2021–New Beginnings

It’s another new beginning. A new year. It could scarcely fail to be a better one than the last. Nonetheless, it’s off to a mixed start in the America, with the attack on the US Capitol.

We had hoped to be able to dispense with posts about Trump by now. Yet here we are, already well into 2021 and I must offer more pending his departure, in no more than 11 days from the White House, perhaps fewer. Will he resign? Be removed via the 25th Amendment or impeachment and conviction? Who can say.

By now I would usually have recapped the successes of the prior year and noted the goals or determinations for the new one. I don’t make resolutions; those are the things that late night talk show hosts mock for the failure of so many to achieve. Let’s skip the recap. Being retired and living atop a hill nearby to a small town kept us safe from the pandemic. Risk yes; trauma no—other than the usual ailments that accompany aging. Enough to deter some goals.

It’s only now that I am putting up my first post. I’ve been busy working on that compilation of short stories, verse and more that must be completed soon. Must only because that’s the determination. Without discipline to overcome obstacles that inevitably arise, goals will not be achieved. Thus, no resolutions. Tasks and an action plan—with a schedule, despite the likelihood it may have to be amended.

Meanwhile, America’s President has desperately done everything he could to retain power—unsuccessfully. Tacitly encouraging his most extreme followers to stage an insurrection. Over the past four years he has made such people feel free to engage in extreme rhetoric and violent behavior. All the while he has called for law and order and suppression of peaceful protestors against systemic racism and the policies of his own administration.

Among my goals for this year—and beyond, is to heal the divide that Trump has fostered and awaken those poor souls who have been deluded by him.  Those conned into believing that he cares anything at all for their welfare. Projecting his own psychoses onto them that he won an election that he lost and that it was rigged against him.

As Timothy Snyder recently said from Vienna, it is truth that is required to dispel the “Big Lie.” That big lie is what Trump has been spreading since November 3rd. [More on Snyder here]

I must create value each day—not only in my own life but in the world. That is my paramount determination.  That means less ranting about the malevolence of Trump and his sycophants who share his perspective that it’s their own advancement and benefit that is their guiding principle. Most, while professing some allegiance to the advancement of fellow Americans, have no other principles–that’s all they have!

So, here are some of my goals:

Get that first book out early spring. Then a novel in the fall. Both have many words already written. The novel requires more writing—plus editing and revisions. Watch for updates here—on release dates and progress along the way.

To get those books done, I must have a clear mind that is fatigue free. That’s not always the case—for reasons undetectable by my doctor. So, I must fix that myself. That is more a determination than a goal. One that I must achieve through my own assiduous practice of Buddhism.  As the Buddha says, one must be the master of one’s own mind rather than letting mind master oneself.

And, as Daisaku Ikeda says, “The real struggle in life is with ourselves. The true secret of success is the refusal to give up, the refusal to fail; it lies in the struggle to win the battle against one’s own weaknesses.”

Another goal–more mundane, perhaps, is financial management and planning. I have no expectation of an early demise, but I must simplify our finances and create some mini-tutorials for my wife just in case. The division of labor worked well when we were both working and had children under 20 at home. Now we both need to be able to do all a household’s tasks.

Yes, there’s many more objectives, but you don’t need to know about them all. Consider this one: There’s that vacation to Europe that didn’t happen last year. The one that’s paid for. Will it happen this year? Not so sure about that. But we must go somewhere. Even if it’s not until fall. COVID limits planning month’s in advance—as we and our travel agent would prefer. Maybe Canada with our dog—when Trudeau will let us American’s cross the border again. We don’t need an agent to do that.

The point is to have no regrets and to be confident and at ease with the turmoil that sometimes prevents completing tasks per a schedule. Defy the satirists and achieve those “resolutions” that you may have already set for yourself. If you need help. Check out this post from a past year. It has some tips to get you there.

