Friday, March 20, 2015

Tomgram: William Astore, Groundhog Day in the War on Terror

It was August 2, 1990, and Saddam Hussein, formerly Washington’s man in Baghdad and its ally against fundamentalist Iran, had just sent his troops across the border into oil-rich Kuwait.  It would prove a turning point in American Middle East policy. Six days later, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was dispatched to Saudi Arabia as the vanguard of what the U.S. Army termed “the largest deployment of American troops since Vietnam.” The rest of the division would soon follow as part of Operation Desert Storm, which was supposed to drive Saddam’s troops from Kuwait and fell the Iraqi autocrat.  The division’s battle cry: "The road home... is through Baghdad!”

In fact, while paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne penetrated deep into Iraq in the 100-day campaign that followed, no American soldier would make it to the Iraqi capital -- not that time around, anyway.  After the quick triumph of the Gulf War, the Airborne's paratroops instead returned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  And that, it seemed, was the end of the matter, victory parades and all.  Naturally, the soldiers using that battle cry did not have the advantage of history.  They had no way of knowing that it would have been more accurate to chant something like: “The road home always leads back to Baghdad!”  After all, when the First Gulf War ended in the crushing defeat of Saddam’s forces and he nonetheless remained in power, the stage was set for the invasion that began Iraq War 2.0 a dozen years later.  Perhaps you still remember that particular “mission accomplished” moment.
In the course of that invasion, the 82nd Airborne would conduct “sustained combat operations throughout Iraq.”  Once the occupation of the country began, paratroopers from the division would return to Iraq in August 2003 to, as an Army website puts it, “continue command and control over combat operations in and around Baghdad.”  In other words, they were tasked with repressing the insurgency that had broken out after the Bush administration disbanded the Iraqi military and banned Saddam’s Baath Party, putting so many armed and trained Iraqis out on the streets, jobless and angry.  As it happened, parts of the 82nd would redeploy to Iraq again and again until, in 2011, its 2nd Brigade Combat Team was “the last brigade combat team to pull out of Iraq and successfully relinquished responsibility [for] Anbar Province to the Iraqi government.” Then, homeward they went (yet again) and that, of course, should have been that.
But that, as Dr. Seuss might have written, wasn’t the end of it; oh no, it wasn’t the end. Just this week, with Iraq War 3.0 (and Syria War 1.0) underway, it was announced that the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne, 1,000 paratroopers, was being dispatched to -- you guessed it -- Iraq to train up the woeful, partially collapsed, previously American-trained and -armed (to the tune of $25 billion) Iraqi Army.  By now, it should be evident that there’s a pattern here for those who care to notice.  And with this in mind, TomDispatch has called back to the colors one of our regulars, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, to explore the strange repetitiveness of American war-making in these years.  Like the 82nd Airborne, he’s been on this “road home” beforeTom
War Is the New Normal 
Seven Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist 
By William J. Astore
It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.  Pentagon insiders called it “the long war,” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent.  It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation of that disaster as well.  Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day” kind of repetition.  Just when you thought it was over (IraqAfghanistan), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again.
Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition.  Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch on the seven reasons why America can’t stop making war.  More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America.  In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).
1.  The privatization of war: The U.S. military’s recourse to private contractors has strengthened the profit motive for war-making and prolonged wars as well.  Unlike the citizen-soldiers of past eras, the mobilized warrior corporations of America’s new mercenary moment -- the Halliburton/KBRs (nearly $40 billion in contracts for the Iraq War alone), the DynCorps ($4.1 billion to train 150,000 Iraqi police), and the Blackwater/Xe/Academis ($1.3 billion in Iraq, along with boatloads of controversy) -- have no incentive to demobilize.  Like most corporations, their business model is based on profit through growth, and growth is most rapid when wars and preparations for more of them are the favored options in Washington. 
"Freedom isn’t free," as a popular conservative bumper sticker puts it, and neither is war.  My father liked the saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and today’s mercenary corporations have been calling for a lot of military marches piping in $138 billion in contracts for Iraq alone, according to the Financial Times.  And if you think that the privatization of war must at least reduce government waste, think again: the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in 2011 that fraud, waste, and abuse accounted for up to $60 billion of the money spent in Iraq alone.
To corral American-style war, the mercenaries must be defanged or deflated.  European rulers learned this the hard way during the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century.  At that time, powerful mercenary captains like Albrecht von Wallenstein ran amok.  Only Wallenstein’s assassination and the assertion of near absolutist powers by monarchs bent on curbing war before they went bankrupt finally brought the mercenaries to heel, a victory as hard won as it was essential to Europe’s survival and eventual expansion.  (Europeans then exported their wars to foreign shores, but that’s another story.)
2.  The embrace of the national security state by both major parties: Jimmy Carter was the last president to attempt to exercise any kind of control over the national security state.  A former Navy nuclear engineer who had served under the demanding Admiral Hyman Rickover, Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber and fought for a U.S. foreign policy based on human rights.  Widely pilloried for talking about nuclear war with his young daughter Amy, Carter was further attacked for being “weak” on defense.  His defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 inaugurated 12 years of dominance by Republican presidents that opened the financial floodgates for the Department of Defense.  That taught Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council a lesson when it came to the wisdom of wrapping the national security state in a welcoming embrace, which they did, however uncomfortably.  This expedient turn to the right by the Democrats in the Clinton years served as a temporary booster shot when it came to charges of being “soft” on defense -- until Republicans upped the ante by going “all-in” on military crusades in the aftermath of 9/11.
Since his election in 2008, Barack Obama has done little to alter the course set by his predecessors.  He, too, has chosen not to challenge Washington’s prevailing catechism of war.  Republicans have responded, however, not by muting their criticism, but by upping the ante yet again.  How else to explain House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March?  That address promises to be a pep talk for the Republicans, as well as a smack down of the Obama administration and its “appeasenik” policies toward Iran and Islamic radicalism.

