realm”

Kevin Kern, “Another Realm”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"What powers are being wielded in the Wizard Nebula? Gravitation strong enough to form stars, and stellar winds and radiations powerful enough to create and dissolve towers of gas. Located only 8,000 light years away, the Wizard nebula, pictured below, surrounds developing open star cluster NGC 7380. 
 Click image for larger size.
Visually, the interplay of stars, gas, and dust has created a shape that appears to some like a fictional medieval sorcerer. The active star forming region spans 100 about light years, making it appear larger than the angular extent of the Moon. The Wizard Nebula can be located with a small telescope toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus). Although the nebula may last only a few million years, some of the stars being formed may outlive our Sun."

"Live A Good Life..."

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid."
 - Marcus Aurelius

The Poet: David Whyte, "In the Beginning"

"In the Beginning"
"Sometimes simplicity rises
like a blossom of fire
from the white silk of your own skin.
You were there in the beginning
you heard the story, you heard the merciless
and tender words telling you where you had to go.
Exile is never easy and the journey
itself leaves a bitter taste. But then,
when you heard that voice, you had to go.
You couldn't sit by the fire, you couldn't live
so close to the live flame of that compassion
you had to go out in the world and make it your own
so you could come back with
that flame in your voice, saying listen...
this warmth, this unbearable light, this fearful love...
It is all here, it is all here."

~ David Whyte

"Against All Odds..."

"There's a little animal in all of us and maybe that's something to celebrate. Our animal instinct is what makes us seek comfort, warmth, a pack to run with. We may feel caged, we may feel trapped, but still as humans we can find ways to feel free. We are each other's keepers, we are the guardians of our own humanity and even though there's a beast inside all of us, what sets us apart from the animals is that we can think, feel, dream and love. And against all odds, against all instinct, we evolve."
- "Grey's Anatomy"

The Daily "Near You?"

San Bernardino, California, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, “Then To The Elements Be Free”

“Then To The Elements Be Free”
by Chet Raymo

“Be cheerful, Sir.
Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on: and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

“Surely one of the most beautiful passages in all of dramatic literature, these lines of Prospero in Shakespeare's Tempest. They have a particular resonance with me because I was once involved in staging the "insubstantial pageant" and playing a part- Ariel, that tricksy spirit.

And now the actual pageant fades. The actors- friends and contemporaries- are melting into thin air. Hardy a week goes by that word does not come of another acquaintance slipping away. A sadness, yes. But Prospero whispers, "Be cheerful, Sir." And then those tender lines, so sweet and reassuring: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little lives are rounded with a sleep."

The sea. The air. The teeming creatures. Of dust and sunlight we are conjured up. A dream, each one of us, brief and fleeting and beautiful. Like flowers, like mayflies, like the Sun itself, we flourish and fade. No pageant without us. No cloud-capp'd towers, palaces or temples. We are the dream of the Earth. In us the Earth become self-aware, the universe becomes conscious.”

In Memoriam, How It Really Is"

"OPSEC for Activists, Because Encryption Isn’t Enough: An Honest Conversation About Evading Spies”

"OPSEC for Activists, Because Encryption Isn’t Enough:
An Honest Conversation About Evading Spies”
by Bill Blunden

“None of the claims of what comsec works is to be taken saltless: Tor, OTR, ZTRP are lures.”
— “Cryptome”, December 30, 2014.

“In the aftermath of Ed Snowden’s disclosures the American public has been deluged with talking points that advocate strong encryption as a universal solution for regaining our privacy. Unfortunately the perception of strong encryption as a panacea is flawed. In this report I’ll explain why strong encryption isn’t enough and then present some operational guidelines which can be used to enhance your online privacy. Nothing worthwhile is easy. Especially sidestepping the Internet’s global Eye of Providence.

Anyone who reads through privacy recommendations published by the Intercept or the Freedom of the Press Foundation will encounter the same basic lecture. In a nutshell they advise users to rely on open source encryption software, run it from a CD-bootable copy of the TAILS operating system, and route their internet traffic through the TOR anonymity network.

This canned formula now has a degree of official support from, of all places, the White House. A few days ago during an interview with Re/Code the President assured listeners that “there’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption.” It’s interesting to note how this is in stark contrast to public admonishments by FBI director James Comey this past October for key escrow encryption, which is anything but strong.

So it would appear that POTUS is now towing a line advocated by none other than whistler-blower Ed Snowden who asserted that “properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.” Only there’s a problem with this narrative and its promise of salvation. When your threat profile entails a funded outfit like the NSA cyber security is largely a placebo.

