Category: Philosophy

Larry the guide dog!

Serendipity at work!

Yesterday morning while sitting up in bed I was browsing the internet on my iPad. I looked up TED Talks and fancied watching the story of Mark Pollock and Simone George. It turned out to be 19 minutes of incredible viewing and it is reproduced below as a YouTube video.

Towards the end Mark refers to his guide dog Larry. More of that later.

First watch the video.

It is a most amazing talk.

Next I wanted to research some more.

First I found Mark’s website that is here.

Then I came across a comprehensive entry on WikiPedia. From which the following is taken:

Pollock enrolled in a course to help come to terms with his disability. He left for Dublin with his guide dog Larry and began putting himself forward for job interviews. Prospective employers were uncertain as to how to approach him. Eventually the father of one of his college friends assigned him to organising corporate entertainment. He returned to rowing and won bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships. He engaged in other athletic pursuits, including running six marathons in seven days with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert, China in 2003 when he raised tens of thousands of euro for the charity Sightsavers International. On 10 April 2004, he competed in the North Pole Marathon on the sixth anniversary of his blindness.

Then I discovered that Larry had died: “My great mate Larry The Guide Dog died on Sunday night. An amazing Guide Dog and amazing friend.”.

He died on the 2nd May, 2010 just a couple of months before Mark’s terrible accident.

Finally a photograph of Mark and Larry!

Who do you rely on most? When I was just blind, it was my guide dog Larry who empowered me to live life independently.”

The words of Mark Pollock.

What an inspiration he must be to so many!

The big question!

That I wonder if it will ever be answered?

For the first day of September I wanted to change the topic to an item that was recently published by The Conversation.

Space has always been fascinating to me. One of my enduring memories was standing on the roof of my Land Rover in 1969 during a long journey around the interior of Australia. We were in the Nullabor desert and it was flat, and lonely, for miles and miles. This particular night I clambered up onto the roof and just took in the night sky. There was not a single spot of human-caused light pollution and the night sky was beautiful beyond words.

Later on when I was sailing I used to regard the North Star as my friend.

Anyway, here’s a little question for this day.

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Does outer space end – or go on forever?

It can stretch your mind to ponder what’s really out there. Stijn Dijkstra/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jack Singal, University of Richmond


What is beyond outer space? – Siah, age 11, Fremont, California


Right above you is the sky – or as scientists would call it, the atmosphere. It extends about 20 miles (32 kilometers) above the Earth. Floating around the atmosphere is a mixture of molecules – tiny bits of air so small you take in billions of them every time you breathe.

Above the atmosphere is space. It’s called that because it has far fewer molecules, with lots of empty space between them.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel to outer space – and then keep going? What would you find? Scientists like me are able to explain a lot of what you’d see. But there are some things we don’t know yet, like whether space just goes on forever.

Planets, stars and galaxies

At the beginning of your trip through space, you might recognize some of the sights. The Earth is part of a group of planets that all orbit the Sun – with some orbiting asteroids and comets mixed in, too.

A diagram of the solar system, showing the sun and its orbiting planets.
A familiar neighborhood. Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

You might know that the Sun is actually just an average star, and looks bigger and brighter than the other stars only because it is closer. To get to the next nearest star, you would have to travel through trillions of miles of space. If you could ride on the fastest space probe NASA has ever made, it would still take you thousands of years to get there.

If stars are like houses, then galaxies are like cities full of houses. Scientists estimate there are 100 billion stars in Earth’s galaxy. If you could zoom out, way beyond Earth’s galaxy, those 100 billion stars would blend together – the way lights of city buildings do when viewed from an airplane.

Recently astronomers have learned that many or even most stars have their own orbiting planets. Some are even like Earth, so it’s possible they might be home to other beings also wondering what’s out there.

An image showing detail of one galaxy, but visually implying there are many more.
A galaxy among many other galaxies. Michael Miller/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

You would have to travel through millions of trillions more miles of space just to reach another galaxy. Most of that space is almost completely empty, with only some stray molecules and tiny mysterious invisible particles scientists call “dark matter.”

Using big telescopes, astronomers see millions of galaxies out there – and they just keep going, in every direction.

If you could watch for long enough, over millions of years, it would look like new space is gradually being added between all the galaxies. You can visualize this by imagining tiny dots on a deflated balloon and then thinking about blowing it up. The dots would keep moving farther apart, just like the galaxies are.