Serious oversight, let alone opposition to the national security state by Congress or a mainstream political party, has been missing in action for years and must now, in the wake of the Senate Torture Report fiasco (from which the CIA emerged stronger, not weaker), be presumed dead.  The recent midterm election triumph of Republican war hawks and the prospective lineup of candidates for president in 2016 does not bode well when it comes to reining in the national security state in any foreseeable future.
3.  “Support Our Troops” as a substitute for thought. You’ve seen them everywhere: “Support Our Troops” stickers.  In fact, the “support” in that slogan generally means acquiescence when it comes to American-style war.  The truth is that we’ve turned the all-volunteer military into something like a foreign legion, deploying it again and again to our distant battle zones and driving it into the ground in wars that amount to strategic folly.  Instead of admitting their mistakes, America’s leaders have worked to obscure them by endlessly overpraising our “warriors” as so many universal heroes.  This may salve our collective national conscience, but it’s a form of cheap grace that saves no lives -- and wins no wars.
Instead, this country needs to listen more carefully to its troops, especially the war critics who have risked their lives while fighting overseas.  Organizations like Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace are good places to start. 
4.  Fighting a redacted war.  War, like the recent Senate torture report, is redacted in America.  Its horrors and mistakes are suppressed, its patriotic whistleblowers punished, even as the American people are kept in a demobilized state.  The act of going to war no longer represents the will of the people, as represented by formal Congressional declarations of war as the U.S. Constitution demands.  Instead, in these years, Americans were told to go to Disney World (as George W. Bush suggested in the wake of 9/11) and keep shopping.  They’re encouraged not to pay too much attention to war’s casualties and costs, especially when those costs involve foreigners with funny-sounding names (after all, they are, as American sniper Chris Kyle so indelicately put it in his book, just “savages”).
Redacted war hides the true cost of a permanent state of killing from the American people, if not from foreign observers. Ignorance and apathy reign, even as a national security state that is essentially a shadow government equates its growth with your safety.    
5.  Threat inflation: There’s nothing new about threat inflation.  We saw plenty of it during the Cold War (nonexistent missile and bomber gaps, for example).  Fear sells and we’ve had quite a dose of it in the twenty-first century, from ISIS to Ebola.  But a more important truth is that fear is a mind-killer, a debate-stifler.
Back in September, for example, Senator Lindsey Graham warned that ISIS and its radical Islamic army was coming to America to kill us all.  ISIS, of course, is a regional power with no ability to mount significant operations against the United States.  But fear is so commonplace, so effectively stoked in this country that Americans routinely and wildly exaggerate the threat posed by al-Qaeda or ISIS or the bogeyman du jour.
Decades ago, as a young lieutenant in the Air Force, I was hunkered down in Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War.  It was the ultimate citadel-cum-bomb-shelter, and those in it were believed to have a 70% likelihood of surviving a five-megaton nuclear blast.  There, not surprisingly, I found myself contemplating the very real possibility of a thermonuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, a war that would have annihilated life as we knew it, indeed much of life on our planet thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter.  You’ll excuse me for not shaking in my boots at the threat of ISIS coming to get me.  Or of Sharia Law coming to my local town hall.  With respect to such fears, America needs, as Hillary Clinton said in an admittedly different context, to “grow a pair.”      
6.  Defining the world as a global battlefield: In fortress America, all realms have by now become battle spheres.  Not only much of the planet, the seas, air, and space, as well as the country’s borders and its increasingly up-armored police forces, but the world of thought, the insides of our minds. Think of the 17 intertwined intelligence outfits in “the U.S. Intelligence Community” and their ongoing “surge” for information dominance across every mode of human communication, as well as the surveillance of everything.  And don’t forget the national security state’s leading role in making cyberwar a reality. (Indeed, Washington launched the first cyberwar in history by deploying the Stuxnet computer worm against Iran.)
Think of all this as a global matrix that rests on war, empowering disaster capitalism and the corporate complexes that have formed around the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and that intelligence community. A militarized matrix doesn’t blink at $1.45 trillion dollars devoted to the F-35, a single under-performing jet fighter, nor at projections of $355 billion over the next decade for “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, weapons that Barack Obama vowed to abolish in 2009. 
7.  The new "normal" in America is war: The 9/11 attacks happened more than 13 years ago, which means that no teenagers in America can truly remember a time when the country was at peace.  "War time" is their normal; peace, a fairy tale.
What’s truly “exceptional” in twenty-first-century America is any articulated vision of what a land at peace with itself and other nations might be like.  Instead, war, backed by a diet of fear, is the backdrop against which the young have grown to adulthood.  It’s the background noise of their world, so much a part of their lives that they hardly recognize it for what it is.  And that’s the most insidious danger of them all.
How do we inoculate our children against such a permanent state of war and the war state itself?  I have one simple suggestion: just stop it.  All of it.  Stop making war a never-ending part of our lives and stop celebrating it, too.  War should be the realm of the extreme, of the abnormal.  It should be the death of normalcy, not the dreary norm.
It’s never too soon, America, to enlist in that good fight!
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. His D.Phil. is in Modern History from the University of Oxford. He’s just plain tired of war and would like to see the next politician braying for it be deployed with a rifle to the front lines of battle. He edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 William J. Astore

Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome


Jennifer A. Doudna, an inventor of a new genome-editing technique, in her office at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Doudna is the lead author of an article calling for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the new method, to give scientists, ethicists and the public time to fully understand the issues surrounding the breakthrough. Credit Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times
A group of leading biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.
The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.
“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the topic was published in the journal Science.
Ethicists, for decades, have been concerned about the dangers of altering the human germline — meaning to make changes to human sperm, eggs or embryos that will last through the life of the individual and be passed on to future generations. Until now, these worries have been theoretical. But a technique invented in 2012 makes it possible to edit the genome precisely and with much greater ease. The technique has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.
The technique holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene. “It raises the most fundamental of issues about how we are going to view our humanity in the future and whether we are going to take the dramatic step of modifying our own germline and in a sense take control of our genetic destiny, which raises enormous peril for humanity,” said George Q. Daley, a stem cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the group.
The biologists writing in Science support continuing laboratory research with the technique, and few if any scientists believe it is ready for clinical use. Any such use is tightly regulated in the United States and Europe. American scientists, for instance, would have to present a plan to treat genetic diseases in the human germline to the Food and Drug Administration.
The paper’s authors, however, are concerned about countries that have less regulation in science. They urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germline genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”
Though such a moratorium would not be legally enforceable and might seem unlikely to exert global influence, there is a precedent. In 1975, scientists worldwide were asked to refrain from using a method for manipulating genes, the recombinant DNA technique, until rules had been established.
“We asked at that time that nobody do certain experiments, and in fact nobody did, to my knowledge,” said Dr. Baltimore, who was a member of the 1975 group. “So there is a moral authority you can assert from the U.S., and that is what we hope to do.”
Recombinant DNA was the first in a series of ever-improving steps for manipulating genetic material. The chief problem has always been one of accuracy, of editing the DNA at precisely the intended site, since any off-target change could be lethal. Two recent methods, known as zinc fingers and TAL effectors, came close to the goal of accurate genome editing, but both are hard to use. The new genome-editing approach was invented by Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden.
Their method, known by the acronym Crispr-Cas9, co-opts the natural immune system with which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear. Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will then destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it. Dr. Doudna is the lead author of the Science article calling for control of the technique and organized the meeting at which the statement was developed.
Though highly efficient, the technique occasionally cuts the genome at unintended sites. The issue of how much mistargeting could be tolerated in a clinical setting is one that Dr. Doudna’s group wants to see thoroughly explored before any human genome is edited.
Scientists also say that replacing a defective gene with a normal one may seem entirely harmless but perhaps would not be.
“We worry about people making changes without the knowledge of what those changes mean in terms of the overall genome,” Dr. Baltimore said. “I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won’t be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual.”

