Friday, April 29, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour Last Flight

Space shuttle Endeavour crew
 Space shuttle Endeavour crew

After nearly two decades of achievements in space, space shuttle Endeavour was scheduled to make one last reach for the stars on its 25th and final mission. The fourteen day mission would be the 36th shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

The crew members for the shuttle STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

The mission Commander, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, is a husband of the wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who will attend the shuttle launch. She has been in Houston, where she is undergoing rehabilitation for a gunshot wound to the head. She was attacked January 8 in her Tucson, Arizona, hometown.

Space shuttle Endeavour has spent nineteen years pushing boundaries, and its final mission will allow that legacy to live on. It was the last shuttle built, and made its maiden flight in May, 1992. After retirement, it will be placed on permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Among Endeavour’s missions was the first to include four spacewalks, and then the first to include five. Its STS-67 mission set a length record almost two full days longer than any shuttle mission before it. Its airlock is the only one to have seen three spacewalkers exit through it for a single spacewalk. And in its cargo bay, the first two pieces of the International Space Station were joined together.

On STS-134, however, it will help push boundaries of a different sort as it delivers a new, cutting edge science experiment to the space station: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a state-of-the-art, high energy particle physics experiment built in Geneva by a collaboration of 16 different countries. It will search for clues on what the universe is made of and how it began, the origin of dark matter, antimatter and strangelets, pulsars, blazers and gammaray bursters. And that’s just what the scientists know to look for.

After AMS is installed on station’s truss during the fourth day of the mission, a pallet of spare parts will be added to the space station on the mission’s flight day 5. Then there will be a string of spacewalks – the last spacewalks to be performed by a shuttle crew – dedicated to getting the station in the best possible shape for the end of the space shuttle program.

The spacewalkers will top off a leaky ammonia loop and lubricate one of the massive joints that turn the station’s solar array wings. They’ll also add to the Russian segment of the station a handhold for the station’s robotic arm, extending the arm’s range to that area, and make a permanent home on the station’s truss for the shuttle robotic arm’s 50-foot long boom extension, so that it can be left behind to give the station’s arm a greater reach.

The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time, according to Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. The only concerns for launch may be the crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility and a low cloud ceiling associated with a front moving into Central Florida.
The final lift off was scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT on April 29, 2011 at the NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A, but due to some technical difficulties it was postponed.

Officials said a delay of at least three days was needed to fix heaters that are being used in the equipment that powers both the movement of both the shuttle’s engines and the flaps during the shuttle's ride into space. The crowd of hundreds of thousands who gathered to witness what was supposed to be the second-to-last takeoff in the space shuttle program - were very disappointed by the delay.

For more information on Endeavour's final mission, please visit NASA
Image source NASA

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The British Crown Jewels

Royal bridal necklace

The Crown Jewels, which are part of the Royal Collection, are displayed to millions of visitors every year, guarded by Yeomen Warders also known as the ‘Beefeaters’, in the Tower of London. The Jewel House at the Tower has been used for the secure storage of the precious ceremonial objects, commonly known as the ‘Crown Jewels’, since the early 14th century, when Westminster Abbey (the alternative store) was found to be unsafe. Although attempts have been made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower, notably by Colonel Blood in 1671, none have succeeded. The present display of the Crown Jewels was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994.

At the heart of the Crown Jewels display are the ceremonial and symbolic objects associated with the coronations of English Kings and Queens. These are usually referred to as the Regalia. They include the crowns of Sovereigns, Consorts and Princes of Wales, both past and present, scepters, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets and robes, all of which have a specific part to play in the ritual of the English coronation service. Much of the Regalia is in use to the present day, a feature which distinguishes the English Regalia from most of its European counterparts.

The oldest piece of the Regalia is the 12th century gold Anointing Spoon, used to anoint the Sovereign with holy oil. Apart from the three steel coronation swords (the Swords of Temporal Justice, of Spiritual Justice and of Mercy), this is the only piece that survived the destruction of the pre-Civil War Regalia in 1649-50. This destruction was ordered by Oliver Cromwell, following the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The gold objects, including pieces probably dating back to the time of Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, were sent to the Mint for melting down, and the gemstones were removed from their settings and sold. Cromwell was determined that these potent symbols of royalty and kingship should be completely eradicated.

At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, King Charles II ordered new Regalia, modeled on the forms of the lost Regalia used by his father. This new set of Regalia was completed for Charles II’s coronation on St George’s Day (April 23, 1661) and cost the enormous sum of £12,050!

The principal piece of the Regalia is St Edward’s Crown, with which the new Sovereign is actually crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the coronation ceremony. This is made of gold and decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, including sapphires, tourmalines, amethysts, topazes and citrines, and weighs a substantial 2.23kg. It was last used to crown Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.