Down To the Metal: For example, a report released by Moscow-based anti-virus vendor Kaspersky Lab proves that, despite the self-congratulatory public relations messaging of Google or Apple, strong encryption might not be the trendy cure-all that it’s cracked up to be. The NSA has poured vast resources into hacking hardware platforms across the board, creating firmware modifications that allow U.S. spies to “capture a machine’s encryption password, store it in ‘an invisible area inside the computer’s hard drive’ and unscramble a machine’s contents.”

On a side note, Kaspersky Lab is one of two companies authorized by Russian security service to provide anti-virus technology to the Russian government. The company’s founder, Eugene Kaspersky, a former Soviet intelligence officer himself, has links to the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. So it makes sense that the one company with the audacity and skill to publicly showcase a global espionage program by the NSA would also be a company aligned with a countervailing power center outside of the United States.

Anyway, when it comes to bare-metal skullduggery there are plenty of proof-of-concept examples available in the public domain. But these experiments are nothing compared to the slick production-level malware deployed by NSA spies. When the Pentagon aims for information dominance they don’t screw around. Hence blind trust in encryption software is exposed as a sort of magical thinking. And by all means your author would discourage faith-based decision making in the domain of cyber security.

Some people would argue that the NSA’s hardware hacks aren’t a big deal because they’re used selectively for targeted intrusions. One problem with this stance is that spy gear has a habit of filtering down into the underworld because spies and crooks are kindred spirits who often work together. Another problem is that the NSA is actively working to industrialize attacks so that they can be pulled off on a mass scale against large swathes of users. The recent discovery of pre-installed malware on Lenovo PCs should offer an unsettling hint of where spies and their front companies are taking things.

Face it, an intelligence agency that makes off with the encryption keys from a large multinational company that manufactures billions of SIM cards each year is an agency that’s doing much more than just small-scale targeted hardware attacks. They want to “collect it all.”

OPSEC Is Law: “Iraqi Assault to Retake Mosul from Islamic State Is Planned for Spring”, — New York Times headline, February 20, 2015.

Given the sorry state of software engineering and the sheer scope of clandestine subversion programs, if spies want to root your machine they’ll probably find a way. The Internet is akin to a vast swamp in the Deep South. Users wade through a hostile murky environment surrounded by alligators that prowl silently just below the surface.

And don’t think that tools like Tor will protect you. The FBI has demonstrated repeatedly that it can unmask Tor users with exploits. The FBI’s collection of cyber scalps includes a high-ranking cyber security director who probably though that his game was tight. The litany of Tor’s failures have led security researchers to conclude that: “Tor makes you stick out as much as a transgender Mongolian in the desert.”

Hence when going toe-to-toe with spies from the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations or, heaven forbid, their more daunting CIA brethren in the Special Collection Service, operational security (OPSEC) becomes essential. This isn’t cynical “privacy nihilism” but rather clear-headed contingency planning. Once the NSA owns a computer the only things that stands between the user and spies is OPSEC. It takes groundwork, patience and (most of all) discipline. Even the professionals get this wrong. And when they do the results can be disastrous.

For a graphic illustration of this contemplate the case of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of Silk Road. The celebrated Tor anonymity network did very little to stop the Feds from getting a bead on him. To make matters worse you’d think that Ulbricht would know better to work with his back to the room so that the Feds could sneak up on him before he could log off, leaving his encrypted laptop in a decidedly vulnerable state.

It didn’t help that the Silk Road’s servers were configured to auto-login certain client machines and that Ulbricht’s laptop just happened to be connected to the Silk Road servers as a full administrator. Ditto that for Bitcoin wallets on the aforementioned laptop which allowed law enforcement agents to trace over $13 million in Bitcoins to Ulbricht. A trifecta, if you will, of blatant operational failures.

When professionals get operational security right they sometimes look a bit silly. Close circuit TVs are cheap and ubiquitous. Let’s just say that Ed Snowden wasn’t being paranoid when he covered himself with a red blanket (the so-called “magic mantle of power”) while entering his laptop password. For the sake of maintaining cover, simply obscuring your keyboard may be a wiser option in public as it’s less conspicuous. The last thing you want to do in a crowd is draw attention to yourself.

Anti-Forensics in Theory and Practice: “The only protection against communication systems is to avoid their use.” — "Cryptome", Communications Privacy Folly, June 13, 2012.

