The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, August 29, 2004
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KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES: I always liked radio DJ’s who cleverly bunch songs together. There weren’t and still aren’t all that many DJ’s with enough cleverness to do it well. I know that I couldn’t; as I ponder this matter, I can hardly think of any subtle segues between seemingly dissimilar songs. But I can come up with three songs that would have been interesting to have heard together, even if the connections between them were rather obvious — i.e., they all dealt with a mythical man named Mister Jones.

Here’s the list: First, from 1965, Bob Dylan’s Balad of a Thin Man, with its refrain “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones”. Second, Mister Jones by Counting Crows, from 1993. “Mr. Jones and me, stublin ’round thru the barrio”. Then finally, Mister Jones by Talking Heads (1988 — ah, the Eighties). This is the liveliest song of the bunch; the liberation of Mister Jones is celebrated by David Byrne with a Latin beat.

Still, the mystery remains. Just who is Mister Jones and what about him inspired three different song writers over three different decades? What does he stand for? And what is his first name?

Perhaps we’ll never know.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:06 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, August 26, 2004
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I watched a report this evening on the PBS Lehrer Newshour about the recent CBA Convention in Atlanta. For those of you not familiar with this, CBA stands for Christian Booksellers Association. This was another one of those industry shows where thousands of merchants come together in a big hall and display their wares hoping to attract retailers who will hopefully stock their items, and to make a few extra bucks from walk-up sales. The CBA Convention obviously involves religious books of a Christian nature. “Christian” here means the US heartland version of Christianity. But don’t think that heartland means back woods. Christian media is no longer a small-potatoes proposition confined to little book shops found in low-rent commercial strips. It now encompasses best-sellers and videos and rock music and software and Hollywood movies (e.g., Mel Gibson’s Passion); big companies like Warner have special divisions that cater to the faithful. In other words, Christian entertainment is now big business.

While watching the PBS reporter walking amidst the rows of DVDs and puppets and paintings and book racks, I couldn’t help but imagine a dark, scruffy, long-haired man running about, yelling madly, turning over stalls and display cases, and causing much pandemonium. But hey, I’m sure that security would pick him up on their cameras and have him out of there within 30 seconds. Within five minutes, things would be back to normal, and the pleasing sounds and scents of money changing hands in the 21st Century would once more fill the air.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:37 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, August 22, 2004
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OK, time for a break. I’ve discussed some pretty heavy topics recently. So it’s time to lighten up a bit, time to let a picture speak its thousand words.

This is a shot of an empty corn crib on some farm near Cooperstown, New York. Not much more to say than that. You either like it or you don’t. Hope you do.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:55 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
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THE KILLING OF JIMMIE: Being a citizen of the State of New Jersey, and being employed by a local government agency, I take interest in state politics. So I couldn’t help but notice the recent and rapid demise of our Governor, Jim McGreevey. For those of you who don’t share my interest in the politics of this great state (you may think I’m being facetious here), Jim McGreevey was elected Governor in 2001. After moving into the Governor’s mansion, he just couldn’t get it right. He inherited some tough breaks like sinking tax revenues and a couple of key state agencies in melt-down mode. But to make it all worse, he exhibited very poor political judgment in a wide variety of ways, and was thus rewarded with very low approval ratings in the media polls. Earlier this summer, though, it seemed as if he was finally getting some things done, and his poll numbers started heading north. But within three weeks, two of his key fundraisers were hit with federal indictments, and then came an extortion demand from a former homosexual lover (who for a while was on the State payroll at well over $100,000 per annum). So, with his parents and his wife and 3-year old daughter by his side, Governor McGreevey decided to ‘fess up and punch out. He will leave office on November 15.

I have three comments. First off, good riddance. Not that I disagreed with McGreevey’s policy directions, which were basically East Coast semi-liberal. It’s that he didn’t have any political spine; he tried to please everyone, and in the end he pleased no one and couldn’t get things done. I’m not surprised at the allegations and indictments coming out regarding his closest staff and supporters; in New Jersey, you’ve gotta have real guts to tell anyone with any political juice to play it straight. In Jersey, corruption is generally thought to be a Constitutional birthright. McGreevey not only lacked the guts to draw the line with his people, he set the tone himself by appointing his (alleged)boyfriend, Golan Cipel, as his homeland security chief, a position for which Mr. Cipel was obviously unqualified. (Once the press pointed that out, the Gov transferred Mr. Cipel to an even higher-paid, no-responsibility “adviser” position on the State payroll).