Is there an end?

If you could keep going out, as far as you wanted, would you just keep passing by galaxies forever? Are there an infinite number of galaxies in every direction? Or does the whole thing eventually end? And if it does end, what does it end with?

These are questions scientists don’t have definite answers to yet. Many think it’s likely you would just keep passing galaxies in every direction, forever. In that case, the universe would be infinite, with no end.

Some scientists think it’s possible the universe might eventually wrap back around on itself – so if you could just keep going out, you would someday come back around to where you started, from the other direction.

One way to think about this is to picture a globe, and imagine that you are a creature that can move only on the surface. If you start walking any direction, east for example, and just keep going, eventually you would come back to where you began. If this were the case for the universe, it would mean it is not infinitely big – although it would still be bigger than you can imagine.

In either case, you could never get to the end of the universe or space. Scientists now consider it unlikely the universe has an end – a region where the galaxies stop or where there would be a barrier of some kind marking the end of space.

But nobody knows for sure. How to answer this question will need to be figured out by a future scientist.

Jack Singal, Associate Professor of Physics, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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“But nobody knows for sure. How to answer this question will need to be figured out by a future scientist.”

I wonder if that future scientist will ever be able to answer the question.

Then there’s the thought that the universe may be infinite. That is an astounding idea, that it goes on forever.

There’s only one way to close this post. With this photograph from Unsplash.

What is it that some dogs think of?

I love this item from The Dodo.

There are many things that we do not understand when it comes to dogs. Of course we love them but often we have no idea what they are thinking of.

That was accentuated in this recent story published by The Dodo.

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Dog Gets 350 Tennis Balls But Will Only Play With One Of Them

By Caitlin Jill Anders

Published on the 18th December, 2020.

She was so determined that there was something amazing at the bottom of the box, and couldn’t get to it quick enough.”

While Noora is a lazy bulldog at heart, she’s grown up around a bunch of Labs, so over time, she’s slowly become more and more fascinated with the concept of tennis balls.

“Noora has almost always had a tennis ball-obsessed Lab in the house with her, and while the concept of repetitively chasing a tennis ball makes no sense to her, she’s intrigued by the obsession with something she can’t eat,” Katie Swartout, Noora’s mom, told The Dodo.

 

Katie Swartout

Noora’s family definitely goes through a lot of balls, so when they recently found a great deal on a box of 350 tennis balls, everyone was pretty excited — including Noora. 

“Noora LOVES when packages come,” Swartout said. “It started with BarkBoxes coming to the door, and the queen of the house deciding that every box that comes must be for her! When this box came, Noora immediately started crying for joy, and doing everything she could to get into the box!” 

Katie Swartout

As her family opened the box, Noora got a little overexcited — and quickly dumped the entire box all over the living room floor. 

Instead of excitedly playing with every single ball, though, Noora dug her way to the bottom of the box, and found the one ball that she had apparently been looking for.  

“She was so determined that there was something amazing at the bottom of the box, and couldn’t get to it quick enough,” Swartout said. 

Katie Swartout

Once Noora had picked out her ball, and subsequently spilled the rest of them onto the floor, she refused to play with any of the others. Out of the 350 balls, there was only one that was meant for her. 

“For a few hours, Noora wanted nothing to do with any other ball or toy,” Swartout said. “She was very protective of ‘her ball’ and if any of the other dogs would come near, she made sure they were aware of who was boss!” 

Katie Swartout

For some reason, that one ball at the very bottom of the box was the only one Noora wanted, and she was completely confident in that decision. 

Eventually, though, Noora got bored of her coveted chosen ball and went on with her life — until she rediscovered the box. Then she got excited all over again. 

Katie Swartout

“Noora has moved on to other toys, demonstrating she has the attention span of a 3-year-old, but when she sees the bin of tennis balls in the garage now, she still gets as excited as she did when the box first arrived,” Swartout said.

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You see! We don’t really know what Noora is thinking of but that doesn’t take away for one moment the joy that Katie gets from Noora’s behaviour!

Dogs are such wonderful creatures!

A tribute

To my dear Pharaoh.

I was sorting through some papers over the weekend and I came across something that I wrote on the 14th September, 2007.

Let me explain.