The most famous of the crowns is the Imperial State Crown. This was re-made for the coronation of The Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1937 and is set with over 3,000 gems. The stones were all transferred from the old Imperial Crown, which had been re-made on a number of occasions since the 17th century, most recently for Queen Victoria in 1838. This crown incorporates many famous gemstones, including the diamond known as the Second Star of Africa (the second largest stone cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond), the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire, St Edward’s Sapphire and Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls. The Sovereign traditionally wears the Imperial State Crown at the conclusion of the coronation service, when leaving Westminster Abbey. It is also worn for the State Opening of Parliament.

The other principal pieces of the Regalia used during the coronation, all dating from 1661, are the Ampulla, the gold flask in the form of an eagle which contains the holy oil used for the Anointing; the Sovereign’s Orb, representing Christ’s dominion over the world; and the two scepters, the Sovereign’s Scepter with a cross representing the monarch’s temporal power under God and the Scepter with Dove, representing equity and mercy. The Spurs, which are not worn, are there to represent knightly chivalry and the Armills or bracelets, represent sincerity and wisdom. A new pair of gold Armills was presented to The Queen by the Commonwealth for the 1953 coronation.

During the coronation service, following the Anointing, the Sovereign is invested with the Imperial Mantle of cloth-of-gold, woven with the National Emblems, and when invested, places on the altar the elaborately jeweled Sword of Offering. Both of these were made for George IV’s coronation in 1821.

Among the famous gem-stones on display at the Tower is the First Star of Africa, now mounted at the top of the Sovereign’s Scepter. This is the largest flawless cut diamond in the world and weighs 530 carats. This and the Second Star of Africa of 317 carats (in the Imperial State Crown) were cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever found. Weighing over 3,000 carats, the Cullinan was given to King Edward VII by the Government of the Transvaal, South Africa in 1907.

The legendary Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond, presented to Queen Victoria in 1850, is now set in the platinum crown made for the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother for the 1937 coronation. This diamond, which came from the Treasury at Lahore in the Punjab, may have belonged to the early Mughal emperors before passing eventually to Duleep Singh. It was re-cut for Queen Victoria in 1852 and now weighs 106 carats. Traditionally the Koh-i-Nur is only worn by a queen or queen consort: it is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.

Among the other notable jewels on display is Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, made for her in 1870 to wear as a light and comfortable alternative to the much heavier Imperial State Crown. The Imperial Crown of India, set with around 6,000 diamonds and magnificent rubies and emeralds, was made for King George V to wear at the Delhi Coronation Durbar in 1911. It has never been worn since.

In addition to the new Regalia, Charles II acquired a large quantity of new gold altar and banqueting plate, costing a further £18,000. A selection of this plate, including the Maundy Dish, still used by the Sovereign on Maundy Thursday, the St George’s Salts, formerly used at coronation banquets, and the Charles II font formerly used for royal christenings, together with the Lily Font, which is in current use and was made for the baptism of Queen Victoria’s first child, is also on view in the Jewel House.

Article source here
Image source here

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Book of Your Soul

Dreams are illustrations 
from the book 
your soul is writing 
about you. 

Marsha Norman

Image source here

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hidden Agenda?

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Wake Up, Critics: Here’s Obama’s Grand Plan by Leon de Winter

I have always been an admirer of David Axelrod - since I found out who he was. His creation of the Obama myth is one of the most impressive marketing and propaganda feats in history, carefully crafted from a simple set of rules and masterfully applied to challenging, shifting circumstances.

Axelrod knew just what he was doing. He created an African American candidate without the ghetto rap. He created an ultimate urban intellectual alternative to George W. Bush - a veritable anti-Bush. He created a pseudo-legend based upon a semi-fictional autobiography.

He created a quasi-evangelical being with the gift to heal the earth.

To create this myth, the Axelrod team had to suppress the dark pages of Obama’s life. Obama’s ideological convictions were simply too far off center, too much the result of a radical leftist ideology.

Obama was a lifelong student of Marxist and neo-Marxist thinkers, his life dedicated to a theoretic approach based on the “historical” conflict of opposing classes. Long before he received the Axelrod touch, Obama was planning the long march through the institutions as a student. He has been as much a brilliant strategist and tactician as Axelrod. He has known when to lay low, and when to attack; when to aggrandize, and when to diminish.

When Obama started to realize that a path to the White House could be opened, he knew he had a problem. As a student he created a trail of radical papers which could be catastrophic to his career. But he was lucky, and able, to hide them in time.

We don’t know what he wrote in his papers at Columbia and Harvard, but we do know they had to vanish. How unsettling did they have to be for that to be necessary? An infamous video Los Angeles Times, hidden from view by friendly media. Do you suppose it contains images that could harm the myth?