Many ethicists have accepted the idea of gene therapy, changes that die with the patient, but draw a clear line at altering the germline, since these will extend to future generations. The British Parliament in February approved the transfer of mitochondria, small DNA-containing organelles, to human eggs whose own mitochondria are defective. But that technique is less far-reaching because no genes are edited.
There are two broad schools of thought on modifying the human germline, said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Doudna group. One is pragmatic and seeks to balance benefit and risk. The other “sets up inherent limits on how much humankind should alter nature,” she said. Some Christian doctrines oppose the idea of playing God, whereas in Judaism and Islam there is the notion “that humankind is supposed to improve the world.” She described herself as more of a pragmatist, saying, “I would try to regulate such things rather than shut a new technology down at its beginning.”
Other scientists agree with the Doudna group’s message. “It is very clear that people will try to do gene editing in humans,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., who was not a member of the Doudna group. “This paper calls for a moratorium on any clinical application, which I believe is the right thing to do.”
Writing in Nature last week, Edward Lanphier and other scientists involved in developing the rival zinc finger technique for genome editing also called for a moratorium on human germline modification, saying that use of current technologies would be “dangerous and ethically unacceptable.”
The International Society for Stem Cell Research said Thursday that it supported the proposed moratorium.
The Doudna group calls for public discussion, but is also working to develop some more formal process, such as an international meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences, to establish guidelines for human use of the genome-editing technique.
“We need some principled agreement that we want to enhance humans in this way or we don’t,” Dr. Jaenisch said. “You have to have this discussion because people are gearing up to do this.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Look, Your Eyes Are Wired Backwards: Here’s Why

| by Erez Ribak
Photo credit: The retina captures light signals and sends them to the brain. from
The human eye is optimised to have good colour vision at day and high sensitivity at night. But until recently it seemed as if the cells in the retina were wired the wrong way round, with light travelling through a mass of neurons before it reaches the light-detecting rod and cone cells. New research presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society has uncovered a remarkable vision-enhancing function for this puzzling structure.

Section through the retina and its layers. Labin/Safuri/Perlman/Ribak/Nature
About a century ago, the fine structure of the retina was discovered. The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye, lining the inside of the eyeball. The back of the retina contains cones to sense the colours red, green and blue. Spread among the cones are rods, which are much more light-sensitive than cones, but which are colour-blind.
Before arriving at the cones and rods, light must traverse the full thickness of the retina, with its layers of neurons and cell nuclei. These neurons process the image information and transmit it to the brain, but until recently it has not been clear why these cells lie in front of the cones and rods, not behind them. This is a long-standing puzzle, even more so since the same structure, of neurons before light detectors, exists in all vertebrates, showing evolutionary stability.
Researchers in Leipzig found that glial cells, which also span the retinal depth and connect to the cones, have an interesting attribute. These cells are essential for metabolism, but they are also denser than other cells in the retina. In the transparent retina, this higher density (and corresponding refractive index) means that glial cells can guide light, just like fibre-optic cables.
Selective Vision
In view of this, my colleague Amichai Labin and I built a model of the retina, and showed that the directional of glial cells helps increase the clarity of human vision. But we also noticed something rather curious: the colours that best passed through the glial cells were green to red, which the eye needs most for daytime vision. The eye usually receives too much blue – and thus has fewer blue-sensitive cones.
Further computer simulations showed that green and red are concentrated five to ten times more by the glial cells, and into their respective cones, than blue light. Instead, excess blue light gets scattered to the surrounding rods.
This surprising result of the simulation now needed an experimental proof. With colleagues at the Technion Medical School, we tested how light crosses guinea pig retinas. Like humans, these animals are active during the day and their retinal structure has been well-characterised, which allowed us to simulate their eyes just as we had done for humans. Then we passed light through their retinas and, at the same time, scanned them with a microscope in three dimensions. This we did for 27 colours in the visible spectrum.