A researcher like the Grugq will inform listeners, when he’s not out scoring zero-day exploits, that anti-forensics is all about reducing both the quantity and quality of information that adversaries acquire. In other words, if spies succeed in breaching your computer then give them as little useful information as possible. One way to achieve this is through compartmentalization, a technique honed to a fine edge by intelligence outfits like the KGB.

For instance, in the years following World War II the Soviet nuclear program was targeted heavily by U.S. spies. To counter this effort, the Soviets employed sophisticated, multi-level, denial and deception strategies. According to Mikhail Gladyshev, who was in charge of the plutonium enrichment station at the Mayak complex in the city of Ozersk, compartmentalization of information was pervasive:

“[W]e put the [plutonium] paste in a box and transferred it to the consumer plant. How much plutonium was in that box we didn’t know and it was not recommended for us to know. Even later, when I was the plant’s chief engineer, the plans for plutonium production were known only to the facility’s director, and all documents were prepared in single copies”

Given the reality of mass interception let’s look at mobile phones as a case study. They’re essentially portable Telescreens. Glorified tracking beacons that double as walkie-talkies. In private, when NSA spies feel comfortable enough to speak candidly with each other, iPhone users are referred to as ‘zombies’ who literally pay for their own surveillance. This is not an exaggeration and it speaks yards about how intelligence officers view society. You’ve been warned.

The best option is to follow the example of WikiLeaks activist Sarah Harrison and simply not carry a cellphone. Jihadists in the Middle East have learned this lesson the hard way and use hand couriers for sensitive messages. Other organization like Los Zetas in Mexico have built private radio networks to avoid official communication channels. Lebanon’s Hezbollah went so far as to set up its own covert fiber optic data network in an effort to elude conventional eavesdropping.

Listen to John Young of the web site Cryptome. The only sure-fire way to protect yourself against monitoring on a given communication system is not to use it.

If having a cellphone is an absolute necessity there are shielding cases available. Though removing the battery works just fine in a pinch as does sticking a cellphone in a sealed metal container like a refrigerator. Another thing to remember is that “dumb phones” lacking in bells and whistles tend to accumulate far less information than more elaborate smart phones.

Compromised mobile devices should be smashed and dumped in a remote location. Make sure the SIM card is completely destroyed. Recall how methodically the GCHQ officials disposed of hardware belonging to the Guardian newspaper. This is another area where $10 dumb phones have an advantage. One smart phone equals a small pile of dumb phones. Who said better security is expensive? Well, probably the marketing guys at Black Phone. Really? Rock solid security for only $600? Hey, let me get out my checkbook…

Once a cell phone is out in the open with its battery in place, consider the following recommendations. First, it’s extremely unwise for someone to power on a “secure” cell phone where they normally live and work. This includes recharging the phone! While traveling to a remote site to communicate be aware that automated license plate readers, traffic cameras, facial recognition software and built-in vehicle GPS units are becoming more commonplace.

Avoid patterns (geographic, chronological, etc.). Arbitrarily relocate to new spots during the course of a phone call. Stay in motion. Phone calls should be as short as possible so that the amount of data collected by surveillance equipment during the call’s duration is minimized. This will make it more difficult for spies to make accurate predictions.

Another aim should be to maintain a closed communication network at all costs. Secure cell phones should not be used casually to call friends or relatives. Dial only other cell phones intended specifically for sensitive communication. Also remember that calling a landline may end up exposing the person who answers.

Carrying additional mobile devices (e.g. surface tablet, second cell phone) creates the risk that the peripheral hardware may undermine anonymity through correlation. Finally, pay for items using cash when operational. Credit card transactions are like a big red flag.

If spies somehow captures a secure cell phone and are able to siphon data off of it, one potential countermeasure is to flood the device with false information. Skillful application of this technique can lead spies on a goose chase. For instance, when Ed Snowden was fleeing Hong Kong he intentionally bought a plane ticket to India with his own credit card in an effort to throw pursuers off his track.

Final Words: Ultimately there’s no ironclad formula for protecting your identity. No guarantees. Privacy isn’t something I can give you. It’s something you must attain on your own through hard work. In summary, expect security tools to fail, compartmentalize to contain damage, and apply the Grugq’s core tenets of anti-forensics. Don’t put blind faith in technology. Focus your resources on maintaining rigorous procedures. When things get dicey it’ll be your training and preparation that keep you secure."
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” and “Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

Rightwing Nuthouse: “Road-Tripping With Jesus? 6 Batsh*t Crazy Right-Wing GOP State Bills”

“Road-Tripping With Jesus?
 6 Batsh*t Crazy Right-Wing GOP State Bills”
By Gary Legum

“While the national press focuses on the shenanigans in Washington, DC with the new Republican-controlled Congress, GOP-led state legislatures continue pushing bills that can variously be described as pernicious, contemptible or outright absurd. Here are five recent areas where state legislation has pushed the boundaries of either constitutional permissibility or common sense.

