The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Current Affairs ... Science ...

I’m still very disoriented by the process of looking for a new apartment. Yea, I know, you grad students can do it in your sleep (or do it instead of sleeping). But when you get to be my age, changing your address just ain’t so easy. Just wait and see.

Anyway, I still manage to read the papers now and then, and I just saw something in the NY Times saying that the US Department of Energy is going to conduct a research review regarding cold fusion. Wow, cold fusion … it ain’t dead after all! I remember that little burst of excitement back in 1989 when two scientists (Pons and Fleischmann, if I recall) made some grand press announcements about the revolutionary energy source that they had discovered. The world economy was finally going to be saved from the dirty, nasty and increasingly expensive fuel sources that it was (and still is) held slave to. A new era of prosperity and promise was about to begin, powered by the clean and almost limitless energies derived from cold fusion cells — pretty much a few pieces of metal dipped in water. Well, of course, the whole thing turned out to be a fraud.

Or did it? I remember reading back in 1989 that even though Pons and Fleischmann had been discredited, there were other legitimate scientists who were continuing to carefully investigate the possibility of low-energy nuclear reactions in electrically charged water. Well, here we are 15 years later, and maybe those guys are finally going to have their day in the sun. Or a cold-fusion version of the sun (recall that the sun is powered by “hot” fusion).

If you want to read more, the place to start is I was browsing some of the freebie articles on their site, and it brought back memories of The Lone Gunmen, a short-lived TV show that was spun off from the X-Files. For those of you who weren’t familiar with the Gunmen (and that’s about 99% of you), they were fictional independent crusaders and hard-core techno-conspiracy theorists. The Gunmen would have liked the Infinite Energy crowd (unfortunately, they were killed off in one of the final episodes of the X-Files). The big premise of Infinite Energy is that they are on to a new science that could save the world, but the scientific establishment and the government that funds it are trying to quash them so as to protect the traditional energy interests (Exxon-Mobil, Pittston Coal, the Bush family, etc.). While browsing their site, I can just about hear the theme song from the The Lone Gunman, which was called “Crossing The Line”.

We conspiracy seekers shouldn’t trust the Department of Energy to give cold fusion a fair hearing (in 1989 they hurriedly issued a report saying that it’s totally bogus and shouldn’t be given any government funding). It’s obviously a plot to discredit the movement by seemingly giving it a fair hearing. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that no one’s trying to get rich (or get even richer) while the masses choke on their fumes and riot because of upcoming energy shortages and mass unemployment.

Hey, just kidding … I think …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:22 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Uncategorized ...

To all of my two or three regular readers, sorry for not doing much blogging lately. I’ve been looking for a new apartment, and it’s been kicking my butt. Just too many real-world factors involved. Real estate — where the greediest and ugliest aspects of humankind manifest themselves. Arg. Hopefully I’ll settle on something before long, move in, and get on with life, somewhat the poorer for it. My old landlord helped me to save a few coins by keeping the rent low (in return for much angst), but he’s just about history (just sold the place).

So, instead of reading and studying and writing and thinking great thoughts, I’m all wrapped up in ads and phone calls and apartment viewings, and soon I’ll be writing checks and buying new furnishings and filling out multiple change of address forms. Oh, what joy. But then again, a guy like me can’t always live inside his head, even though I’d like to. Once in a while, real life forces me to get out there and scoop up some raw experience (and it is very raw). But hopefully, I’ll be back in my perch before long, a new perch at that, with bundles of newly gathered experience data to mull over and analyze. Yea, what the heck.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:00 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 13, 2004
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My beer supply was getting a bit low, so I stopped into a liquor store yesterday looking for a six-pack or two. The glory days of the mid-90’s are long gone, when microbrews had just invaded the scene and were pushing Bud and Miller and Coors back from their dominant position on the shelves. But despite their retreat, most stores here in northern NJ still keep a few micros in stock – there are obviously still a few beer drinkers out there with standards, people who won’t settle for malt-flavored water with plenty of advertisement.

So, I was looking over the refrigerator shelf where the micros still hold out, and I saw something new. Well, actually, that’s not so surprising. The liquor stores around here seem terribly anxious to replace a really well made microbrew (e.g., Shipyard) with some novelty brand that might catch the eye of the Bud crowd, e.g. Three Stooges beer. The new brand I saw yesterday was definitely a novelty item, something meant to sell you on concept and not necessarily on quality. It is called “He’brew Genesis Ale”. Yes, a Jewish Kosher microbrew. Brought to you by the Schmaltz Brewing Company. The label does the Jewish angle to the max. Aside from a drawing of a nerdy rabbi-looking guy with a flat hat and beard waving beer bottles over a synagogue, you have the following inscriptions: “the chosen beer”, “chutzpah never tasted so good”, and “to life! l’chaim!”. The logo is the star of David amidst wheat ears. And then there’s the credo, with elements from the Torah and the Passover table: “Why is this beer different from all other beers? In the beginning …”

Well, I hate the idea of getting suckered into buying a product based on advertising and image. I mean, what is there in all of this that indicates that I’m going to drink a good beer if I plunck down $8 for it? I turned away from the refrigerator door, but something called me back to it. I’m not a Jew, but there’s something about Jewishness and especially Jewish humor that tugs some of my strings. And there was something poetic about the conclusion of the label credo: “may HE’BREW join in the blessings of your lives”. Well, OK, I pluncked down my $8, hoping that I wasn’t being taken in too badly.