2007 was a very important year for me. I had barely got over the fact that my ex-wife had walked out on me the previous December 20th but had been given the revelation that my fear of rejection had been brought into my conscious state after having been unconscious for 50 years. This was a fantastic outcome from just one visit to a local psychotherapist.

I had been out to California in the summer to see Dan. His sister, Suzanne, had called by and invited me to come to Mexico for Christmas. I was unaware that this trip to Mexico was to change my life for the better in every imaginable way!

Anyway, back to my writings.

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I am your dog and have something I would love to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead very busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise, some have to do this alone. It always seems like you are running here and there, often too fast, never noticing the truly grand things in life.

Look down at me now. While you sit at your computer. See the way my dark, brown eyes look at yours.

You smile at me. I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a single moment of moment of your time. That is al I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me.

So many times you are saddened by others of my kind passing on.

Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly, so suddenly that it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes, we age slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract-clouded eyes. Still the love is always there even we must take that last, long sleep dreaming of running free in a distant, open land.

I may not be here tomorrow. I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes, that humans have when the grief fills their souls, and you will mourn the loss of just ‘one more day’ with me. Because I love you so, this future sorrow even now touches my spirit and grieves me. I read you in so many ways that you cannot even start to contemplate.

We have now together. So come and sit next to me here on the floor and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? Do you see how if you look deeply at me we can talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come not to me as my owner but as a fellow living soul. Stroke my fur and let us look deep into the other’s eyes and talk with our hearts.

I may tell you something about the fun of working the scents in the woods where you and I go. Or I may tell you something profound about myself or how we dogs see life in general. I know you decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share things with. I know how much you have cared for me and always stood up for me even when others have been against me. That gift from you has been very precious to me. I know too that you have been through troubled times and I have been there to guard you, to protect you and to be there always for you. I am very different to you but here I am. I am your dog but just as alive as you.

I feel emotion. I feel physical senses. I can revel in the differences of our spirits and our souls. I do not think of you as a dog on two feet; I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.

So, come and sit with me. Enter my world and let time slow down if only for a few minutes. Look deep into my eyes and whisper in my ears. Speak with your heart and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow but we do have now.

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The anniversary of Pharaoh’s death in 2017 in this Friday, June 19th. He is still missed badly.

What’s a stray dog need? Food and caring!

Another international story of love and caring for our dogs.

This time about homeless or stray dogs and in Peru. Again it was written by Stephen Messenger and was shared on The Dodo website. Again it is about the fundamental goodness that is in a great many humans spanning continents.

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Nice Restaurant Owner Prepares A Free Meal For Every Stray Dog Who Visits

“They pay us with their happiness and wagging tails” ❤️
By Stephen Messenger
Published on the 26th February, 2021

One evening five years ago, an unexpected customer dropped by Gerardo Ortiz’s restaurant, Ajilalo, in Peru. It was a stray dog, a look of hunger in her eyes.

Ortiz could have easily turned the dog away. But he didn’t.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

That evening, Ortiz offered the dog a free meal, made just for her.

And thus began an adorable tradition that continues to this day.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Each evening, from then on, the hungry dog came and received a free meal from Ortiz’s restaurant.

But it didn’t take long for word of Ortiz’s kindness and generosity to spread among the community of local stray pups.

More dogs began to arrive with that first visitor— and Ortiz welcomed them all with a meal.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Nowadays, numerous stray dogs arrive to the doors of Ortiz’s restaurant each night. Many are regular “customers,” while others are first-timers — all hoping to fill their bellies thanks to Ortiz’s kindness.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Often, as Ortiz is working, he’ll look up and see a new dog’s face at the front — waiting politely to see if the rumor that free food can found there is true.

It always is.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“For me, they are the best customers,” Ortiz told The Dodo.

And his human customers hardly take that as a slight. Inspired by Ortiz, they often bring food for the visiting dogs as well.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“Thankfully, our clients have reacted well to the dogs,” Ortiz said. “They are affectionate toward them.”

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Ultimately, Ortiz’s sweet routine of feeding all the stray dogs who visit does more than keep them from being hungry. It lets them know that their lives matter — a truth that Ortiz is happy to prove to them each and every day.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“They do not pay us with money, but they pay us with their happiness and wagging tails,” Ortiz said. “They are very grateful, and we enjoy giving more than receiving. Since I was a child, I have loved animals. My mother always taught us to help others, both people and animals. She’s my inspiration.”