Beady-eyed guinea pigs make great…well… guinea pigs, for optical research Jg4817CC BY-SA
The result was easy to notice: in each layer of the retina we saw that the light was not scattered evenly, but concentrated in a few spots. These spots were continued from layer to layer, thus creating elongated columns of light leading from the entrance of the retina down to the cones at the detection layer. Light was concentrated in these columns up to ten times, compared to the average intensity.
Even more interesting was the fact that the colours that were best guided by the glial cells matched nicely with the colours of the cones. The cones are not as sensitive as the rods, so this additional light allowed them to function better – even under lower light levels. Meanwhile, the bluer light, that was not well-captured in the glial cells, was scattered onto the rods in its vicinity.
These results mean that the retina of the eye has been optimised so that the sizes and densities of glial cells match the colours to which the eye is sensitive (which is in itself an optimisation process suited to our needs). This optimisation is such that colour vision during the day is enhanced, while night-time vision suffers very little. The effect also works best when the pupils are contracted at high illumination, further adding to the clarity of our colour vision.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China achieves breakthrough in pulse weapons technology /

Directed-energy weapons are said to be the future of advanced technological warfare. (Internet photo)
Directed-energy weapons are said to be the future of advanced technological warfare. (Internet photo)
China has achieved a technological breakthrough that could help introduce pulse weapons to the People's Liberation Army's arsenal, reports the Global Times, a tabloid under the auspices of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.
According to the report, the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has successfully developed a third-generation X-ray pulsar simulation source. The technology, which can create an X-ray pulsar source in X-ray tubes to generate arbitrary waveform pulses, officially passed evaluation tests on Jan. 17.
The evaluation committee found that the creation's performance indicators were at an advanced international level and concluded that it is an advanced technology with original and practical applications that could lead to important economic and social benefits.
An X-ray pulsar consists of a magnetized neutron star in orbit with a normal stellar companion and is a type of binary star system. They are a class of astronomical objects that are X-ray sources displaying strict periodic variations in X-ray intensity with ranges that can vary from microseconds to several minutes.
As a natural beacon, X-ray pulsars have important applications in aerospace, astronomy, science and engineering. In terms of military applications, simulated X-ray pulsars may help China develop new weapons that can challenge America's dominance in the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons sphere.
Traditional non-nuclear EMPs weapons produce a short burst of electromagnetic energy to disrupt or damage electronic equipment. Nuclear EMP weapons, which have been dubbed "the second atomic bomb," have a much wider range of impact as they produce an abrupt pulse of electromagnetic radiation resulting from a nuclear explosion. The electromagnetic pulse from non-nuclear EMP weapons come from within the weapon, while nuclear weapons generate EMP as a secondary effect. In terms of military applications, a nuclear EMP would be delivered via a nuclear warhead detonated hundreds of kilometers above the Earth's surface.
EMP weapons have begun to find more practical applications in top militaries around the world. During the 1991 Gulf War, the US carried and used EMP weapons on its E-8 Joint Stars aircraft to disrupt electronic command systems, which international analysts believe was one of the main advantages the US had over its enemy. In July 1992, high-powered microwave weapons were named as one of six key future arms technologies by the US Congress, with the US Navy, Army and Air Force each putting forth a high-powered microwave weapons development plan.
In March 1999, the US used microwave weapons during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, causing communication in certain areas to be disrupted for more than three hours. EMP weapons were then used to sever Iraqi state television broadcast signals in March 2003 during the Iraq War.
Apart from the US and Russia, countries developing high-powered microwave weapons include England, France, Germany and Japan.