1. We Don’t Need No Education: Oklahoma made headlines last week when a legislative committee voted 11 to 4 in favor of a bill that would ban the teaching of Advanced Placement U.S. History in the state’s public schools. Conservatives are concerned that the classwork focuses too much on teaching “what is bad about America” and is not patriotic enough. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Fisher, specifically chastised the AP course for not teaching American exceptionalism. In place of the old curriculum, Fisher’s bill pushes AP classes to teach his own idea of the country’s “foundational documents,” a list that includes the Ten Commandments and speeches by both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

A similar effort to kill AP U.S. History in Colorado last year faltered after students staged walk-outs to protest being force-fed an idealized story of our nation similar to the one pushed by Fisher. In response to pushback in his state, which included a poll showing 96 percent of Oklahoma’s parents and students opposed his efforts, the legislator pulled his bill. He now says he will rework it because the language was “poorly worded” and “ambiguous.”

It remains to be see if the failed efforts to ban the class in Colorado and Oklahoma will have any bearing on similar efforts in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where bills to rewrite AP U.S. History standards have been debated for months.

2. Science and You: Georgia also might have an issue with science education, if state Rep. Tom Kirby (R) is any indication. Concerned that disease research that has resulted in the creation of glow-in-the-dark jellyfish could spin out of control, Kirby recently introduced a bill in the legislature that would make it illegal for scientists and medical researchers to use DNA “to create a human-animal hybrid.”

As few people are aware that scientists apparently are trying to grow a mermaid in a lab, Kirby expounded on his bill by telling an Atlanta TV station that while he has nothing against humans developing the ability to fly, it has to be “a natural genetic mutation,” and not some freakish artificial grafting of wings onto a live human like some airborne Frankenstein. Because that would be crazy.

Kirby also let the reporter for WMAZ Channel 13 know that he has nothing personally against centaurs and werewolves if they exist in the wild; he’s simply opposed to scientists accidentally creating one while mixing animal and human DNA in research to fight diseases. Which is totally a thing that could happen.

Someone in Georgia, please take Rep. Kirby aside and explain that The Island of Dr. Moreau was not a documentary.

3. Road Tripping With Jesus: Mississippi is near the bottom of states in so many quality-of-life rankings it is practically a national punchline. Instead of fixing its schools or reducing its poverty rate (the highest in the nation), the legislature recently tackled the pressing issue of congregants not being able to drive their church’s mid-sized buses because they lack a commercial driver’s license. Current state law requires anyone driving a vehicle that holds more than 16 people to hold a CDL. The new law would exempt any church buses that can hold 30 or fewer passengers. Any other business or school in Mississippi that uses one of these vehicles would still need to have a CDL-certified driver.

One long-time CDL holder told the Clarion-Ledger the bill is “potentially dangerous,” as these 30-passenger buses have “long frames and much larger blind spots” than smaller vans. But who cares when there are church events to be attended? No wonder one lawmaker dubbed this bill the “Jesus Take the Wheel Act.”

Guess Mississippi won’t be doing anything about that number-two-in-traffic-fatalities-per-capita ranking anytime soon.

4. At Least They Are Encouraging Reading: Mississippi was also recently vying with Louisiana and Tennessee to become the first state to name the Bible the official state book. While one might think this would violate the First Amendment charge that government should not favor one religion over another, the Mississippi lawmakers who introduced the bill said it would be “completely symbolic” and not infringe on anyone’s right to the free exercise of religion.

While that bill failed to make it out of committee in the Mississippi legislature, Tennessee Rep. Jerry Sexton was not deterred. He recently filed a similar bill with his state’s legislature. One of his colleagues, Rep. James Van Huss also filed a religiously themed bill that would amend the state constitution to place God above governmental authorities. Which is fine if you live in a theocracy, which Tennessee is not. Yet.

Van Huss’ proposed language for the constitution would state: “We recognize that our liberties do not come from government, but from Almighty God, our Creator and Savior.” One can envision all sorts of future problems when state laws collide with this language. For example, does it turn any Tennesseans who do not worship the Judeo-Christian god, such as Muslims and atheists, into second-class citizens? And what happens when laws written under the new, more religious state constitution come into conflict with the more secular federal one? Because the country already fought a war about that little nullification issue, which Tennessee should remember.