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This is such a wonderful share. Snr Ortiz confirms what we know absolutely. That people who care for animals care for so much more. As Gerardo says: “It lets them know that their lives matter.

I am minded to remember when I first met Jean in December, 2007. Jean was living in San Carlos, Northern Mexico, and had been for many years. Her husband, Ben, had died in 2005.

Jean was rescuing street dogs off the streets of San Carlos and surrounding areas, caring for them, neutering or spaying them, and then finding homes for them mainly in Arizona, USA. Many, many dogs owed their lives to Jean’s love for those dogs. In 2010, after I had gone out to San Carlos with my Pharaoh to live with Jean and her dogs in 2008, we came North to Arizona to find a U.S. home and be married. We came through the Mexican-US border with 16 dogs, all of them with their paperwork in order. I will always recall the American border agent, after I had approached him with all the paperwork, leaning out of his booth and calling to the agent in the next booth: “Hey Jake, there’s a guy here with sixteen dogs!

Jean and I were married in Payson, AZ on the 20th November, 2010.

Mr and Mrs Handover

Very sweet memories and the start of a loving era in our lives.

Loving each other and loving our dogs!

Puppies

An insight into the bringing up of young dogs out in Patagonia.

I subscribe to Treehugger. It is an online service that features Sustainability for All.

A few days ago it had an article that I just had to share with you all. It is how puppy dogs will grown up to protect pumas.

Here it is:

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Puppies in Patagonia Will Grow Up To Protect Pumas

By 

Published January 25th, 2021

Their main job is to guard livestock, but wildlife benefits too.

The puppies will grow up alongside the livestock they will one day protect. WCS Argentina

A new litter of livestock dogs was just delivered by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Argentina. Currently cuddly and very cute, the puppies will be specially trained to protect goats and sheep from predators. Not only will this help save the livestock, but these dogs will help limit conflicts between herders and the pumas and other native carnivores living around them in the Patagonian Desert.

The puppies are a mix of Great Pyrenees and Anatolian shepherd — large, working breeds trained to guard livestock. In the early weeks of the project, the puppies bond with the livestock to form protective relationships. WCS representatives work closely with herders to provide care and training for the puppies and the livestock during what’s known as this key “imprinting” period.

“During the first eight weeks of life, puppies will create a very strong bond, first with their mother and then with their social group. During the first 40 days, puppies remain with their mother, but livestock is kept in the same pen or corral with the dogs so they can smell them, see them, and progressively make physical contact with livestock,” Martín Funes, project manager of WCS Argentina, tells Treehugger.

“Progressively, during three months the bond between puppies and livestock will get stronger, and dogs will start to show a protective behavior. After this period they will recognize a certain species (we work with sheep and goats) as their social group, and that will remain for the rest of its life.”

For many years, WCS Argentina has been working with area herders to come up with new ways to stop conflicts with area predators. In the past, herders have resorted to shooting, poisoning, or trapping wildlife that have threatened their flocks.

WCS Argentina places the puppies with herders based on their location, the amount of conflict they’re having with carnivores, and their willingness to participate in the program, which includes proper care of the dogs through adulthood.

The dogs become a very powerful tool, says Funes.

“Livestock guarding dogs (LGD) stay with livestock 24/7, which is impossible for the other methods [of predator control]. They behave as part of the flock, and they will protect it against any threat,” he says.
“They tend to be very protective but they don’t have the hunting instinct of wolves or some other dog breeds (i.e., greyhounds or lebrels). However we should always consider a basic principle for reducing livestock losses by carnivores: The more methods you use, the safer your livestock will be. Combining different strategies is always an efficient approach to reduce attacks by carnivores.”

The dogs are raised alongside the sheep and goats. WCS Argentina

In the Patagonian Desert, also known as the Patagonia Steppe, livestock face threats from several wild cats including pumas, Geoffroy’s cat, pampas cat, and the threatened Andean cats. Other predators include Patagonian foxes and Andean condors.

“Even though we have been hunting, trapping, and killing carnivores, it has never been effective in reducing our losses,” said Flavio Castillo, a herder participating in the program, in a statement. “It is our hope that [the dogs] will be a very useful tool to stop predation. With the dogs, we can co-exist with carnivores and protect our production. Wildlife belongs here and we have to protect and co-exist with it.”

In addition to saving the lives of the flocks and their predators, the presence of the guardian dogs also can have a positive impact on habitat restoration.