March 20 Supermoon and Solar Eclipse

March 20, Supermoon and Solar Eclipse

Magick is afoot – Change is at hand

The Community is a BUZZ with the March 20th Equinox Solar Eclipse and Supermoon

The universe will be gracing us with some substantial power on March 20th. I have been reading about this unique New Moon hoping to give you some tasty tidbits to chew on before March 20th. What does this unique occurrence mean? How can we harness the power? For what can/should we use this energy?

This is the beginning of ANYTHING you want!

The Sun, Moon, and Earth will be exquisitely aligned on this day bringing us substantial energy. Many feel the energy building. I have been feeling it for days, and it feels good. Although, to some it may feel unsettling. Rightly so, this energy is all about transformation. Those of us who are seeking change and a new beginning, we should not allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers. It would seem that everything is in place, and all we need to do is show up and be specifically present.
New moon energy is well known and valued for its association with spring, new beginnings, and change. The new/dark moon symbolizes the inkling of an idea, and new projects or goals. It can also help remove obstacles. The spring equinox holds many of the same energies. When the sun, earth, and moon align perfectly in this rare phenomenon, you can bet there will be power to spare.

Moon Phase Chart
The New or sometimes called Dark Moon is filled with opposite energy compared to a full moon. Just as Samhain is the counter balance to Beltane, the dark moon in counter to the full moon. This contrast brings us in balance as we follow moon cycles and practice our craft accordingly.

Some feel the dark or new moon is dark energy, and should be used with caution. To be realistic, all energy should be used with caution. Energy is energy, it has no positive or negative predilections. Our intentions are what make the energy positive vs negative. You determine the type or personality of energy you bring to the party.
If you were to look at the energy of the dark or new moon in a neutral sense, it appears to have a pulling force rather than radiating energy. The full moon, to me feels more radiant as it reflects the sun’s light and shines upon us. Of course the full moon has its own vacuum like energy, as it beckons and pulls the tides, but it not the same as the dark moon. The dark moon’s energy pulls things away from us, in a subtle fashion, it’s more ghostly if you will. It is certainly more elusive.
When combined with the equinox, and a solar eclipse you can bet this energy will be felt intensely. This moon will unlock it cloaked energy and be felt with intensity. The energy generated by this rare phenomenon will be concentrated. Energy as intense as this will undoubtedly be challenging to handle.
I have a personal example for you, of how one should use caution with intense Magickal energy. Years ago, when I was a cocky newb, I thought I could handle intense Magickal energy on my own. To be honest I can’t remember the ritual or the purpose of it. All I remember is that I was completely unprepared.
Once manifested, this energy came to me in the form of giant white dragon and it literally knocked me on my ass. My knees buckled and my head was swimming. I was so distraught I could not ground my energy. On the verge of vomiting, I managed to make it outside where I could lay on the soil and grass. It took me about an hour to recover enough to stand up. The entire day after, I had a splitting headache with no relief. I learned my lesson, and I now take great care when dealing with intense energy.
You might want to have a certain level of Magickal or energetic endurance if you plan to raise a significant amount of energy on March 20th. This is no game or novelty, if you dabble, you will get knocked on your butt too. This may be a time when practicing with a friend or group is ideal.
Take time to prepare yourself. Meditate, and do some inner spiritual work before you work with this moon. You will also want to make sure you are taking appropriate measures to ensure your body is in good condition. Stretch your muscles, make sure you are well hydrated, and not sick or feeling tired. These measures can help you greatly. I can only imagine how much worse my experience could have been if I was not well hydrated, and in good physical condition.

Summoning assistance

One last note: The March 20th Supermoon is in Pisces. This means you can call to aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures for assistance. Think of mermaids, sirens, frogs, dragon flies, water dragons, water nymphs, fish, dolphins & whales, and more. These creatures will be especially strong as they, like Pisces, are ruled by Neptune/Poseidon.
Pisces and water are one together, obviously… So water will be something you will want to have on hand. You can use this moon to create Sacred Water just as you might under the full moon. This will help you summon the power of this unique event when you cook, make tea, etc.
Now that we understand the potential here, what should we do about it? I can’t speak for you, or plan anything for you without knowing your personal needs. But, I will share with you the ritual I have planned. Feel free to use this as inspiration for your own ritual for change during this momentous opportunity.