We have no knowledge of what interesting essays, knowledgeable articles, or surprising op-ed pieces he wrote. He has the aura of a sharp intellectual, but there is no proof of it, apart from his doctored autobiographies. He didn’t write op-eds out of a lack of ideas. He had ideas. But when he became a state senator, he realized there was more to gain. Radical ideas and radical speeches could be obstacles.

America is in a deep crisis, both internally and externally. But its most serious crisis is rooted in the continuous process of legitimating the American experiment as defined by its founding fathers. This is a uniquely American process. It seems as if every American president has to define America’s existence from the bottom up. In Obama’s case, he is trying to redefine America’s existence.

It’s his goal to transform the nation into a European welfare state, which he can only execute when he can work around America’s original ideas as formulated by the founding fathers. The almost boundless liberty of free citizens, he believes, should be limited by a strong federal state which demands a sizeable part of the fruits of the labor of its citizens. Obama is enforcing laws and introducing institutions derived from European socialist concepts of “social justice” - which should be, according to progressive thinking, society’s lodestar.

The state, a benign organism in this vision, can only cover the basic needs of its population if it regulates the free market and free enterprise. The obligation to lead a decent, healthy, prosperous life isn’t just the duty or the free choice of its citizenry but the obligation of the state. Only the state can lead the population toward the right economic and moral choices (as formulated by its leaders). In societies centered around the concept of social justice, the cultural and ideological elites tend to be authoritarian. They have an advanced consciousness of the rights and wrongs in the world, and they will show the way.

In the meantime, of course, they will lead luxurious lives while preaching their program of modesty for the masses. (The hypocrisy of progressives such as Gore and Soros and Michael Moore, and progressive dynasties like the Kennedys, is breathtaking).

Economic factors create and change cultures. They transform the way individuals consider their contribution to society, they modify the relation between citizen and state, and they change the way individuals are able to control their own future. But there are limits. The European welfare state, as we know, had to retreat from its program of full control - not only because it is so expensive to maintain (an army can hardly be financed) but because the European welfare state’s defining “narrative” is itself pacifist, introverted, culturally relativist. It is the cultural and ethical side of the welfare state.

And without a doubt, it is the long-term vision of president Obama. His economic transformation will enforce a cultural and ideological transformation. Everything he is doing is driven by this vision. It is postmodern revolutionary socialist methodology at work.

His career is proof that Barack Obama can plan far ahead. He has a superior intellect. He is controlled and disciplined. At the same time, he can behave quite bizarrely, at least according to his critics. What drove him to give a speech in Cairo at the very beginning of his presidency? Why did he greet the Saudi king and Chinese leaders as a servant? Why did he appease anti-American forces while neglecting American allies? Why did he create a literary autobiography while at the same time hiding key facts of his biography? Why is he burdening the U.S. with a debt that will take generations to repay? Why is he fighting Arizona’s policing laws while declining to enforce the borders?

I often read articles claiming Obama isn’t up to his task. He doesn’t understand economics. He isn’t as smart as he claims to be. He’s only talk. He’s lazy.

His critics are wrong.

I started to understand the fascinating phenomenon of Barack Obama when it suddenly dawned upon me that his present office may not be his final ambition.

The individuals in Chicago, with whom he has long fashioned his political identity, as well as the individuals he keeps close to him as advisers in the White House, are mainly leftist ideologues who have embraced the long march through the institutions. Through Obama and his half-fictional character, they have been unbelievably successful, reaching the pinnacle of American political power.

Obama and his team try to transform America and reorganize society around the concept of social justice. A transformed America will, naturally, lead to a completely different balance of power in the world. Internal change will create external change. The vacuum left behind by a weakened U.S. - a world without a superpower, a globe of equal nations - should be filled by a new transnational body. This is the core dream of every progressive ideologue.

World governments or governances have been part of the Marxist curriculum for decades, driven by anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist ideologies. At the moment, the driving forces are earthism, enviromentalism, and fear of man-made global warming. (From the ideologue’s perspective, planetary incineration is the ultimate consequence of imperialist capitalism.) The future of the globe and the human race is at stake - and in order to suppress global warming, the world needs special taxes and special tools to regulate industries and modify human behavior. Who will control these new controlling mechanisms?

The first report of the Club of Rome, published in 1972, introduced to the world the perceived apocalyptic consequences of human activities and human reproduction, and the need to create regulating and controlling political mechanisms. Since then, progressive movements have been trying to implement these mechanisms, like cap and trade or a global tax.

Does Obama, in word and deed, start to make sense when one starts to understand that he sees his role from a vantage point far above the presidency? Beyond the White House, there is a world for him to gain. What he achieved in Washington he could repeat on a global scale.