“As attacks from carnivores diminish, producers tend to stop trapping, hunting and poisoning of wild animals, which is an outstanding benefit for the entire ecosystem,” says Funes.
“A secondary benefit, as producers perceive a reduction in annual livestock losses, is that herders might adjust livestock stocking rates density and improve soil and vegetation conditions and its performance, reducing overgrazing and desertification, a major and widespread environmental problem in arid Patagonia for the last two centuries.”

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This is a powerful story of the many ways that dogs may be used to help humans.

Dogs are by far the longest domesticated animal that has bonded to humans and I’m trying to receive permission to republish a wonderful article that John Zande sent me to read. It is about the Neanderthals and homo sapiens and the relationship with dogs.

The Secret Sauce to a Long, Sharp Life

A partial review of Sanjay Gupta’s book.

With credit to Amazon books.

There is so much to speak about in this book, and anyone the ‘wrong’ side of 50 should consider purchasing the book. Really! I include the link to the book on Amazon. (And nothing in it for me I have to say.)

I want to concentrate on two items of note.

The first is that given the right diet, primarily a Mediterranean plant-based diet, and plenty of exercise, it is possible for the brain to rejuvenate new brain cells. Yes, that’s correct! New brain cells!

The second item of note is over on page 194. Let me quote:

Dr. Waldinger’s findings are attractive because they debunk commonly held myths about health and happiness. The findings are based on a comprehensive review of the participants’ lives and biology.

and two sentences later:

The lesson learned is that health and happiness are not about wealth, fame, or working harder. They are about good relationships.

Dr. Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His TED talk, “What Makes a Good Life?” has been viewed more than 36 million times. The link to the TED Talk is here.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

On page 198 among the list of tips about staying engaged is to consider adopting a pet! Yes siree!

Now I am 76 and have had 14 years of pure happiness. Because in 2007 I met Jean, and all her dogs. We fell in love!

We came up to Payson, Arizona in 2010 and were married. In 2012 we came up to our rural acres in Southern Oregon.

Jeannie, Sweeny and Cleo. Taken in April, 2012.

It is 2021 and there is no doubt that we are both ageing but we are still very much in love.

We are very happy and that is because as luck would have it we are also each other’s best friend!

The Secret Sauce to a Long, Sharp Life!

There’s no limit to the care of dogs

For as long as I live I will never stop marvelling at dogs.

Dogs are many things. In a sense they have as many likes and dislikes as us humans. But the one thing that is unique to these beautiful animals is their unconditionality. That, especially, shows through in the way that they care and love the humans and dogs around them.

This story on The Dodo emphasised that special way they care for their fellow dogs. Read it and you will see what I mean.

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Camera Catches Dog Bringing His Bed To His Sick Brother So He’s Comfy

“As he’s dragging it he’s looking at Roman almost to say, ‘This is for you’”

By Caitlin Jill Anders
Published on 6/18/2020

From the moment they became brothers, Spanky has always adored and looked up to his big brother Roman. He follows Roman everywhere he goes, and is always happiest whenever they’re together.

“Roman is definitely Spanky’s security blanket,” Jackie Rogers, Roman and Spanky’s aunt, told The Dodo. “Spanky will do nothing without Roman and always makes sure he is close to him and if he’s not he gets up and goes near him.”

JACKIE ROGERS

About two weeks ago, Roman’s ear started looking a little puffy and infected, so his mom took him to the vet and discovered he has a hematoma on his ear. They scheduled a surgery to take care of it, but unfortunately, while he waited for the surgery, his ear kept getting worse and poor Roman got more and more uncomfortable.

JACKIE ROGERS

At first, Spanky didn’t notice anything was different, but as Roman’s ear got worse, everyone noticed that Spanky was much more gentle and concerned about his best friend.

“We had to take him back to the vet to confirm he could wait five more days for surgery and I brought Spanky along for the ride, but due to COVID we couldn’t go inside with Roman and for 20 minutes Spanky sat in the car crying/whining/barking until Roman got back,” Rogers said.

JACKIE ROGERS

With the surgery set, all the family could do for Roman was to let him rest. During the day while everyone is at work, the family has a Ring camera set up so they can check in on the dogs, which is especially important now so they can make sure Roman is OK. Rogers was checking the camera recently when she noticed Spanky watching his brother lying on the floor, looking very concerned — and then he did the cutest thing.

