The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Photo ... Religion ... Spirituality ...

Although I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for many years now, and even though I disagree with the core belief of the Roman Church that

Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who became one of us to free us from sin and to bring us the fullness of God’s revelation . . . Jesus Christ is the Messiah, God’s anointed One, the Savior of the world . . .

there is still one Catholic ritual that I like to participate in. And that takes place once a year on Holy Thursday, the evening of the Thursday before Easter. To commemorate the Last Supper and the vigil of Jesus as he awaited the fatal kiss from Judas and the Temple Guards of the Sanhedrin, some of the local Catholic parishes keep their churches open late so that the faithful can sit in silence. My brother, a practicing Catholic, visits four or five local churches between 9 and 11 PM every Holy Thursday, and so I tag along.

Hey, I still believe in God (pretty much the same kind of God that Jesus believed in), but at this point in my life, sitting in silence each week with a Zen sangha works better for me. And even if I don’t worship Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, I still find him to be a hugely compelling figure who should be taken very seriously. Most of the time, I take Jesus seriously by reading and learning as much as I can about his life and times. Over the past 15 years I’ve digested a lot of books, articles and programs from the “historical Jesus” movement in academia; my “Lenten project” for this year was an audio course by The Teaching Company entitled “Jesus and His Jewish Influences” by Prof. Jodi Magness, an archaeologist with extensive field experience in Israel.

But once a year it’s nice to actually participate in a Jesus-focused ritual with others, and there’s nothing that the good Catholics that I sit in silence with on Holy Thursday do or say that I would disagree with. We would certainly disagree regarding the ultimate implications of what happened on that Passover evening of two millennia ago in Jerusalem, but we all accept  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:15 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, April 8, 2017
History ... Psychology ... Society ...

I recently heard an interesting report on NPR about some research being done on the psychological importance of ritual. A University of Toronto PhD student named Nicholas Hobson teamed up with some professors to examine what the practice of ritual does to the mind, especially in terms of how we relate to others. One question that Hobson and company addressed was the difference in how we relate to those who share our rituals versus those who don’t.

But first, Hobson set out how important ritual is to the human race:

. . . rituals are ubiquitous around the world. Whenever you see a behavior that occurs in different places, different times, among people who have had no contact with one another, it tells you there’s something in that behavior that’s likely woven into the hardware of the mind.

So, ritual may be more than an idea that we pick up from our ancestors; it might be part of the human genetic endowment! It certainly is interesting to see how similar rituals are for people from all over the world.

You can often find world-wide rituals focused on a similar theme. A big focal point for many public rituals is the winter solstice, i.e. the point in the year when the days are darkest, but will soon stop getting darker and getting more light (this is December in the northern hemisphere, June in the southern hemisphere). Back in November, the Teaching Company put out a catalog that had some nice info about winter solstice rituals in the northern hemisphere. The Teaching Company will mail you scads of catalogs  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, March 20, 2017
Photo ...

We’ve had a fairly warm winter here in the northeast, and the relatively mild weather continued thru most of February. The last two weeks of February were exceptionally warm, getting over 60 degrees for 11 of 21 days thru March 9. With a lack of snow cover, the warmth seeped down thru the soil to where flower bulbs rest, and the spring flowers became convinced that it was wake-up time. The crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and scilla got going and were beginning to sing their joyful songs of color and rebirth.

However, on March 10 the temps crashed and stayed mostly in the 20s and 30s thru the 17th. Early spring flowers can take a cold night or two, but not a 2-week return to February. So here’s what it looks like to be too far ahead of your time. This last revenge of winter will soon be gone, but unfortunately it robbed us of some of the wonderful early flowers that make surviving the horrible winters all seem worthwhile.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:21 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Outer Space ... Science ...

One of the biggest trends in astronomy in the modern era (say since 1950) has been the decreasing reliance on visible light, and the increased reliance on waves that we can’t see, to observe the cosmos. Our ground observatories and now our in-space observatories look more and more at X-rays, radio signals, ultraviolet rays, infrared radiation, microwaves, and high-energy gamma rays in order to figure out “what’s out there”, and what is it doing.

Over the past century, humankind has come a long, long way in what it knows about the cosmos, including how it started and how it’s probably going to wind up A lot of that was made possible by all of the information gathered through these various non-visible observation techniques. Even more will be learned in the near future as our scientists figure out how to detect “gravitational waves“. Those can help us to learn a lot about exotic stuff like black holes and neutron stars and maybe “cosmic strings”. Oh, another cutting-edge technique — observing neutrino particles from space!