Second comment: the Cipel incident is a splendid example of the danger of tolerating patronage and corruption in government (which is so rampant here in the “Garden State”, the state where cash is crop). When a leader puts a friend or lover in a high place, he or she straps a time bomb to their belt. If that friend or lover decides to turn on the big cheese, they’ve got a lot more on him or her than some dumpy and grumpy old bureaucrat. Even when the threat isn’t as serious as pulling a crypto-gay leader out of the closet, an unhappy cronie can still cause a lot of disruption and distortion to the process of government. Whatever happened to the notion that working for the public was a sacred responsibility? I guess that idea just didn’t make the top ten virtues list here in the Sopranos State.

Third comment: and here my liberal side comes out … I regret the social stigmas and lack of acceptance that gays face, which causes stuff like this to happen. There have been various politicians who have come out of the closet, e.g. former Congressman Barney Franks. But this may be one of the few times where a “marriage of convenience” was exposed on the part of a gay politician. Jim McGreevey knew darn well that he probably wouldn’t have gone far in politics if he admitted a long time ago that he was gay and had thus avoided the devices of marriage (to a woman) and parenthood. It’s a shame that many gays feel they have to play games like this to win acceptance and achievement in our world. OK, McGreevey himself probably wasn’t governor material, but he was supposedly a good mayor and he might have made a decent Assemblyman or State Senator. It’s too bad that he couldn’t have been led to believe as a young man that he could still go far in life if his sexual orientation were known. Yea, our society is starting to loosen up a little on the homosexuality issue, but it still has a long way to go. There’s still a lot of hatred and prejudice and misunderstanding.

So, there are probably plenty of successful men (and women) out there who are married and seem perfectly normal, but when the lights go down …. Some may be bi-sexual, able to enjoy whatever comes their way, but I suspect that most such marriages are arrangements of convenience. From what I’ve read about the McGreevey incident, his true sexual orientation was a well-known secret for a long time. I strongly suspect that his wife knew and went along with it because she got something out of the arrangement, i.e. the status of sharing the limelight and being important.

How prevalent is this kind of thing? Well, in general, surveys show that about 1 in every 25 men and women are homosexual. If that holds up for successful politicians, then you’d expect that the US Congress, with 100 Senators and 435 Representatives, would have about 21 gay members. I can only think of one or two openly gay Congressmen or women right now, so somebody’s leading a double life. As for Governors, 4% of 50 equals 2; so who’s the other one? Only his or her hairdresser knows for sure.

Again, though, it’s too bad that our social mores and lingering anti-gay attitudes cause all of these distortions. It’s too bad that people can’t just be accepted for who they are and be allowed to develop and use their talents, even if those talents involve political leadership.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, August 14, 2004
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CO-ETERNAL STUDENTS: You’ll notice that the title of this blog admits to the possibility of multiple eternal students out there in blogdom. Back when I started this endeavor in November, 2002, I didn’t see any sign of other eternal student bloggers on the search engines. But that’s no longer true. At least two other web logs now claim to represent the thoughts of an eternal student – the blogs of Andy and Marianne. Actually, Andy and Marianne both claim to be “The Eternal Student”. Most interesting.

Well, as far as I’m concerned, there’s room for more than one Eternal Student in this town. Therefore, I welcome them both. Andy Perkins started his blog in March, 2004, while Marianne got going this past May. Andy is a graduate engineering student in his late 20’s or early 30’s who hails from Atlanta. He’s married to Lynn and is the proud dad of Gideon. If all goes well, Gideon will have a new brother or sister pretty soon. As you might guess, Andy’s blog is very family oriented. Lots of pics of Lynn and Gid, along with relatives and neighbors and friends. If you enjoy normal family life focused around a healthy young couple, this is your blog. But OK, Andy has other things to say too. He talks about Neil Young and his internship at IBM in New York State, and he takes an intelligent if traditional religious viewpoint (Jesus is definitely his savior and redeemer). Still, he’s heavily into family and friends, and maybe that’s a good thing. He’s clearly a friendly chap; he gave out his summer address (where he’s staying during the internship) and invites his readers to drop in for a visit. I hope he doesn’t come to regret that. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t a negative element lurking out there in cyberspace.

As to Marianne, she describes herself as a conservative 21 year old literature student, currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Notre Dame. Her site only has a few posts thus far, and they all fall in line rather smartly with the neo-conservative agenda … e.g., doubts about the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep Iran from going nuclear and a burning desire to debunk the fairness and accuracy of the New York Times, especially its coverage of the American campaign in Iraq. Well, nothing too surprising so far, but I’d keep an eye on this eternal student; if she can replace the usual conservative vitriol with the sensibility of a Melville or a Faulkner or a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald, it might get interesting.

I’m not into extensive hyperlinking, as on most blogs, but I’ll make an exception today and give you a direct link to these fellow eternal students.

ETERNAL STUDENT ANDY

ETERNAL STUDENT MARIANNE

Tell ‘em Eternal Student Jim sent ya.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:18 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ...

Not too long ago, I found out about Aspergers Syndrome. I came across some articles in the New York Times (4/29/04 and 5/9/04), and they struck a nerve. Some of the symptoms sounded close to home — especially the feeling that many PWAS’s (“People With Aspergers Syndrome”) have of belonging to another world: the “whoops, wrong planet” syndrome. I’ve definitely toyed with that notion!

Still, the emotional distancing and insensitivity typical of Aspergers didn’t sound like me. I’m generally empathetic, and can usually pick up on other people’s feelings and sympathize with them. At least to the degree that those feelings are expressed through language and sound. I also express my own feelings rather well through audio — I use voice modulation extensively, as opposed to the flat eloqution that typifies many “Aspies”. Really! Also, I’m not a victim of routine, another Aspergers characteristic; OK, I’m not exactly a ‘wild and crazy guy‘, but I can appreciate a new perspective and a different road thru the forest as much as the next guy.

But as to the non-verbal forms of social signal-sending, e.g. body language, eye contact — admittedly, I don’t do very well with those things. And yes, I can be a bit clumsy, which  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:34 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, August 8, 2004
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I had a few beers today at a brew pub out in Bethlehem, PA. Nice place. I had my cheapo digital camera, so I tried to get a few shots. They didn’t come out too well. But then again, this is what a bar SHOULD look like when you get comfortable and have a few too many.

But please … make sure that you don’t try driving when it looks like this. The whole country has gone over to the .08 standard, so it’s easier than ever to get DWI’ed. And it’s extremely true that you can do some real damage, including killing someone, when you drive under the influence. So have fun, but make your plans in advance as to how you’re going to get home.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:40 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, August 5, 2004
Art & Entertainment ...

Thus far in life, I’ve resisted the temptation to become pathetically obsessed with a famous member of the opposite sex. You know the kind, those guys who stalk actresses and models and eventually get socked with retraining orders. I just haven’t found anyone worthy of my pathetic obsessions thus far. But this summer I’ve become increasingly fond of Gwen Ifill, the female African-American reporter and commentator on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Within the past few weeks I’ve become a definite fan of hers. A few nights ago, while watching her interview Newt Gingrich with a pretty pink suit on (Gwen, not Newt!), I was inspired to come out of the closet and confess my feelings here on this blog. There’s just something about her understated demeanor, balanced against her informed and probing interview style, that turn me on. Ms. Ifill doesn’t show much emotion on the air … and that’s what drives me nuts. I know that down deep inside, beneath her intelligent mind and her understated wardrobe, there must lie a heart of passion. Ah yes, if only I were important enough to attract the attention of Gwen Ifill.

Well, Ms. Ifill probably doesn’t have to hire a bodyguard to keep me in check. I’m a bit too old and tired and generally burnt out to find out where she lives and works and follow her around. And I don’t need the trouble with the law that such a course of action would bring. But I did want to let the world know that at least one old liberal guy’s heart skipped a beat or two watching her at the Democratic convention. I had no plans whatsoever to watch any of the Republican convention later this month, but if Gwen’s going to be there with a mike, then bring on the elephant crowd.

Still, I know what my problem is. I’m fickle. A while ago, it was Connie Chung. And tomorrow my attentions may again turn east, towards the anchor on channel 11. Kaity Tong is her name, and it’s awfully cute how she stares so intently at the camera with her bright eyes while reading a story. And let’s not even get started about those Latina reporters on the Hispanic UHF stations. Yea, I just can’t stay true to one newswoman. I’ll admit it, I’m just no good.