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Wrapping up 2020 Heading toward 2021

Been busy on financial planning. Reflecting on avoiding COVID-19-so-far (plan on continuing to do so. It helps being retired and living in a small town in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Okay, no slams on our environs–we like it here!)

People have been suffering economically, spiritually–not to mention medically. Mostly avoidable but for that idiotic Golfer-in-Chief. Hope in a vial is on its way throughout America (and the world) .

We, thankfully, have had only what aging brings–expected and frustrating but not incapacitating.  Had my last doctor’s appointment today. Nothing of consequence. All systems are functioning within normal tolerances. Check back again on this or that at various points in 2021.

Meanwhile Biff’s delusional behavior continues. He can’t accept being the biggest loser since Herbert Hoover. His sycophantic supporters are willing to destroy democracy to keep him from disappearing in a burst of psychological flames.  Enough of him. He’s become boringly predictable in his final days as Liar-in-Chief. History will not be sparing in recording his as the worst presidency ever in the US. Be circumspect in your schadenfreude, just consider the karma he must endure his remaining days and into the next several existences, most likely.

I will be posting news of the upcoming book, along with other 2021 plans and objectives after the January 5th Georgia Senate race runoff. That’s no matter the results. Barring unforeseen events this is it for 2020.

Until then, have a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. (In case you’re not aware, the X has a meaning in Greek that amounts to a shortened version of Christmas–it’s not some antireligious sentiment, although I am a Buddhist

I will be spending until Jan 6, working on that blogs into book collection with short stories that have been moldering on my hard drive. Have to get it out in the February/March time frame so the novel can get out by this time next year. Okay, I stepped in it again. But if one doesn’t have determinations, dreams can never become reality.

“Become the master of your mind; don’t let it master you.” The Buddha

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Review, Liars & Thieves

One more book review for 2020–may be running out of time for any more. 

Liars and ThievesLiars and Thieves by D. Wallace Peach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goblins, elves, changelings and more. Occasional humans too–rarely. It’s the interactions of the first three that holds the conflict and a storyline of finger-pointing over who is trespassing on whose territory–violating a treaty intended to keep competing interests from breaking out in war. They depend on one another–to an extent, so that’s preferable.

It’s my first reading of this compelling sub-genre and found it very entertaining. Just took a little while to figure out who was really who, their powers or attributes, and where it all would end up. I knew it really wouldn’t “end” because this is the first in a series. So, yes, I will read more.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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COVID and the Trump Cult Raging in America

Hope is a Decision—Now More than Ever.

November 8—the last post here before this one. Recognizing that Biden had won the election. Biden the healer of the cultural and political divide. An effort that I am determined to participate in.

As I said then, it would be difficult. Even more difficult than I expected. Not due to the resistance of ordinary folks, but to all those members of the Trump Cult.

My natural inclination is to simply say:

Get over it—he lost!

But they won’t buy that. They have drunk gallons of his Trump Kool-Aid and believe in him with all their hearts. The election was rigged and stolen from him. 

They also believe one or all these options about COVID-19:

  • It’s a hoax
  • It’s no worse than a cold or at worst a flu and people get over it
  • Masks are worse than useless—they are an infringement on one’s freedom
  • Likewise, social distancing and closing bars, restaurants, gyms, etc.

Worse, they make death threats against even Republicans who won’t help Trump in reversing the election results through whatever means he and his associates try. Somewhat skilled attorneys withdrew after winning but one of 38 plus cases. Leaving semi to unskilled attorneys to continue frivolous lawsuits that judicially speaking ought to incur sanctions against them or referrals to the bar for misconduct.

Those are the facts. But what will I make of them? Will I deplore those who fall for the lies? Pity those who may die of COVID because of him? Many probably have already. Statistical analysis suggests surges associated with Trump rallies and in those parts of the country where votes for him were higher than for Biden.