Since 2001, the radio astronomers have had an interesting mystery on their hands. They have occasionally recorded very brief but very powerful radio signals coming from beyond the Milky Way. They call these “fast radio bursts“. Since they come from so far, far away, beyond anything that can be observed with regular visible light, the origin of these bursts are not apparent. Different astronomers have different theories on this, but  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:45 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 5, 2017
History ... Politics ... Society ...

It looks as if the Baby Boomers, the rebellious youth of the 1960’s who were going to change the world in favor of peace, pot and microdot, the politicized generation that shut Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War down, have in their old age joined another revolution. But not the one that you might have expected. Once upon a time, “revolution” belonged to John Lennon. Today it’s the opening motif for the Sean Hannity Show.

An NBC News/ WSJ Poll from last week said that 52 percent of Baby Boomers approved of the job President Trump is doing, while 58 percent of Millennials disapproved. Regarding Trump’s temporary travel ban, 54 percent of Boomers said it is a necessary safeguard against terrorism, while 59 percent of Millennials said that it’s not. On the Affordable Care Act, 47 percent of Boomers said that it is a bad idea, while 48 percent of Millennials said that it’s good.

Now, if only Millennials voted in the same proportions as Boomers, Trump might right now be but a footnote to American history. But they don’t. An early estimate says that about 55% of eligible Millennials voted in November, 2016, versus around 70% for Boomers.

Still, Millennials can be a paradoxical lot, just as much  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Photo ...

Looks like this hospitable vittlery is all stocked up and ready for Happy Hour!! This is actually at Taos in East Rutherford, NJ. And yea, I’m giving the place a little plug — I never had an unpleasant moment there, Happy Hour or not.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:47 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

Some friends recently invited me to the movies; they were going to see a documentary about James Baldwin, i.e. “I Am Not Your Negro“. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join them, but their invitation got me interested in James Baldwin, the American writer and activist whose works were very much a part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (and who lived in France for much of his life). Not being familiar with his works, I looked Baldwin up on the web and watched some You Tube videos about him from the 60’s.

James Baldwin was certainly an interesting figure; one article said that he straddled the uncharted territory between MLK Jr and Malcolm X. He was a little too radical for MLK’s movement, given that some of his writings hinted at black violence against white society. And yet he never embraced separationism as with Malcolm or Bobby Seale or Stokely Carmichael (who coined the term “Black Power”). Baldwin most definitely rejected the “moral authority” of Euro-Western Civilization, saying that the white man has nothing the black man should want except power. And yet, Baldwin talked about the need for compassion and a broader perspective regarding collective truths, both on the part of whites and blacks. Baldwin did not totally write off the ability of white society to acknowledge its wrongs and change, even if he wasn’t terribly optimistic about it. In a nutshell, James Baldwin was a complex and compelling figure, well spoken and well written.

The video that most intrigued me was a 1965 debate at the Cambridge Univ Student Union (in England) between Baldwin and conservative writer William F. Buckley. The debate was very formal and proper, very British. The proposition being debated was “Has the American Dream Been Achieved At the Expense of the American Negro”. Spoiler alert, a ballot of the students who attended the debate was taken,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:10 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 20, 2017
Personal Reflections ...

I recently was called for jury duty in my county, which is Essex County in New Jersey. I take my civic duties fairly responsibly, so I filled out the form and showed up right on time on my assigned date. The jury management office in Essex was rebuilt just a few years ago, and relative to the other places where I’ve done jury duty in the past, it was quite luxurious. The seats in the waiting rooms were fairly comfortable, not the old molded plastic auditorium chairs. There was free wifi and a computer lounge with library-like carrels where you could sit in relative privacy with your laptop. The waiting rooms offered a choice between three TV channels, CNN for news and politics, ESPN for sports, and another one for the usual “lifestyle” shows. The public address system worked relatively well and you could hear the announcements, and there was a free coffee dispensary with 4 Keurig machines. Essex County is a relatively large urban county and the courts are busy, so there were a lot of people waiting to be called out to the courtrooms for possible selection. But the management area was spacious enough to keep things fairly comfortable. So I could not complain at all about the waiting and processing area.