But he has to walk a fine line: he can neither ruin America nor restore America’s full power and prosperity. He seems to dream of an American sort of European Union - safe, pleasant, but also powerless, lacking the passionate soul of a true nation, slowly fading out with graying populations in unbearably costly welfare states, depending ever more on non-Western immigrants steadily changing our cultural fabric.

In order to save the world from devastating global warming and climate change - and, indeed, all fatal consequences of capitalism - the restless progressives in the world are uniting. Obama is well prepared to position himself as their prophet - or messiah.

Internationalism, global governance, America the evil - these are ideas Obama has absorbed for year after year. As a smart, suave man, he knew exactly what he was doing when he started to climb the ladder. Capitalizing - if I may use the word - on his luck, Obama had the intuition to pick capable operators for his campaigning and policy-making teams.

His conservative critics dramatically underestimate him. Obama knows precisely what kind of America he envisions. He wants to mold a certain type of America in order to mold a certain type of global governance. For that, he needs another term to reach his goal.

In 2016, he will move on to higher office.

Regular politicians don’t have the emotional and intellectual tools to pursue such a strategy. But Obama? Whose explosive rise, ability to manipulate his own biography, and ties to obedient media are staggering? This is a man who wrote not one but two autobiographies and remains an enigma. When you have this capacity, you are really mythical.

After G. W. “what you see is what you get” Bush, America is lead by a president whose deepest convictions remain unfathomable - until, that is, you start to get the idea of a person who considers his stay at the White House as a phase on a longer path.

I may, of course be wrong. I can’t rule that out. After all, if I were, we’d all be better off.

Leon de Winter is a novelist and columnist for Elsevier Magazine in the Netherlands. His last novel, The Right Return is a thriller set in Tel Aviv in 2024. He presently lives in Los Angeles.

Article source here
Image source here 

Friday, April 22, 2011

To Bonsai or Not to Bonsai

Restrictive roots cause stunted growth in both humans and plants…

A tree, when left to the tenets of nature, will grow large and full, depending on its variety and location. Some bear beautiful, supple leaves, such as oak and maple and others have sharp, unfriendly needles, like the pine family. They are extremely tenacious and even cling to vertical rock surfaces in their effort to survive. Every place on earth has them with the exception of Antarctica and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want to live there either!

One thing they all do is to stretch themselves into the sky in search of life giving sunshine and carbon dioxide (You know, the stuff we aren’t supposed to be creating, but that’s another story for another day). If you’ll forgive the pun,the upshot is, they survive and flourish.

Does this sound like any other species we may know? Humanity, perhaps?

We stretch ourselves into the sun and absorb the crucial D vitamin and inhale the incredibly important oxygen that the trees have traded us for that nasty old carbon dioxide. Not a bad deal, huh? Sort of symbiotic wouldn’t you say?

Of course that’s not the main topic and I’m digressing a bit. What I’m trying to say is this. We’re similar in many regards, trees and us.

Take for instance… the art of Bonsai. We’ve learned to take a tree from early in its life and bend it to our will. It’s housed in a small pot where the root system is restricted, prohibiting its physical growth. With constant attention to what we want, we bend, prune, restrict and shape the tree into our vision. It really has no choice in the matter. Sometimes turns out beautifully and other times it, quite tragically, fails.

So, let’s take a human child and figuratively put him in a pot consisting of restrictive thoughts, bad judgments, poor ideals and negative behavior. This severely constricts the roots of his (or her… sorry ladies!) personality. This allows family, friends and society at large to shape the child’s behavioral patterns into a mirror of themselves. In short, it can stunt the mental and emotional growth as sure as if it were physically bound in a real pot.

But, what if we allowed the child to undertake an expedition into life and seek out the sun? What if we nurtured and taught him how to prune the weeds that caused the choking of his ego and the withering of his esteem? What if we encouraged success instead of saying “settle for what you have and be grateful for it!”? What if we showed him how to give himself permission to succeed? What if we allowed him to see that the universe truly is a friendly place and is deserving of all the success it will give?

And, just as importantly, what if we did this for ourselves? 

It’s not too late to step out of that Bonsai pot and take root in a very friendly universe!

Not too late at all.

By James W. Allmon ©2011

Happy Easter

Easter eggs are specially decorated eggs given out to celebrate the Easter holiday or springtime. Eggs and Easter have become almost synonymous and yet most people do not know much about the origins of the Easter egg tradition.

It is the influence of the traditional spring rites that made Easter so special. And myths coming down to us from an incredibly distant past have shown man's relationship with the egg to be very deep seated one. This is caught in old Latin proverb: "Omne vivum ex ovo". This means "all life comes from an egg". Not just the Latin saying, eggs are just laid well over all corners of the world. From ancient India to Polynesia, from Iran, Greece, and Phoenicia to Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, from Central America to the west coast of South America, there are reports of myths of the whole universe created out of an egg. Thus, it is not unusual that in almost all ancient cultures eggs had been held as an emblem of life. The concept of all living beings born from an egg is also a foundational concept of modern biology. 