Ostara Supermoon Charging spell

I plan to use this moon’s energy to infuse one of my favorite necklaces with specific energy related to my own goals and needs. You can do the same with a few personal modifications to suite your needs. This particular necklace was a gift from my sister-in-law and I adore it. It is ideal because it is made of silver, and in the image of the goddess. It could not be more perfect.
You can choose any piece of jewelry or item you prefer for your working. You only need one item, but I know of many people who will be charging as many items as they can. One friend plans to haul her alter outside and placing upon it anything and everything possible.
Keep in mind that this moon is all about change, so the energy you infuse into your objects will reflect change. Use caution and remain absolutely focused during your working.
3 days prior… Wash your item or items well with water, soap, etc. If you have items that are silver polish them with baking soda, water, and a soft cloth. This will make them nice and shiny.
Place your item(s) in salt for 3 days. I have my necklace in a glass jar filled with salt and capped with a cork.
One the evening of Supermoon; set up your altar out in an area where the moon light normally touches. This will be a little difficult to judge because the dark or new moon is well… dark. So use spaces that are open to the sky or find areas in your home/yard where you know moonlight touches.
Cover your table/surface with cloth. I like to cover my table in black cloth for most moon rituals. However, you can choose colors related to new beginnings, change, and growth. Pastels, yellow, orange, and even green will work nicely. A white cloth would also be very suiting as it can symbolize the contract of the full moon to balance the energies of the dark/new moon.
Arrange your item or items on you surface so that nothing over laps, and everything is exposed to the moon. Light a few candles if you feel the need, and prep your sacred space as you see fit. Once you are settled, you can begin focusing on your needs and desires for this unique energy.
Here is where your own words and energy come in. Here is where your focus and intent needs to be specific and unbroken. I cannot form the words for you. This has to be all you, as I am not privy to your personal needs/desires. Only you know your needs, and only you can fully articulate your needs to the universe. What you say does not have to be clever or even rhythm. It only has to be genuine and filled with your essence.
Energy follows focus! You must be in it 110%!** Take some time now before the event to write down your needs and desires as they relate to your life and needs. Remember change is the theme here.
Stand or sit at your altar. You will want to be very comfortable as you might be here for a while.
Clearly envision in your mind’s eye, the area or areas in your life where you need to see change. Perhaps you are already in the middle of project and you need to pull away some obstacles so progress can be attained. Your intent may be centered on a bad habit that needs to change, or a false mind set, etc. Just remember to be clear.
Hold your item and picture your needs clearly. See change happening. See the benefits manifesting. See yourself reaching your goals, see justice being served, and all your needs being met. See yourself receiving just rewards for your hard work. Feel how good it feels to be fulfilled and happy. Bask in the warm glow of this bliss. If you have words prepared, you should speak them now.
Let this energy flow just under your skin. Feel it prickle and tingle as it moves into your hands and fingers. Allow this energy to be free and grow in strength. If unhindered it will have its own intensity. This is where you will need your stamina. Do not try to hold it back or control it. Just allow it to manifest and develop. Your spiritual and emotional endurance will determine how much of this energy you can house before you will need to release it. When the threshold is met, release into the object. Hold nothing back.  
Repeat this for each object. If your needs and intentions differ from one object to another that is okay, just be focused and specific each time you restart the process with a new item. As you can imagine, this mounting and flow of energy can exhaust you quickly. Don’t overdo it. This is why I choose to only focus on one item.
When you are finished with your item or items, leave it/them to soak up the moon’s power. DO NOT dwell on the working or the energy raised. You do not want to call it back to you. Fully let it go. Just leave your item(s) and walk away.
In the morning (you will want to do this before the sun rises), remove your items and place them in black cloth. Store them away until their use is required. Or if you plan to use your item(s) right away do so. Close your scared space and clean everything up.
Now! You have some thinking and planning to do. This is an exciting occasion and I hope you will make the most of it. Just remember to be focused, specific, and ready for change.  Don’t feel like you have to do anything exactly as I instructed here. This event is up to you. No one can give you a cookie cutter mold to follow. There are no guarantees. All you can do is make the best effort and stay positive. I hope this helps inspire you and it helps lead you to the results you need.
Blessed Be!
**This is my disclaimer and warning about performing spells for change. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL and be extremely clear in what you want to manifest. Many times dramatic change is necessary in order to get our butts moving in the right direction. Sometimes we need that slap in the face to make us realize our path. All change spells have the potential to turn your life completely upside down and backward. This is especially true when we, as practitioners, are blind to our true path, or when we are in denial about what we really should/need to be doing. This is also true when we are vague in our requests for change. Sometimes the road we need to travel is not easy. Prepare yourself for anything and be specific about needs/desires. If you are resistant to change you should not perform a working during this event. As I mentioned, energy follows focus. You’re your focus must be clear and undistracted. This phenomenon promises to be especially intense I am certain it will have a strong cause and effect.  Expect the unexpected and prepare yourself for transformation.
© 2015, The Magick Kitchen