“I see Spanky pacing for a minute while looking at Roman and then the bed and then I see him dragging the bed to Roman and as he’s dragging it he’s looking at Roman almost to say, ‘This is for you,’ and then the next clip is them snuggling,” Rogers said. “I had to re-watch it multiple times, I was in disbelief that he did that!”

Spanky was worried about his brother and wanted him to be as comfortable as possible, so he brought his bed to him so he wouldn’t have to move — because that’s how much he loves his big brother.

JACKIE ROGERS

Spanky brought the bed over to Roman around 10 a.m., and when Rogers got home that evening, they were still snuggled up there together. Spanky knows his brother isn’t feeling well, and he’s determined to stay by his side until he’s feeling better — and will do anything he can to make sure he’s safe and comfortable in the meantime.

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There’s no real way that words can explain that. It’s beautiful, loving and caring and just goes to show how the loving bond works in practice.

Fabulous creatures!

Mid-Winters Day.

An essay about the 2020 winter solstice!
Winter solstice 2020 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 2:02 AM on Monday, December 21. That is our local Pacific Time which is 8 hours behind UTC.
So in UTC terms that is 10:02.
For some reason I have always regarded the Winter solstice as special, no doubt because in the Northern Hemisphere it is the time for the shortest day! It is the start of the new year!

Here is that essay published by The Conversation.

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What you need to know about this year’s winter solstice and the great conjunction

December 18, 2020
By William TeetsActing Director and Astronomer, Dyer Observatory, Vanderbilt University

Editor’s note: Dr. William Teets is the director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory. In this interview, he explains what does and doesn’t happen during the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Another cosmic phenomenon is also going to occur on the same day called “the great conjunction,” where Saturn and Jupiter, both of which can be seen with the naked eye, will appear extremely close to one another.

What happens on the winter solstice?

The winter solstice this year happens on Dec. 21. This is when the Sun appears the lowest in the Northern Hemisphere sky and is at its farthest southern point over Earth – directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For folks living at 23.5 degrees south latitude, not only does this day mark their summer solstice, but they also see the Sun directly over them at local noon. After that, the Sun will start to creep back north again.

The sequence of images below shows the path of the Sun through the sky at different times of the year. You can see how the Sun is highest in the Northern Hemisphere sky in June, lowest in December, and halfway in between these positions in March and September during the equinoxes.

The winter solstice is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere but not the day with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset. How is that possible?

The winter solstice doesn’t coincide with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. Those actually occur about two weeks before and two weeks after the winter solstice. This is because we are changing our distance from the sun due to our elliptical, not circular, orbit, which changes the speed at which we orbit.

If you were to look at where the Sun is at exactly the same time of day over different days of the year, you would see that it’s not always in the same spot. Yes, the Sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, but it also moves from side to side of the average noontime position, which also plays a role in when the Sun rises and sets.

One should also keep in mind that the seasons are due to the Earth’s axial tilt, not our distance from the Sun. Believe it or not, we are closest to the Sun in January.

What is ‘the great conjunction’?

Saturn and Jupiter have appeared fairly close together in our sky throughout the year. But on Dec. 21, Saturn and Jupiter will appear so close together that some folks may have a difficult time seeing them as two objects.

If you have a pair of binoculars, you’ll easily be able to spot both planets. In even a small telescope, you’d see both planets at the same time in the same field of view, which is really unheard of. That’s what makes this conjunction so rare. Jupiter and Saturn appear to meet up about every 20 years. Most of the time, however, they’re not nearly as close together as we’re going to see them on Monday, Dec. 21.

For a comparison, there was a great conjunction back in 2000, but the two planets were separated by about two full-Moon widths. This year, the orbits will bring them to where they appear to be about one-fifth of a full-Moon diameter.

We have been encouraging folks to go out and look at these planets using just their eyes between now and Dec. 21. You’ll actually be able to see how much they appear to move over the course of a single day.

The next time they will get this close together in our sky won’t be for another 60 years, so this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. In fact, the last time they got this close together was in the year 1623, but it was really difficult, if not impossible, to see them then because they appeared much closer to the Sun and set soon after it. Go back another 400 years to 1226 and this would have been the last time that we would have had a good view of this type of conjunction.

What advice would you give to people who want to see the great conjunction?