Despite claims being made that Easter Eggs were originally pagan symbols, there is no solid evidence for this. It was not until the 18th Century that Jakob Grimm theorised a putative pagan connection to Easter Eggs with a goddess of his own whom he named Ostara, a suggested German version of Eostre.

At the Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes both new life and the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration falling on the Spring Equinox. This tradition has continued every year on Nowrooz since ancient times.

In Christian times, the egg was a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg. The Easter egg tradition may have celebrated the end of the privations of Lent. In the Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent as well as other traditional fast days. During the strict Lenten fast of forty days no eggs were eaten. It was traditional to use up all of the household's eggs before Lent began, which established the tradition of Pancake Day. This was because, in Christian times, the egg was a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg. Eggs were viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. It is believed that for this reason many ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, used eggs during their spring festivals. In Eastern Christianity, both meat and dairy are still prohibited during the fast, and eggs are seen as "dairy" (a foodstuff that could be taken from an animal without shedding its blood). That is the reason why eggs laid during that time were often boiled or otherwise preserved. 

It was at the end of Lent, during Easter that the consumption of eggs resumed after the strict Lenten fast. Eggs were thus a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants. And this is probably the reason why eggs came to be associated with Easter.

Many traditions and practices have formed around Easter eggs. In Europe an egg was hung on New Year trees, on Maypoles, and on St. John's trees in midsummer. Indeed, all were of one accord in using the egg as a symbol of the regenerative forces of nature. Later during the Christian period, it was believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, if kept for a hundred years, would have their yolks turn to diamond. If Good Friday eggs were cooked on Easter they would promote the fertility of the trees and crops and protect against sudden deaths. And, if you would find two yolks in an Easter egg, be sure, you're going to be rich soon. That's what they believed!

An Orthodox tradition related with Easter celebrations is the presenting of red colored eggs to friends while giving Easter greetings. According to a History channel documentary about Mary Magdalene and her role in Christianity, the custom derives from a biblical event. After the Ascension of Christ, Mary supposedly went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him with "Christ is risen", whereupon he stated, "Christ has not risen no more than that egg is red" (pointing to an egg on his table). After making this statement it is said the egg immediately turned blood red.[citation needed] She then began preaching Christianity to him. The egg is symbolic of the grave and life renewed by breaking out of it. The red symbolizes the blood of Christ redeeming the world, represented by the egg, and our regeneration through the bloodshed for us by Christ. The egg itself is a symbol of the Resurrection while being dormant it contains a new life sealed within it.

The coloring of eggs is a established art, and eggs are often dyed, painted, and otherwise decorated. Eggs were also used in various holiday games: parents would hide eggs for children to find, and children would roll eggs down hills. These practices live on in Easter egg hunts and egg rolls. The most famous egg roll takes place on the White House lawn every year.  


Contrary to popular belief, Easter does not represent the “historical” crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In reality, the gospel tale reflects the annual “crossification” of the sun through the vernal equinox (Spring), at which time the sun is “resurrected,” as the day begins to become longer than the night. 

Rather than being a “Christian” holiday, Easter celebrations date back into remotest antiquity and are found around the world, as the blossoming of spring did not escape the notice of the ancients, who revered this life-renewing time of the year, when winter had passed and the sun was “born again.” The “Pagan” Easter is also the Passover, and Jesus Christ represents not only the sun but also the Passover Lamb ritually sacrificed every year by a number of cultures, including the Egyptians, possibly as early as 4,000 years ago and continuing to this day in some places.

Article source here
Image source unknown but greatly appreciated

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Intangible Phantasies

The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. - Chuck Palahniuk   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Passover


Passover blessings

Passover is commemorated by the entire Jewish community with great zeal and gusto across the world. Marked as one of the most significant festivals of the Jews, Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from the slavery of the ancient Egyptians. Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, Pesach is distinguished by various rituals and customs followed by the Jews. The Passover Seder is the most noted ritual of this festival. It is held on the evening of the 14th day and includes customs, such as drinking wine, eating matzo and partaking of symbolic foods from the Seder plate. To add on, blessings form an important aspect of the Passover Seder. They are recited at different times during the entire course of the supper. Read on further to know the different blessings made during the Pesach holiday dinner.