Severe Geomagnetic Storm & Flares Causing Widespread Sleep Disturbances & Other Human Health Effects

Last week on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 the Sun blasted us with a direct hit from a powerful solar flare that wiped out a huge amount of radio communication, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Mike Wall of writes: “The Wednesday flare registered as an X2.2 sun storm on the scale used to measure solar tempests. Scientists classify strong solar flares into three categories: C, M and X, with C being the weakest, M being mid-level and X the strongest. X flares are 10 times more powerful than M flares. X2 and X3 flares are twice and three times as potent, respectively, as X1 flares.”

And just a few hours ago NOAA reported that Earth is currently being slammed by the grandaddy of all solar storms — a monster X4-class storm — the biggest of all. “An X4 (Severe) geomagnetic storm was observed today at 9:58 am EDT. This is the response to a pair of CMEs observed leaving the Sun [two days prior] on 15 March.”
Today’s monster geomagnetic storm, and the explosion of solar flares and coronal mass ejections over the past week, have been wreaking havoc on people’s moods, sleeping patterns, and a host of other human health effects. Many people are experiencing disturbances with their circadian rhythms, waking up around 2am and having trouble getting back to sleep. “Solar storms desynchronize our circadian rhythm (biological clock). The pineal gland in our brain is affected by the electromagnetic activity, and [solar storms cause] the gland to produce excess melatonin, the brain’s built in ‘downer’ that helps us sleep. ‘The circadian regulatory system depends on repeated environmental cues to [synchronize] internal clocks,’ says psychiatrist Kelly Posner, Columbia University. ‘Magnetic fields may be one of these environmental cues.’ ”
The type of intense solar activity we’ve been experiencing this week can have serious effects on: the central nervous system, the stomach lining, all brain activity (including equilibrium), along with human behavior and all psycho-physiological (mental-emotional-physical) responses. This can manifest as nervousness, anxiety, worrisomeness, the jitters, dizziness, shakiness, irritability, lethargy, exhaustion, short term memory problems, heart palpitations, nausea, queasiness, prolonged head pressure, and headaches.
Chaotic and erratic behavior also results from intense solar activity, and emergency rooms consistently observe increased accidents, as well as injuries from acts of violence during these periods. Experts have even linked powerful solar activity to much more serious patterns in human violence. “During solar minimums and maximums the geomagnetic fields begin to intensify. The magnetic fields interact electrochemically within the human brain. It affects psychological mechanisms creating anomalous hormonal swings and significantly mutated brainwave activity. Wheeler expanded on Chishevsky’s work by studying violence; measuring the time between battles and severity. These findings were compared with the Sun’s 11-year sunspot cycle. The results showed that as the Sun cycle peaked, there was a rise in human unrest, uprisings, rebellions, revolutions, and wars between nations. As Wheeler further compared his findings with human history, he found a startling pattern that could be traced back 2,500 years.”
There’s no telling whether Edward Norton was suffering the ravage of a geomagnetic storm when he was filming this scene from the 2003 film 25th Hour, but millions of folks woke up this morning in exactly the same mood as him thanks to the Sun’s extreme activity these days. You can learn more about the storm and the flares, including video of the event, by visiting NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.