If weather permits at Dyer Observatory, we’ll be streaming a live view of the conjunction from one of the observatory’s telescopes, and I’ll be available to answer questions. Even if you don’t have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, definitely go out and check out this very rare alignment with your own eyes. Remember that they set soon after sunset, so be ready to view right at dusk!

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From the introduction that was received by email:

I want to include another piece on the conjunction. It comes from the introduction to that item above: It’s been a tough year. To many of us, every day during the coronavirus pandemic has felt incredibly long. Perhaps it will come as a relief that Monday will be the shortest day of the year. December 21 will also bring a rare cosmic phenomenon. If the sky is clear over the next few nights, look out just over the southwest horizon. You may see Jupiter and Saturn coming together and then drifting apart in an event known as “the great conjunction.” Although this occurs once every two decades, the last time they came this close, and we Earthlings got such a clear view, was in 1226.

I also want to include a copy of an article on the website belonging to KRCC  that talks of the Great Conjunction.

Why The Jupiter And Saturn Conjunction During The 2020 Winter Solstice Is Extra Special

By Mike Procell

December 18, 2020

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn appears over Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. Jupiter appears brighter and to the lower right of Saturn. Saturn, to Jupiter’s upper left, has a slightly golden hue. Photo taken December 5, 2020. The planets will be closer than they have been observed from earth in over 800 years on the Winter Solstice

A rare celestial event will help mark the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere on Monday, Dec. 21.

Jupiter and Saturn are currently appearing very close together from an earthly vantage point. These two gas giants are in conjunction, an occurrence that happens every 20 years or so.

This one though, is extra special.

“Really, really close conjunctions like this one are quite rare,” said Hal Bidlack with the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”

The two planets were last about this close together in the year 1623. But the pairing occurred while the planets were close to the sun from earth’s perspective, Bidlack said, and the sight was basically washed out in the sun’s glare.
In reality, Saturn and Jupiter are hundreds of millions of miles apart.

“On the 21st they will appear so close that if you held a dime on edge at arm’s length, that’s how close they would be together,” Bidlack said.

From Colorado Springs, sky gazers only need to look toward Cheyenne Mountain to catch a glimpse. Elsewhere in Colorado, Bidlack said folks can look to the southwestern skies, low near the horizon.

The pair sets around an hour and a half after the sun does, about 4:39 p.m. on Monday.

The planets will begin to separate when viewed from Earth, and will eventually disappear altogether from the night sky until reappearing in the morning sky in early 2021. See more skywatching tips from NASA.

If you have managed to stay on today’s post until near the end you would have seen the following: “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”

Just about 800 years ago since this last happened.

If you can, go outside with a telescope or a pair of binoculars and watch the sight! That time of the sunset is 4:39 PM Pacific Time. I think that wherever you are in the world starting to watch as soon as  it is dark would be a good idea.

For me the new year starts now!

Happy Solstice!

It’s all too much, or it could be!

This year, 2020, has been unlike any other year.

I am not saying anything new but just reiterating what has been said before: 2020 is going to go down as the year from hell! And I don’t think that is too strong a word!

Part of it are the news stories that sweep the world: Covid-19; Brexit; Climate change; up until yesterday what was President Trump going to do in his last few weeks; etc; etc.

Also part of it is the way that news and more news and, yes, more news is flashed around the globe. Most of it bad news as we all know that bad news sells!

Finally, part of it is the new world of social media especially messaging on a smartphone. President Trump isn’t the only one to communicate greatly via Twitter.

Now, speaking personally, I couldn’t have got through this year without Jeannie and our dogs.

Pure bliss!

But, nevertheless, something has changed and Mark Satta has written an article that tries to explain things.

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Three reasons for information exhaustion – and what to do about it

By Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University.

November 18th, 2020

An endless flow of information is coming at us constantly: It might be an article a friend shared on Facebook with a sensational headline or wrong information about the spread of the coronavirus. It could even be a call from a relative wanting to talk about a political issue.

All this information may leave many of us feeling as though we have no energy to engage.

As a philosopher who studies knowledge-sharing practices, I call this experience “epistemic exhaustion.” The term “epistemic” comes from the Greek word episteme, often translated as “knowledge.” So epistemic exhaustion is more of a knowledge-related exhaustion.

It is not knowledge itself that tires out many of us. Rather, it is the process of trying to gain or share knowledge under challenging circumstances.