Jewish blessings of Pesach

  • The first set of blessings starts off with ‘Kiddush’ just after nightfall. People present gather around the Seder table and chant blessings, while raising their first cup of wine, known as the Kadeish. Kadeish is an Armanic word which means the ‘cup of sanctification’ or ‘the blessing’. The main idea behind this blessing is to bless all the Jewish festivals and people celebrating the occasion. The Kiddush includes three blessings of which the first one is undertaken at the wine. The second follows on the festival of Passover and third for praising and thanking the Lord for enabling the Jews to witness the current Passover. 
  • The next blessing comes at the third stage of Seder, that is, Karpas which means green vegetable consumed after dipping it in salt water, lime juice or vinegar. This is done to symbolize new hopes for the future while green represents the spring season. The vegetable is dipped in salt water to remind people about the tears shed and the pain suffered by the Jews during the enslavement by the Egyptians. The green vegetable used is usually lettuce, celery or parsley. While dipping the vegetable in salt water, blessings from the Haggadah are recited.
  • The next blessing is recited at the fifth step, that is, the Maggid after the completion of the Passover story. The first two psalms of the Hallel are recited, which is followed by offering prayers to enable the Jews to get a chance to celebrate Passover and other Jewish festivals time and again.
  • The most important blessings come at the sixth step or Rachtzah during the Passover meal. This includes eating matzah and reciting blessings. However, before eating matzah, every person washes his hands thoroughly for the second time. Also while washing hands, a blessing is recited.
  • The seventh step is the Motzee which forms the first part of the Matzah blessing. The leader at the Seder meal takes charge and reads out the ‘Hamotzi’ from the holy Haggadah while holding 3 pieces of matzah. ‘Hamotzi’ is a Hebrew word which means ‘bringing forth’. Hence, this blessing is made as a part of bringing forward the bread by the Lord.
  • The eighth step is the second part of the matzah blessing. After reciting the ‘Hamotzi’ from the holy book, the leader drops down the bottom matzah piece and continues with chanting the next blessing while holding the remaining two pieces.
  • ‘Al Achilat Maror’ is the next blessing which forms the ninth step of the Seder meal. ‘Al Achilat Maror’ means ‘the blessing over eating bitter herbs’. This step is also known as the step of the Maror, bitter herb dipped in an unclear sweet liquid called charoset and then consumed.
  • The 13th step of Seder meal is called the Barech and includes the chanting of the blessing called ‘Birkat HaMazon’ (Grace after Meals). This is undertaken as an expression of gratitude, awareness and realization what every person has done on the Seder table. The third cup of wine is poured at this point and the blessing is chanted collectively.
  • Finally at the 14th step, the final blessing is made. After the verses from the holy Haggadah are made, the fourth cup of wine is blessed and consumed in a reclined position. Next, the Birkat HaMazon is recited once again.
Wishing Happy and Peaceful Passover!

Article source here

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unnecessary Suffering

Buddhist monk among the rubble in Yamada, Japan
 Buddhist monk among the rubble in Yamada, Japan

True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such a way as if you had completely chosen whatever you feel or experience at this moment. This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering. Is suffering really necessary? Yes and no.If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you as a human being, no humility, no compassion. You would not be reading this now. Suffering cracks open the shell of ego, and then comes a point when it has served its purpose. Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary. - Eckhart Tolle

The tragedy of Japan is taking yet another, even more sinister dimension. As finally admitted by Japanese authorities, Fukushima is releasing massive quantities of radioactive material into the ocean on an ongoing basis.

This highly contaminated water (7.5 million times of the permitted level) being released is just the beginning: At least 200 tons of water are being poured onto Reactor No 2 every day, and that extremely radioactive water is, of course, ultimately getting dumped directly into the ocean.

If you do the math, that's 48,000 gallons of highly radioactive water being flushed into the Pacific Ocean each and every day...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost Memories


Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads - at least that's where I imagine it - there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library. - Haruki Murakami in Kafka on the Shore

Image: Found in the mud within the exclusion zone, April 7, 2011 in Minamisoma, Japan

Image source here

Friday, April 15, 2011

Decoding Andromeda

 Andromeda spiral galaxy

Andromeda Offers Clues Into the Formation of Galaxies Including Our Own 

By Michio Kaku

Astrophysicists know quite a bit about the life history of stars. In particular, they can be simulated by computer programs, since stars are basically gigantic hydrogen bombs and we know quite a bit about nuclear physics.

But astrophysicists, by contrast, know very little about the life history of galaxies since it is so difficult, even with our supercomputers, to calculate the motions and evolution of hundreds of billions of stars all at once. There is considerable uncertainty about how galaxies first formed and how they evolve. Ironically, the Milky Way galaxy comes out every night, clearly visible as a gigantic swath of light cutting across the entire night sky, but physicists are clueless about the precise way in which it formed and evolved.