And yet, I was pretty miserable from 8:15 am on Tuesday when I first reported right through 12:15 pm on Wednesday when I was released. I had been called to a courtroom for final evaluation each day, but both times I was excused for various reasons beyond my control. So I didn’t wind up sitting on a jury. And that’s probably for the best, because I just wasn’t in a good mood about the whole thing. Yea, I watched the video that they show you right after your report, where the Chief Justice of the NJ Supreme Court tells you what a great duty it is to a free society that ordinary citizens like you be used to judge their peers whenever the courts are called on to resolve a dispute. And I agree with that theory. But still . . . I don’t know, there was just something I found unpleasant about being a stranger in a crowd, being ordered and herded around by anonymous bureaucrats as if we were in a prison or in the military. Now I know a little better why most people don’t like prison or being in the military.

Funny thing is that I don’t remember ever feeling this way about jury duty in the past. Somehow, most of my past experiences were in places where the crowds were smaller and you were usually addressed directly by a human, you weren’t herded into a big room awaiting the next announcement from speakers mounted in the ceiling. And maybe I was spoiled by my past experiences. I was never selected to a jury in my life, despite 4 or 5 previous jury duty rounds. In every case, someone would  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 6, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I haven’t talked very much about President Trump since he was elected back in November. Just a few days before the election, I published a post entitled “America, You’re Not Really Going to Do This, Right?” In that post, I acknowledged the pre-election momentum towards Donald Trump, but I concluded that Ms. Clinton would still win. “I think that just enough will re-think the situation once faced with the true responsibility of being an American voter, and will give the system some more time to try to right itself.” Well, so much for my political clairvoyance. A whole lot of Americans in the right places (relative to the Electoral College) were not about to give the existing system more time, i.e. by voting for Hillary Clinton. The Trump Revolution was on.

And so, Donald Trump is now President, and thus far he is making good on his campaign promises to disrupt the current state of affairs in a “big league” kind of way. A whole lot of progressive Democrats (as well as independent moderates) are very downhearted by this. Over the past 3 months, many of them have engaged in a variety of wishful thinking exercises, including hoping that enough members of the Electoral College would take the initiative to vote counter to their state’s “winner take all” mandate, such that Clinton would become President. Some people thought that Trump would be different once he took the oath of office, but thus far, that has not panned out. And a variety of articles have been published (e.g. Salon, Huffington, and Michael Moore) speculating that Trump will not finish his first term but will either resign or be forced out by impeachment proceedings within two or three years. Will these predictions do any better than the other wishful thinking exercises to date?

Trump has started his Presidency with a lot of gusto and gung-ho, appointing a team of like-minded, wrecking-ball types with little or no experience or investment in the current state of government. He is having a lot of fun with his power of executive order. But what happens when he has to knuckle down and get Congress to legislate, and then get the bureaucracy to carry out  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:53 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, January 27, 2017
Psychology ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

Being an old guy with old-fashioned habits going well back into the previous century, I still like to have paper reading material at my dinner table, so as to peruse while I eat (or after I eat; more and more I like to linger at the dinner table for a while after I’ve finished my food and drink). I’ve been a subscriber to The Atlantic for over 25 years, and I still try to get thru the issues each month. The January/February issue had quite a few interesting article topics, including octopus consciousness, oil fracking, Glenn Beck, the health dangers of sugar, sleep difficulties (something I experience all too often these days), and not surprisingly, another screed against white America by Ta Nehisi Coates, renewing his call for reparations because of the sin of replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump.

(Sorry, Mr. Coates — despite all of the historical injustices inflicted upon African-Americans by whites which you accurately cite, African Americans must share some of the blame for Trump, given that too many qualified African American voters who helped Obama in 2008 and 2012 stayed home this past November 9; despite the racism and sexism that motivated some white voters, had blacks they turned out, Trump might not have carried Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Also, note that Mr. Coates mostly ignores the issue of voter misogyny against Clinton — which cuts across color lines).

All of that was quite good and interesting. But the article that I have given the most thought to lately is a short piece entitled “Awesomeness Is Everything“. Awesomeness? Does that have to do with “awe”? I never thought much about awe. I can’t say that I’ve experienced it very often in my life, or if I did, I didn’t immediately recognize myself being “awe struck”. To me, awe is more of an advertising term — this new IPhone is awesome! It has also had its political uses, e.g. the supposed “shock and awe”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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