Trump didn’t bring the virus here. He did mock those who took it seriously. They accepted his direction on this and other things. He didn’t suffer physically, so far, for his dismissal of the virus. His supporters have found his assurances persuasive—he is their political messiah. Republican elected officials, in fear or support of Trump, continue likewise to follow the same patterns of COVID oblivion—even as they or their constituents succumb to the virus.

Should I sink into the pit of hatred, vitriol and derisive attacks on those who offer death threats even to fellow Republicans  who don’t support Trump in overturning Biden’s victory. NO! If I do, I can’t help heal the division. I must accept their humanity and, from my faith perspective, their inherent Buddhahood.

Yes, a difficult proposition. Whether you who read this find the principles, the concepts or tenets, of Buddhism persuasive, you still may find it difficult to accept the humanity of the Trump faithful if you are not among them. That’s the challenge if we are to get beyond the present turmoil.

We have an economy in tatters. Sickness and death confront us at the hands of an unthinking enemy we call coronavirus, COVID-19 or more formally–SARS-CoV-2. We have a would-be autocrat striving to milk the last bit of financial fortune and power from his tenure in the White House. Even he has a Buddha nature. Even he has a shred of humanity within his angry and hate-filled heart. It’s barely visible, but it’s there. As much as I have demonized, satirized and condemned him on this blog, I know that to be true. Still, he must pay for his crimes and suffer the effects of the karma he has created. He already has, at the hands of the voters. Beyond that, there are legal and financial perils ahead that he will likely face.

In the meantime, we must rescue and rehabilitate America from the harms he has inflicted. Reestablish a rule of law. An independent Justice Department. Oversight of the actions of the Executive Branch—which, according to the US Constitution is subordinate to Congress. The latter makes the laws, appropriates the money and declares war. The President and those in the administration implement and enforce those laws. He and the rest of the Executive Branch must yield to the scrutiny of how well and how lawfully are executing the laws passed by Congress that give him authority to act.

America has barely—and not yet completely, escaped becoming a dictatorship. Aided and abetted by a GOP controlling the Senate. There is lots to do. But political reforms are just treating symptoms. The underlying disease is what must be addressed. A disease of Us and Them.

That’s enough for now. We will be making updates as often as we can. Not so much on what politicians and ostensible national leaders are doing. No, on what’s happening among the populace. Who, myself included, are reaching out and making connections with the other side.

As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, we need a

“new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Had Trump won, those famous words might very well have been for naught—due to Trump’s intentions and those he put into his second administration.

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Hope is a decision–now more than ever

Joe Biden is President-Elect–so say all the major media, including Fox News.

A change is coming but not the radical one those on the other side feared. The Democrats lost seats in the House and at best may get a tie in the Senate.

The good news is that America dodged the bullet of losing its democracy and slipping into autocracy. Now, the people of America, led by a President who intends to serve ALL the people and to heal the partisan and cultural divisions will have the chance to be truly United States.

That won’t be easy. There will be resistance to change, this time by those who were enamored of Trump and enabled by him to defend white privilege. Also by those who feared “Socialism” would come to America (it never was coming and certainly isn’t now). Or some who thought COVID-19 was a hoax or would go away by itself.

There will be resistance by some of the progressive members of the Democratic party who were looking forward to establishing new policies that others viewed as a bridge too far. Not happening in 2021 or 2022.

Consider this excerpt (those of you who live in the US, at least) from a very long article in the 2nd Eagle Peak Annual, published on October 30th. It offered commentary and analysis on three books. Just check the link to see which ones.

We all live here, in these United States. We depend on one another producing goods and supplying services. Goods that we wear. That we use in our daily lives. Services at medical facilities, schools, retail stores, repair shops and more. “Can’t we all just get along?” Asked Rodney King in 1992, a victim of police brutality that resulted in costly riots in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years later, the answer remains uncertain.

Here’s a couple more excerpts, snippets really, from that item on the Annual.

But change is sorely needed. Policy changes. Dealing effectively, for a change, with the still deadly dangerous pandemic. Spurring economic recovery. And healing the divisions of race, class and party.