One interesting piece of data, however, has come from analyzing our nearest galactic neighbor, Andromeda. The results of a five-year study of a very thick disc of older stars within the Andromeda Galaxy has yielded results that will essentially give us a greater understanding of how these galaxies form. The Andromeda Galaxy has often been referred to as Messier 31, M31 and even NGC 224 and is in fact the nearest spiral galaxy to our own at a distance of 2.5 million light years away or 1.46962495 x 10^19 miles. Last year, a team of astronomers reported that Andromeda was formed out of the collision of two smaller galaxies between 5 and 9 billion years ago. We now know that galaxies often collide and in fact cannibalize or devour smaller galaxies. It is believed, for example, that our own Milky Way galaxy will eventually collide and merge with the larger Andromeda galaxy billions of years from now, eventually creating a gigantic elliptical galaxy from the collision.

The Andromeda galaxy however is not alone and in fact is a member of the Local Group which is a group of more than 30 galaxies including the Milky Way and is about 10 million light years in diameter. It's estimated that over half (approximately 70%) of the total stars within the Andromeda Galaxy currently reside within the stellar disc. The stellar disc of Andromeda is relatively flat and surrounding the central bulge of the galaxy which is comprised of much older stars that formed billions of years ago. The generalized formation of these discs have in a sense been a mystery and otherwise not well understood even though we understand the composition and evolution of the galaxy itself.

Today, a team of astronomers utilizing the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have for the first time observed a thick disc in Andromeda. This is actually quite interesting because the findings and results will now give us a sneak peek into all of the processes in the overall formation of these types of galaxies including our own. According to the team, they "analyzed the velocities of individual bright starts within the galaxy and were able to observe a group of stars tracing a thick disc — distinct from those comprising the galaxy’s already-known thin disc - and assessed how these stars differ from thin-disc stars in height, width and chemistry." We already know that galaxies such as the Milky Way and Andromeda are composed of both thin and thicker stellar discs with the thicker one consisting of the older stars. Astronomers however were unable to study the thick disc of the Milky Way because we basically had a difficult time seeing it. But, the discovery of the disc within Andromeda will now give us a glimpse into how it and our own Milky Way has evolved into it's present form.

Michelle Collins, a PhD student at Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy has led the research for this discovery. She recently stated, "The classical thin stellar discs that we typically see in Hubble imaging result from the accretion of gas towards the end of a galaxy’s formation. Thick discs, however, are produced in a much earlier phase of the galaxy’s life, making them ideal tracers of the processes involved in galactic evolution."

My webmaster, Michael Phillips was able to get in touch with Dr. Collins to learn more about the moment that the team made their discovery. Dr. Collins stated: "When we realized we had detected the thick disc in Andromeda we were really excited. Until now, our best chance of understanding the evolution of stellar discs was in the Milky Way, where we can't get a truly panoramic view of the component. So this disc in M31 presents us with a fantastic opportunity to better understand the nature of this structure. This is really important, because this kind of disc probes an earlier epoch of galaxy formation than the classical, thin stellar disc, so understanding it's formation and subsequent evolution will allow us to really get a handle on the way galaxies like the Milky Way and Andromeda have been assembled over cosmic time."

By studying Andromeda, hopefully, they hope to better understand how our own Milky Way galaxy formed about 10 billion years ago.

Article source here
Image source here

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yuri Gagarin - First Human in Space

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (9 March 1934 - 27 March 1968)

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (9 March 1934 - 27 March 1968) - a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut - was the first human being to travel into outer space. Fifty years ago, on April 12, 1961, the Vostok 1 spacecraft completed the orbit of the Earth. The journey lasted 108 minutes.

Upon his safe return to Earth, Gagarin was celebrated as the greatest man in human history not only in the former Soviet Union, but worldwide and was allowed by the authorities to visit many countries to promote the Soviet achievement in space. Gagarin's flight marked the beginning of a new era in space exploration.

To watch "The First Orbit" movie, please click here

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why Dream?

Life is a difficult assignment. We are fragile creatures, expected to function at high rates of speed, and asked to accomplish great and small things each day. These daily activities take enormous amounts of energy. 

Most things are out of our control. We are surrounded by danger, frustration, grief, and insanity as well as love, hope, ecstasy, and wonder. Being fully human is an exercise in humility, suffering, grace, and great humor. Things and people all around us die, get broken, or are lost. There is no safety or guarantees.

The way to accomplish the assignment of truly living is to engage fully, richly, and deeply in the living of your dreams. We are made to dream and to live those dreams.

By Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy in "Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time?

Someone posted on his blog an image of an open book with the question "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" in it. I hope that the person who shared it with others asked himself or herself this question at least once.

The paradox of our existence is that everything we ever do we do it for the first and the last time in our lives. Although the monotony of the everyday existence may not be the proof of any novelty occurring in most people's lives, for those who live their lives consciously life begins and ends every time they take a breath. Every yogi, every Zen practitioner, every person who meditates, learns to understand this seemingly paradoxical truth.