5. Aim High: Van Huss is also responsible for a bill to designate an official state gun for Tennessee. Currently, six other states have an official state firearm, usually guns that have an historic connection to the state. Utah’s state gun is the M1911 pistol, which was designed by Utah native John Browning and was the official sidearm of the American military for 75 years. Arizona’s state gun, the Colt Single Action Army pistol, the military’s standard sidearm from 1872 to 1892, was considered the most obvious “Old West” gun to represent a state that was carved out of a hostile frontier during that era.

The proposed Tennessee state gun is the Barrett Model 82A1, a .50-caliber semi-automatic whose connection to the state is that it is manufactured in Murfreesboro. The Model 82A1 is what is known in the military as an “anti-materiel rifle,” which means it is designed to be used against structures like radar stations or lightly armored vehicles. That does not preclude using it against human targets, to which its .50 BMG bullets can do horrific damage.

One can argue that having the M1911 and Colt Single Action Army pistols as state symbols is problematic enough, considering the uses those guns were put to in pacifying both the Wild West in America and various foreign lands. But the Barrett Model 82A1 is still being used by United States as well as militaries and police forces all over the world. It is a particularly ugly weapon for a state to call its own.

6. Guns on Campus: At least Tennessee has not gotten in on the movement to allow college students to carry guns on campus, perhaps because its last attempt at passing such a bill failed in 2011. But 10 other states are working on such bills. The two most notable are in Florida and Nevada. The justification behind these bills is ostensibly that arming female students would lead to a reduction in the large number of sexual assaults that take place on college campuses every year. Or, as Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore put it to the New York Times: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

It’s not hard to see the problems in Fiore’s proposal. For one thing, allowing concealed carry on campuses means that potential rapists would also be armed. For another, statistics show that anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent of campus sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and may consider a friend, which might make her less willing to grab a gun and start shooting. Plus it puts the onus of preventing rape on women instead of the actual rapists.

But the biggest issue may be that colleges are already hotbeds of binge drinking and loosened inhibitions for young people who still have not matured enough to make smart decisions. Adding firearms to this mixture seems like a recipe for disaster.

Still, there is a good chance that with the advances the all-armed-all-the-time crowd has made in the last few years, at least some of these 10 states will soon loosen restrictions on campus gun bans. Which will do nothing to lessen the dangers for some people on campuses, and will likely even increase them.

Welcome to the far right’s America.”

Greg Hunter, “Weekly News Wrap-Up, 2/27/15”

“Weekly News Wrap-Up, 2/27/15”
By Greg Hunter’s 

"Next week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address Congress on the deal the Obama Administration is trying to do with Iran to curtail its nuclear program. No doubt, Netanyahu will warn a deal that will eventually allow Iran to get nuclear weapons will cause big problems for the world. There has been increasing friction and drama with President Obama over this address. All the drama surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress can only mean one thing–negotiations with the U.S. and Iran to curtail its program are not going well. Likely, there will be, once again, no deal at the end of the current deadline, which is the end of next month. Some Democrats are threatening to boycott the address, and members of the President’s staff have clearly said they are not happy with Congress for inviting the Israeli Prime Minister. I predict this will be resolved one way or another this year.

Another top NATO general is, once again, warning about increased possibilities of war with Russia. The most recent ceasefire was broken not long after it was instituted, and now there is no end to the fighting in sight.

In the Middle East, it looks like plans are being made to try to attack the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq. Some 25,000 regional troops are being prepared to try to take back Mosul, which is the second biggest city in Iraq. The U.S. is not supplying troops for the assault, only military trainers. The U.S. will supply air power, but a few weeks ago, American military experts said it would take around 80,000 top quality troops to defeat ISIS. The operation is planned for the spring of this year.

The Federal Reserve is adamantly against any sort of audit. Fed Chief Janet Yellen thinks the Central bank needs its independence, which some call total secrecy and non-transparent monetary policy. When asked to provide information about a recent meeting with the White House and the Treasury, Yellen said they were “private one-on-one meetings” and releasing any information as to what was talked about would, according to Yellen, not be “appropriate.” The Federal Reserve is not federal and is, in fact, a cartel of private banks.

Finally, there is record snowfall and record cold temperatures this winter. I think this makes it a tough sell for the man-made global warming proponents. The facts say the climate is getting colder, and not warmer. I think the reason the name was changed to “climate change” is because most people not only realize this fact, but are experiencing it in everyday life this winter.

"Join Greg Hunter as he talks about these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up."