I had one with dinner tonight. So how is it? Well, turns out to be a microbrew after all, something much better than the watery lagers that define mainstream American beer tastes. It has a strong nose, an opaque body, a lacy head and a nice, round mouth feel to it. As to the taste, it’s a bit on the hoppy / bitter side, which is not really a bad thing. It reminds me of how the mainstream beers like Piels and Rheingold used to taste back in the early 60s. I was just a kid back then, but my parents used to let me take an occasional sip; I very well remember those bitter hops, the taste of beer before the early 70s when the MBA types started reformulating the traditional brewmaster techniques so as to maximize profits (add more water, less hops, and plenty of highly targeted advertising).

Yea, this is an old world beer, perhaps like what they drank in the ghettos of Berlin and Warsaw before the darkness of the early 20th Century descended. There is substance behind all of the hard sell, significance behind the schmaltz. As with Jewish culture in general. Perhaps I’ll open one up after sundown on April 5th.

Oh, one more thought that relates to Judaism, but also to Islam and to Christianity. The Atlantic had a review of novelist John Buchan, a Scotsman from the early part of the last Century. In one of his international adventure novels (Greenmantle), he was mulling over the fervor of Islamic fundamentalism, apparent even in 1916. He made a point that was bigger than any particular ayatollah, something that addresses the question of why the world’s most influential religions all originated in the Middle East:

“It is the austerity of the East that is its beauty and its terror … they want to live face to face with God without a screen of ritual and images and priestcraft.”

Well, I’ll drink to that. But I’ll also keep on praying that the raw spirits emerging from the deserts of austerity can be channeled toward the waters of peace, and away from the wastelands of destruction and death.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:53 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 7, 2004
Uncategorized ...

I haven’t had much time this past week to think and write, because of some landlord problems. Looks like I’m gonna need some new digs. And that takes a lot of time and energy, energy that could otherwise go into thinking and writing. Oh well, that’s life. I guess you’ve gotta have a roof over your head before you can think and write.

One of my present landlord’s worst sins is his demand that I remove some of the books and magazines that I have piled up in my apartment. He’s the kind of guy that probably doesn’t have a lot of books in his place. Not exactly a book lover, this fellow. This is the last time that I live in an apartment in the same house with the owner. They’re little fascists about their precious little estates, always telling you not to do something or not liking the way that you dry your dishes or whatever. My landlord is now trying to sell the place (as he and his wife are tired of having tenants, and the values around here have skyrocketed lately because of the new train service to Manhattan). That has pushed him well into the tyrant zone. Time to go, especially since any new owner with any brains is gonna totally re-do this place, and thus kick us all out anyway.

Because of all this housing turmoil, I haven’t had much time to bring down any of the mini-brainstorms and mental associations that drift thru my head over the course of the week, which are the raw material for this blog. Therefore, I’ll have to reflect on some of the more raw, primal things of life for now. Like perfume. There are a lot of women, old and young, where I work. But rarely do any of them wear perfume (which is just as well). However, last Thursday, I noticed two of them wearing it. Two in one day!

The first woman was an older hen, a secretary whose been there for decades and decades. She had to leave early to go to the dentist that day. I guess that back in her time, going to the dentist was an occasion for a woman to spray on a bit of cologne or whatever. I guess that kind of thing was once a social requirement for a women; any formal occasion, including consulting a health professional, required a splash of scent. Well, the scent in question here was also quite an old one, something that reminded me of the flowery, sweet and cloying perfumes that my mother used to wear (for going to the dentist or whatever – maybe even the supermarket!). I never liked those scents; I had to open the windows in the car even if it was a cold winter day. And then if my dad lit up a cigarette (maybe as to drown out the smell of my mother’s perfume), it was totally disgusting. Burning tobacco and cloying flowers – no wonder I used to throw up so much when I was a kid!

The second woman was a bit younger, and was wearing something quite different. She was a clerk from the homicide unit, just bringing some paperwork over to the desk next to me. She wasn’t dressed up or anything, the usual slacks and pull-over shirts that clericals who handle a lot of files wear. But for whatever reason, she was wearing some new-generation perfume, something that starts out smelling like clean linen, and then mixes in a variety of citrus and herbal tones. As she passed me (I don’t know her, although I’ve seen her around), it was like, whoa, what’s this nasal symphony in the air? The woman in question was nothing to fall in love with, but her taste in perfume was to be commended (although you’ve still got to wonder about her judgement – why would she put on a splash just to walk over to the Administration Unit? We’re not like dentists or anything).

Hmm, glad to know that they’re now making more interesting kinds of perfumes than the ones that my mother wore (and the older secretary still wears). Although we don’t think about it too much, smells are still an important thing in the daily life of species homo sapiens. (As is having a roof over your head).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:21 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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