But for now, here’s a pic I found of Gwen. Great hair, as always!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:26 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, August 1, 2004
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The Democratic convention is over, and I wasn’t one of the bloggers invited to Boston to observe. Hrrrumph!! Well, maybe that’s a good thing. Although I’m generally more sympathetic to the Dems than to the Grand Olde Party, I don’t really want to be a partisan Democrat (or a partisan anything). I’d like to think that I’m an independent, albeit a somewhat liberal leaning independent. Ultimately I’m a party of one, looking for what’s right and what really works (or as close an approximation as possible).

Back to the Dems, I’ve been rather pessimistic thus far about John Kerry and his chances to beat George W. Bush this November. But now I’m back to the 50-50 point. The Edwards nomination certainly gave his campaign a shot of energy, and Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s feistiness might actually be a positive with women voters. As to Kerry himself, I just haven’t been very impressed with the image he’s put forth thus far. His resume is certainly outstanding; he’s probably more-than-qualified for the job (or at least is more qualified than George Bush is, even with four years experience). But since the coming of universal TV in the 50’s, image is the big thing. And up to now, the images of John Kerry that I’ve seen on TV haven’t looked too good. Mostly I’ve seen him speaking amidst crowds with a portable mike in his hand, sleeves rolled up, pacing back and forth, struggling to get a point across. He comes across in that context as being gawky and unsure of himself, someone who probably would be an arch “flip-flopper”.

But when he was up at the convention podium on Thursday night, standing tall in his black suit, it was a whole different matter. He started off with a smile, which seemed kind of forced. Then he got serious and I couldn’t help but think, now there’s a statesman. Memories of John F. Kennedy started coming back. Wow, imagine that, a President who actually looked like a real President.

So to you big-shot Democrats out there, if you’re listening (which you probably aren’t), here’s my advice: let Kerry be Kerry. Don’t force him to smile, don’t try to make him seem homey and down to earth. That’s not what this country needs right now. Emphasize the gravitas. Mrs. Kerry and Mr. Edwards will add all the color that is needed to get people’s attention. Keep John Kerry away from picnic tables and watermelon fests. Let him stand tall in a business suit, let him be serious. That’s what he does well, and I honestly believe that’s what the people of America ultimately want in a President.

In my opinion, we haven’t had a real President in a long time. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and JFK were real Presidents. They had their human faults, but they looked and acted the part of “Leader of the Free World”. LBJ started out good, but got mangled on the Vietnam thing. The guy had plenty of foresight regarding domestic issues (the civil rights laws and anti-poverty measures passed under him), but he got stuck by treating the Vietnam situation as a battleground against world Communism. Then came Nixon, and what a mess that turned out to be. Gerry Ford might have been OK given more time; he looked like a bumbling fool, but he knew the way things worked in DC and the rest of the world. Jimmy Carter, unfortunately, did not. Carter was certainly the greatest humanist of them all, but he faced the worst four years that any President had seen since Lincoln, and he just didn’t have the leadership talents to rise to the challenge. Then came Ron Reagan, who lucked out; during his watch, the American economy fired up again while the Soviet economy petered out. All Ron had to do was to act out the part, and he definitely knew how to do that. Papa Bush wasn’t so bad; he looked good during the Kuwait invasion, but just couldn’t keep the leadership thing going thereafter. So we got Bill Clinton, who a lot of people still like. But Clinton turned out to be an even better image man than Ronnie was. He was the ultimate political pragmatist, excellent at buying time, day by day, but without any long-term vision (although he made you think he had one). So he was followed by GWB, a guy with plenty of long-term vision; but do we really want to go there? Religiosity, unilateral military interventions, budget deficits, dismantling social infrastructure, free reigns for the rich, pollution, unfilled promises on education? And plenty of smirks and smugness in his speeches?

I know that Kerry can’t espouse a Bolshevik agenda; I know that America won’t buy a plan that restricts its sacred SUVs and McMansions and automatic weapons and tax cuts. But there are a whole lot of families out there whose “boats” did not rise very much during the prosperity of the 90’s. If Kerry could somehow convince them that a reasonable mix of public and private initiative over time could open the doors of opportunity once more for their children, then maybe we might see a statesman President again. But for now, the Democrats need to let Kerry act like a statesman, which he does pretty well on his own.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:51 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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