Currently, there are at least three common sources that, from my perspective, are leading to such exhaustion. But there are also ways to deal with them.

1. Uncertainty

For many, this year has been full of uncertainty. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic has generated uncertainty about health, about best practices and about the future.

At the same time, Americans have faced uncertainty about the U.S. presidential election: first due to delayed results and now over questions about a peaceful transition of power.

Experiencing uncertainty can stress most of us out. People tend to prefer the planned and the predictable. Figures from 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes to 20th-century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein have recognized the significance of having certainty in our lives.

With information so readily available, people may be checking news sites or social media in hopes of finding answers. But often, people are instead greeted with more reminders of uncertainty.

As Trump supporters denounce the 2020 election results, feelings of uncertainty can come up for others. Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images

2. Polarization

Political polarization is stressing many Americans out.

As political scientist Lilliana Mason notes in her book, “Uncivil Disagreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” Americans have been increasingly dividing politically “into two partisan teams.”

Many writers have discussed the negative effects of polarization, such as how it can damage democracy. But discussions about the harms of polarization often overlook the toll polarization takes on our ability to gain and share knowledge.

That can happen in at least two ways.

First, as philosopher Kevin Vallier has argued, there is a “causal feedback loop” between polarization and distrust. In other words, polarization and distrust fuel one another. Such a cycle can leave people feeling unsure whom to trust or what to believe.

Second, polarization can lead to competing narratives because in a deeply polarized society, as studies show, we can lose common ground and tend to have less agreement.

For those inclined to take the views of others seriously, this can create additional cognitive work. And when the issues are heated or sensitive, this can create additional stress and emotional burdens, such as sadness over damaged friendships or anger over partisan rhetoric.

3. Misinformation

Viral misinformation is everywhere. This includes political propaganda in the United States and around the world.

People are also inundated with advertising and misleading messaging from private corporations, what philosophers Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall have called “industrial propaganda.” And in 2020, the public is also dealing with misinformation about COVID-19.

As chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov put it: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Misinformation is often exhausting by design. For example, a video that went viral,Plandemic,” featured a large number of false claims about COVID-19 in rapid succession. This flooding of misinformation in rapid succession, a tactic known as a Gish gallop, makes it challenging and time-consuming for fact checkers to refute the many falsehoods following one after another.

What to do?

With all this uncertainty, polarization and misinformation, feeling tired is understandable. But there are things one can do.

The American Psychological Association suggests coping with uncertainty through activities like limiting news consumption and focusing on things in one’s control. Another option is to work on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty through practices such as meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness.

To deal with polarization, consider communicating with the goal of creating empathetic understanding rather than “winning.” Philosopher Michael Hannon describes empathetic understanding as “the ability to take up another person’s perspective.”

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

As for limiting the spread of misinformation: Share only those news stories that you’ve read and verified. And you can prioritize outlets that meet high ethical journalistic or fact-checking standards.

These solutions are limited and imperfect, but that’s all right. Part of resisting epistemic exhaustion is learning to live with the limited and imperfect. No one has time to vet all the headlines, correct all the misinformation or gain all the relevant knowledge. To deny this is to set oneself up for exhaustion.

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That last section, What to do?, is full of really sensible advice. In fact, the American Psychological Association has an article at the moment that appears to be freely available called Healing the political divide.

I intend to read it.

It finishes up saying:

Scientists must strive to share their research as broadly as possible. And they don’t have to do it alone. Organizations like More in Common work to conduct research and communicate findings to audiences where it can have the greatest impact.

Advocacy is essential as well. Other countries that have made strides in addressing the political divide relied heavily on government-led reconciliation efforts. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for example, in South Africa, has been fundamental in addressing disparities and conflict around Apartheid.

Were the United States to consider similar, government-backed efforts, psychologists must be part of the call to do so. And the behavioral expertise of the field would be central to success.

“The collective mental health of the nation is at risk,” says Moghaddam. “Just as we should rely on epidemiological science to tell us when there is a vaccine ready for mass use, we have to rely on psychological science to guide us through these mental health issues.”

And following an election that, for many, has felt like the most polarized of a lifetime, this piece seems critical. “ This is what our profession is all about,” says Moghaddam.

Good advice especially if you can take time off just losing oneself in nature.

Dawn behind nearby Mt. Sexton. Taken from our deck on the 21st August, 2019.

Enough said!