Political solutions are not a panacea. Yes, we all hope that the candidates we vote for will keep their promises made on the campaign trail. Promises that suggest if only we did X, Y and Z instead of A, B and C, we all would be happier and more prosperous. We should all know better by now! 

Don’t rely on elected officials to do it all! We all need to work together within our shared humanity to make America a better, more prosperous and more just nation. Don’t believe all the stuff that people post on social media–conspiracy theories and nonsense abound there. Verify through fact checking sources, what you do see on such sites. Go beyond the echo chambers of your favorite news sources that tell you what you want to hear. Make new friends among your neighborhood and community.

Finally, let’s get to the title of this post. It comes from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Hope Is a Decision.  My review of the book appears below.

Hope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku IkedaHope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku Ikeda by Daisaku Ikeda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For 43 years I have been practicing the engaged Buddhism that Daisaku Ikeda has spread throughout the world over the last 60 years. While you might suppose that indicates a bias on my part in writing this review. On the other hand, you might conclude that I know the extent of wisdom he can share. That said, I should also note that this book is neither an introduction to Buddhism nor an appeal to follow it’s teaching. It is what the title implies and the review below describes.

Even after so many years, one needs encouragement now and then. One needs words to share with others, words that provide hope in times of crisis. In the US and around the world we have been in a variety of crises–the worst pandemic in 100 years, poverty, political turmoil and more.

This is a very inspirational book of essays, with comments on the wisdom of poets, writers and historians from throughout the world. It’s easy enough to give in to despair, as Ikeda points out. At the same time, as the title says, hope is a decision that one can make. He spells it out in a series of essays written over decades. Here’s a couple examples. Both are from page 14 and 15 of the Kindle edition.

The moment we make a powerful resolve, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward the fulfillment of this goal or desire. On the other hand, if we think, “This is never going to work out,” then every cell in our body will be deflated and give up the fight. Hope, in this sense, is a decision. It is the most important decision we can make. Hope changes everything, starting with our lives. Hope is the force that enables us to take action to make our dreams come true. It has the power to change winter into summer, barrenness to creativity, agony to joy. As long as we have hope, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

There may be times when, confronted by cruel reality, we verge on losing all hope. If we cannot feel hope, it is time to create some. We can do this by digging deeper within, searching for even a small glimmer of light, for the possibility of a way to begin to break through the impasse before us.

View all my Goodreads reviews here

Starting now, you won’t see so many knocks on the current president of the US. They won’t be needed soon. We may have some comments on what transpires in the White House or the administration over the 70+ days until Biden is inaugurated. Perhaps some coverage of what happens in the life of Trump thereafter.  

What you will see, often, is progress on the front of healing the wounds in America. Finding a path to accomplishing positive results in controlling the pandemic, restoring the economy, restoring civility and more. 

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Giannoulis Chalepas–featured in the Eagle Peak Annual

The 2nd Eagle Peak Annual–out last week! 

Giannoulis Chalepas–The Greek Rodin

A guest article from gifted writer and blogger, Nicholas Rossis.

He shares something of the difficult life of sculptor Giannoulis Chalepas–and photos of his pieces.

Great art is often thought to come from those who have suffered much. In the case of Giannoulis Chalepas, it’s true. A mother who opposed his dream of sculpting. A lost love and more. Yet his work is renowned.

If you visit Wikipedia, you will find a brief entry under Chalepas’ name. Born in 1851, he was a Greek sculptor who suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to the Mental Hospital of Corfu. In 1916, after his mother’s death, he began to work again, continuing until his death in 1938.

View the article to see just a few of his 150 works–or visit the National Gallery of Greece!

Check out the full issue of Eagle Peak Annual here.

Two More Book Reviews

You know I stint on five-star reviews, but I gave out five for both of these very different books. One, a memoir, the other a sci-fi book. Both on Kindle. As the brain freezes from finishing my own projects, it’s almost always possible to read something somebody else wrote.

Hippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still AmHippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still Am by Lynne Zotalis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On a 30th anniversary trip to Mexico, her beloved husband dies on a beach of an apparent heart attack. That’s an opening frame in this memoir of discovery in her home state of Minnesota. As many youth in the sixties, she finds escape in a variety of drugs readily available then and well into the seventies and beyond. Miraculously, she encounters the love of her life in that world.

The title exemplifies the life the author and the man who would become her husband led for some time–the counterculture rejection of the staid life normal parents led. I didn’t go quite so far as they did–building a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. Yet, I can identify. Especially in the rejection of the traditional cultural and political values. The two found a very different spiritual path than I did–one I could never in my wildest nightmares have adopted. One so far from the drug culture that they had been a part of. Still, you will find that–and their eventual departure from it, a very intriguing journey.

If you can’t find this book engrossing, you must be from a very different place. Not just a time, but a culture. It’s well-written and should keep you wanting to know what happens next. Despite knowing the end, it’s how Zotalis gets there that is where the rich tapestry of this story lies.

Oddly enough, we might have met decades ago–or at least been at the same Zappa and the Mothers concert in the Depot, a former bus station for “the Dog,” that briefly became a club for music and dance in Minneapolis in 1970-71. We might have been neighbors in South Minneapolis as well–hard to say. But then, those girls in their early twenties and guys as well had certain features in common–long hair on both, freak or hippie styled clothes and beards on the guys.

View all my Goodreads reviews

 

Spiders & Spice (Federation Diplomat #6)Spiders & Spice by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great story by EJ Randolph about Kate Stevens, Federation Diplomat. This is my fifth read in the series. I received an ARC copy through StoryOrigin. Yes, it is a space opera–of sorts. But tech and space are setting and incidental challenges, not the main story. NOTE: you don’t have to read the others before this one–each stands alone. But to paraphrase the food jingle– “Bet you can’t read just one.”

Revisit the same cast of quirky characters on the crew of the transport that takes Kate to strange planets.–or meet them for the first time.  In Spiders & Spice they’re on an  intentionally backward planet that chooses to avoid technology and change. Consensus is the rule–a very strong rule. For those who can’t abide that requirement, there’s banishment to a more freewheeling town.

As always, Kate is challenged to save a planetary culture from itself–and a nefarious enemy. What makes the series worthy of reading is the world and culture building–with a well-developed sense of engaging diplomacy in peculiar political environments. Randolph does a fine job of doing that. With a good bit of humor thrown in. Humor like her supervisor (humorously referred to as “Really Big”),  who plays his usual shell game on her. All part of the reality of those who have ever worked for any form of bureaucracy will identify with. Or the stomach churning food combinations like marshmallows on sauerkraut that crewmember Nick produces from the food fabricator.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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There’s a Madman in the Whitehouse with the Blues

It has come to this–a madman on drugs


as the Lincoln Project will attest.

Karma’s a bitch. Hoist by his own petard. Reap what you sow. 

Yes, all those sayings apply to Biff’s (AKA Trump) COVID case. The Lincoln Project or some other group could take on a new spoof inspired, like me, by the Lowell George/Little Feat song, “Fat Man in the Bathtub. (Could replace Juanita with Covida or Covita).

But it’s the family and friends of those 212,000 dead of the coronavirus who will find nothing funny here.  Nor those who had the preexisting condition of believing Biff’s lies.

He gasps for air on the Truman Balcony after climbing the stairs. Did Fox show that clip? Or maybe just the one he recorded after shedding virus cells amongst the White House staff. The one where he said of the virus, “Don’t let it dominate you. You can beat it.”

Consider what Anand Giridharadas said of Trump,

“He hosted a super-spreader event to honor a justice who would have the government control your body but refuse the duty to care for it, and when the virus he helped go around came around, he availed of the healthcare he would deny others, financed by the taxes he refuses to pay.”