As individuals we strive for continuity of our beings. Only traumatic or emotionally intense experiences seem to cause a quantum jump in our psyches. Day to day existence may leave some significant imprints, but the consequences are less dramatic. They are the natural flow of events and usually do not have much impact on who we are inside and out. But is this really the case?

On emotional level, every thought, action or emotion leaves a trace. Every experience leaves a memory. Monotonous tasks reinforce our habits of doing something the same way over and over again. Our convictions and beliefs not only influence our behavioral patterns, but also leave trace in our brains in form of enneagrams. We react emotionally to what we experience and our emotions impact our brain chemistry causing cascade reactions in the brain. The flow of some neurotransmitters is facilitated while others are inhibited by the reaction.

On a molecular level, the constellation of chemicals in our bodies is ever changing. Ingested nutrients influence the pH balance and the chemistry of our bodies. Millions of cells die every day in our bodies making space for new ones. We are constantly changing. The skin renews itself every twenty one days or so. The stomach lining renews itself every four days. Thousands of neurons in our brains die daily and yet we wake up every day with the same bodies.

On a quantum level, we are bodies of energy where nothing ever stays the same as the particles oscillate living no trace of who we were only a tiny instant earlier. This concept is rather difficult to grasp, but the Eastern traditions explored it without any knowledge of the quantum physics. Thinkers such as Leibnitz, Heisenberg and Bohm understood the profundity of the Eastern thought and weaved their theories around it.

Everything arises and ceases at the same time and yet we have the perfect illusion that there is an unbreakable continuity of our being. This illusion is a necessary device for us to retain sanity in the world out there. But the world is changing constantly. The same processes that govern our existence govern the existence of other beings. Everything is in a constant flow. Everything evolves.

Look at the Nature, for instance. The park you entered this morning on your way to work is not the same one you entered yesterday. Thousands of changes happened over night - some probably more evident than others... 

Because of everything that already happened to you today, you are not the same person you were yesterday. You may not even be aware that you have changed. And yet, you are a new being walking through a park that you have never entered before. The park you remember from yesterday is not there anymore. This by no means is a wordplay. It is a  reality that makes life so much more intense and worth living. Remember though, the wasted moment will never come back. And you will never be the same again.

By Dominique Allmon


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When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time? by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Director Sidney Lumet Dies at 86

Sidney Lumet, June 25, 1924 - April 9, 2011

 Sidney Lumet, probably the greatest director of the American crime drama, has died Saturday night at the age of 86 in his home in Manhattan.

Lumet, who was nominated for the best director Oscar on four separate occasions between the late 50s and early 80s and who received an honorary Academy Award in 2005, suffered from lymphoma.

Born in Philadelphia to two Yiddish stage performers, Lumet served as a radar repair man in the second world war before directing theater productions in New York. This apprenticeship would form the basis for his later screen career. Lumet typically corralled his actors through a lengthy rehearsal period and then shot the film at speed. He made his feature debut with the acclaimed 12 Angry Men, a claustrophobic courtroom drama that starred Henry Fonda as a rogue juror.

Lumet's preferred location was the cauldron of inner-city New York and his favored subject matter tended to be the porous line between order and criminality. Many of his most famous movies - The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict - stand as tense, earthy morality plays. But the director also took the occasional detour along the way, as evidenced by his plush version of Murder on the Orient Express, his Oscar-winning media satire Network, or 1978's The Wiz, a Motown musical update of The Wizard of Oz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

Lumet, whose career spanned six decades and more than 50 films, never won ans Oscar, although he was nominated four times as best director. 

"All I want is to get better and quantity can help me solve my problems," he once admitted. "I'm thrilled by the idea that I'm not even sure how many films I've done. If I don't have a script I adore, I do the one I like. If I don't have one I like, I do one that has an actor I like or that presents some technical challenge." 

Along the way, he worked with the likes of Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman and Al Pacino.

Lumet took a memorable final bow with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" - an acclaimed crime saga that proved its creator was still a force to be reckoned with. "The veteran director Sidney Lumet may be 84 years old," wrote Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw in January 2008. "But in this superb heist thriller, he breaks out the shocks - and the twists - with the ferocity of a hungry youngster."

Article source here

When We Were Kids

It started when we were little kids.
Free spirits, but already
tormented by our own hands
given to us by our parents.
We got together and wrote on desks
and slept in laundry rooms near snowy mountains
and slipped through whatever
cracks we could find,
minds altered, we didn't falter
in portraying hysterical and
tragic characters in a smog
filled universe.
We loved the dirty city
and the journeys away from it.
We had not yet been or seen our friends, selves,
chase tails round and round in downward spirals,
leaving trail of irretrievable,
vital life juice behind...

By Anthony Kiedis (Scar Tissue)

Image by Vivian Maier