Biff is obese, has high cholesterol, is 74 and is being treated by a primary care physician, with certification in emergency medicine. BUT Commander Sean Conley is not a pulmonologist, not an epidemiologist, not apparently well-versed in COVID-19 treatment either. He is, however, well versed in HIPAA–which enables him to withhold LOTS of information about Trump’s health that the public wants AND NEEDS to know.

So now, with Trump desperate to be reelected and suffering from COVID-19, we have a non-specialist pumping Biff full of experimental drugs and a high-dose of dexamethasone. A powerful NSAID with the potential side effects of mania, depression and more.

Assuming the Madman Trump makes it through the election (that he should lose badly), he could still be around in the White House until January 20th, 2021. Who KNOWS what he might do during all his free time away from Fox News, tweeting and golf. Be afraid, very afraid. Offer prayers in whatever faith you believe.

BTW: In addition to legislation making it mandatory that a future presidential candidate’s taxes must be disclosed, perhaps a HIPAA waiver should also be required.

Don’t forget to vote!

Addendum: If America is lucky–or the derelict spreading of the coronavirus among the macho maniacs among GOP Senators continues a few more won’t be present to vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. With a big loss by Biff, the GOP will be afraid to do it in the lame duck session.

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RIP Notorious RBG

Shock and sadness. Disbelief. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had overcome so much over the years. More than most people we know. Meanwhile, she kept doing the job on the bench–remotely this year, like all the other justices. Still, in the end she was mortal. She may have seemed like Superwoman, but she couldn’t live forever.

She had accomplished so much for women’s rights. For the rights of so many that had been foreclosed by narrowminded jurists intent on strictly interpreting words that held broader meanings than what they thought.

She gladly accepted the moniker of Notorious RBG. She had that much equanimity and sense of humor in 21st century culture. It was a fun thing.

Then we have Moscow Mitch. The man who dishonored RBG–and America’s democracy yesterday. He couldn’t wait another day after her passing to announce:

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.”

In 2016–just ONE HOUR  after the passing of Justice Scalia, in February 2016,

McConnell said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,”

McConnell has different rules for Democrats and Republicans. An appointment by  a newly elected Joe Biden just wouldn’t be the same.

We know that McConnell doesn’t like being called “Moscow Mitch.” He has demonstrated that he has no integrity, no principles, no sense of justice or fairness. So let’s just add one more word to capture his essence: 

#Disreputable Moscow Mitch

I think that fits. Let’s make sure he is never majority leader in the Senate again. Better yet, let’s vote in Amy McGrath in November, his opponent–unlikely and difficult as that may be.

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Review of On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An essential and easy read for the times. Times that portend the end of American democracy and descent into authoritarianism, should Biff (think Back to the Future, the movie), AKA Donald J. Trump, be reelected. Noted historian Snyder has the expertise to describe the historical antecedents from Germany, Russia and more to how tyranny arises. Unfortunately, that happened elsewhere with the acquiescence of the populace. It
could
happen here.

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

So says the back cover of Timothy Snyder’s book. Snyder offers twenty lessons from the last century, in short and simple chapters in this powerful book. Which makes the author eerily prescient on what was to come during the next three and one half years of the Trump administration.

But then, Donald J. Trump was not a complete unknown by the 2016 election—he had announced a campaign the year before and had made countless appearances and tweets even before the inaugural. There was the transition and the inaugural as well—which gave many clues on what was in store for America.

Snyder had the goods on Trump before the current president got started on his path to destroying the rule of law, setting America back decades of progress on so many fronts and–through his appointment of uninformed sycophants to key positions, managed to fail overwhelmingly at dealing with the worst health crisis in 100 years.

View all my Goodreads reviews

NOTE: Coming late this month, more on this book, plus many more and other great topics in the 2nd  Eagle Peak Annual. Stay “tuned.”

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Acknowledgements: Quotation from back cover of "On Tyranny"

Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions