The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

The photo below seems almost normal, but not quite. (Much like myself). The subject of the photo is a plate of cookies, sugar cookies decorated for Christmas. Most of the cookies look OK, but what’s with those two ugly dark things? Well, those are the undersides of some cookies that I intentionally left in the oven a bit longer than most people would prefer. (The one between them is the bottom of an un-burnt cookie, for comparison sake).

Every year I continue my mother’s holiday tradition of making sugar cookies with decorative sprinkles (and some walnuts, as I like cookies with walnuts). My mother wasn’t exactly a gourmet chef, and her stove didn’t have precise temperature control. So, she often let her cookies bake too long; there would always be a lot of “burnies” in the cookie tray. But did that stop us kids from eating them? Of course not. If they were anything more than pure ashes and cinders, we’d wolf them down.

I’m not exactly a gourmet chef either, but I now have a two-layer cookie sheet that makes it easy to get the timing just right. But nonetheless, every year I still get out an old flat sheet and singe a dozen or so. Why? Because it brings back memories. I mean, not every cookie needs to taste just like it came from a professional bakery. When you eat a burnt cookie, you get a mix of the bitter and the sweet. As such, those burnt cookies are a good representation of my youth — in more ways than one.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:14 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 28, 2007
Philosophy ... Spirituality ...

I was off from work today and had a chance to catch up on some reading. I was cutting through a book about the relationship between Buddhist thought and cognitive science (The Embodied Mind by Francesco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch). You really have to plow your way through this book; it’s very dense with complex thought, although you can usually stay up with the authors if you go slow. However, it becomes incomprehensible whenever Buddhist doctrines are discussed. The two key Buddhist doctrines being flouted here are 1.) the falsity of “self”, and 2.) the ultimate emptiness and groundlessness of everything.

Well, that certainly covers a lot of ground (except that ‘ground’ ultimately doesn’t exist). We believe that we have stable, if slowly changing, self-identities; and that we live in a world that is “really there”. But certain Buddhists seem to think it’s all an illusion. Or mostly an illusion. Or an illusion in one sense, but not in another. Somehow, this confusion is supposed to break our egos (not unlike what a Zen koan sets out to do), and turn us into wiser, kinder and gentler beings. Once we stop grasping for fixed identities, we can then just experience things “straight up”, open-heartedly, without self-delusions.

Yea right.

The biggest problem with Buddhist thought, in my opinion, is its lack of respect for words. They don’t give much regard to the notion that “words have meaning” (which is consistent with their focus on meditative experience). So they can be sloppy with even the most important words like “truth”. Varela and company talk about “relative truths” and “ultimate truths”, but warn that neither are part of a “theory of truth”. The ultimate of ultimate truths is the emptiness of the world. And that would also include the concept of truth. If so, then truth is an empty concept; it can be whatever anyone wants (thus all truth becomes “relative truth”). That’s not what this book affirms, but its flip-flopping notions of what “truth” means would do nothing to prevent this. I suspect that criminal defense lawyers would love to convince judges and juries to adopt this book’s way of thinking.

As to throwing away our notion of “self” and the overly-inflated ego that often goes with it: I’ll be the first to acknowledge that many, if not most, people could use a good dose of humility. Ego causes a lot of trouble. But to nuke the ego and turn everyone into compassionate, compliant zombies – that scheme would work only if you absolutely guarantee 100% effectiveness. If just one person kept their ego, he or she would then become the ruler of the planet. In the real world, egos are a pretty good defense against power mongering and sales pitches and political speeches. Admittedly, the “self” and its ego are not permanent, and are not always good. In extreme instances (e.g., severe head injuries or traumas), the “self” can be terminated and replaced by a new personality. But self and ego are rough working concepts that make sense in the world such as it is.

Another rough working concept that makes sense, at least here in the West, is that “words have meaning”. Philosophers and scientists can prove that words and language could not and do not perfectly “represent” the world. Reality is always a bit more complex than our concepts. But we do need these concepts to maintain law and order, along with industry and commerce and science and education. We have to respect our words, not devalue them in favor of “enlightenment through sitting”. Hell, even in the Far East, most Buddhists these days seem more interested in making a buck than in folding their legs and slowing their breathing until the inner light of wisdom shines. And to make a buck, you have to assume that words have meaning. When China sells a batch of big-screen TV’s and then buys some US Treasury Bonds, it is not willing to accept “relative truths” about payment schedules.

I will be the first to admit that old-fashioned “objectivism” is on the ropes these days; there’s not much you can be sure of anymore. Nihilism is certainly a problem; radical jihad may well be a nihilist reaction to the failings of the Enlightenment. The USA can show the world how to to get rich (albeit with the side effect of unfair wealth distribution). But it doesn’t offer much else to believe in, other than “free elections” (which are good, but aren’t the stuff that one builds their life around). Nonetheless, I don’t think that Buddhist approaches such as “empty-minded open-heartedness” are the answer. I think that we need to press on in order to find compelling ideas and ideals that everyone can grasp and believe in.

Descartes gave us half an answer – we all know that even if nothing else exists, one thing does – we ourSELVES exist! And we know something else almost as fundamental: i.e., that we crave relationship with something else. Preferably something else having an existence much like our own, with thinking and self-consciousness. I.e., relationship with OTHER PEOPLE. Without such relationship we know that we malfunction and ultimately shut down, even if all of our physiological needs for nutrition and air and heat are met.

If our species, in its search for meaning, could lock-on to the necessity of relationship, to the sacredness of having other self-egos that our own self-ego can relate to (without dominance or force, which ultimately corrodes all relationships) — well, that would surely go a long way towards realizing a better world.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:27 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Philosophy ... Science ...

I’ve been reading some books and articles about “emergence”, the scientific and mathematical concept of how complex things or patterns such as traffic jams, living organisms, stock market crashes and bee hives “emerge” from a lot of stupid little things interacting together, following simple rules with no central commander. (Technically, these “little things” are called “cellular automa”; they continually decide what to do based on what those around them are doing). Our minds and our consciousness and intelligence may in fact be just an “emergence” from a lot of neuron cells in our brain acting under simple directives without any central guidance.

These books and articles are very interesting. But you can’t truly understand something unless you can get your hands on it, play around with it. When it comes to nuclear fusion, you obviously can’t fool around with it in your kitchen; so most of us will never really understand nuclear fusion. But emergence does lend itself to simple experiments on one’s home computer. You can set up some simple “emergence generators” using an MS Excel spreadsheet. I’ve been fooling around with one lately.

What I’ve learned from my own little emergence experiments is the importance of randomness and unevenness. Many of us curse randomness and unevenness. They’re just too unpredictable. We can’t control randomness, and unevenness just doesn’t seem right. What good is something that you can’t control and has an uneven mix? I myself tend to favor law and order.

I don’t think you want to hear all the details of my little spreadsheet experiment right now. However, I do sense a lesson from them, which I will try to share here. If the universe really does play by these rules, then randomness and disorder are just as necessary for life as law and order are. Without order, spontaneity would just make a useless mess of things. Without spontaneity, order would never get anything started. Opposites really do need each other to make things happen. Paradoxically, randomness causes intermittent clumps of order (e.g., four “heads” in a row in a series of 100 coin tosses). The “emergence machine” latches on to those clumps and weaves a pattern amidst the background static.

Just as an entertainment, here are some of the patterns that “emerge” on my little spreadsheet, based on slightly different rules. These are indeed mixes of law and randomness, order and anarchy.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:11 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Personal Reflections ...

I just posted an unread book inventory for my apartment, so I’m going to follow up with my un-drank alcoholic beverage inventory. Here’s what’s in my booze cabinet (actually two cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor) right now:


Otter Creek Raspberry Brown Winter Ale
Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
Anchor Christmas Ale
Genesee Cream Ale
Franziskaner Weiss
J W Dundee Pale Ale


Gascon 2006 Malbec
McManis 2005 Petit Sirah
Gato Negro 2006 Cabernet Shiraz
Alexander Valley 2004 “Sin Zin” Zinfandel
Joel Gott 2005 Zinfandel
Monte Velho 2006 Table Wine
J. Lohr 2004 Paso Robles Merlot

So, it looks like I’m well stocked for a long winter’s night.

But one should never feel too cozy about these things. Recall the parable of the rich man in Luke 12: I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:45 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ...

Here’s the stack of books that I bought in 2007. It looks as though I’m going to need 2008, and maybe part of 2009, to read them all. Some of them were real bargains; maybe $5 or $6 with shipping. Many hearken back to the 1980s and 90s, but they still say things that are relevant. I look forward to whatever insights about our wide and wonderful world they may give me. So here they are, from bottom up:

The Society of Mind, by Marvin Minsky; how brains and minds operate – perhaps.

How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker; ditto.

The Creative Mind, by Margaret A. Boden; ditto again, with a computational twist based on neural networks.

The Physics of Immortality, by Frank J. Tipler; his plan for a ‘resurrection of the dead machine’ has already been vetoed by developments in cosmic physics; but the idea is so audacious that it still deserves attention. There’s still time to find another way to do it!

The Wonder of Being Human, by Sir John Eccles and Daniel N. Robinson; why consciousness – and our selves — may really be exist and be important after all.

The Undiscovered Mind, by John Horgan; why we may never really know if consciousness is real after all.

Off The Books, by Sudhir A. Venkatesh; how the poor get by, in Chicago at least.

No God But God, by Reza Aslan; the case for Islam.

Microcognition, by Andy Clark; a philosopher of mind ponders neural networks and parallel distributed processing models.

Decoding the Universe, by Charles Seife; the new science of information, and the universe as a big computer.

The Bit and the Pendulum, by Tom Siegfried; pretty much ditto.

The Historical Figure of Jesus, by E.P. Sanders; I thought I had my fill of historical Jesus books, but E.P. Sanders is the dean of such studies.

Consciousness and Mental Life, by Daniel N. Robinson; Professor Robinson has the credentials to make some sense out of the current trends in cognitive science and the consciousness debate.

Programming the Universe, by Seth Lloyd; one more book on information and the universe as a big computer.

P.S. — My chances of getting thru all these books within the next year just went down, as I just found out that CBS is going to give Jericho another chance! How about that, the fan protest and all the packages of nuts that they sent to CBS actually worked! At least it was good for another seven episodes. Jericho is a show that shows just how creepy the world could actually get, given the right mixture of greed, terror and technology. And it makes you wonder what can be done to not let it get so creepy. One suggestion — cut back on the greed, terror — and technology. Before we lose it all and have to go back to living like they do in the mythical town of Jericho.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:39 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 14, 2007
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

In less than a year, it will be time to go out and pick a brand new president for our country. Actually, the next president might not be so brand-new after all. If Hillary Clinton manages to hold on to her current popularity, she could well be the second Clinton to occupy the big desk in the west wing since 1990. And some people are saying that’s a bad thing. For the past 20 years, we’ve only had two names in the White House: Bush and Clinton. They argue that it’s time for some new blood. Well, that’s an argument that makes a lot of sense if you don’t think about it too much.

What that argument is really saying is that the second Bush was a lot worse than the first, so the second Clinton would likewise be expected to be worse than the first. But I think it would be the other way around. Bill Clinton was really just a hillbilly version of Ronald Reagan. Both of them were very good actors and very lucky presidents. They presided over sunny times; during Reagan’s watch, America’s arch-enemy, the Soviet Union, finally collapsed of its own weight; in Bill Clinton’s time, burgeoning information technologies and deregulation brought forth the fastest economic growth and most promising outlook since the 1920’s. Despite a couple of minor military operations, both presidents presided over relatively peaceful times. So no wonder people look back on both with nostalgia, even though both had a lot more pearly teeth than integrity or virtue. These guys were not exactly Abraham Lincolns.

By contrast, Hilary seems to trade charisma for substance. The question is, does she have the right substance for the unsettled days and years ahead, days when many evil chickens will come home to roost. The next president will face times just as bad as what Jimmy Carter faced (recall the energy crisis, inflation, recession and the Iranian hostage crisis). Carter had a lot of substance, but his lack of leadership doomed his presidency. At the other extreme, our most recent President Bush found out that all charisma and no substance eventually corrodes the public trust that propels one into the White House.

Can Hilary strike the balance that FDR and JFK maintained (and made it look so easy)? I think she could — so long as she listens to Bill first, her own mind second, and then her heart last. I know that she’s not without fault – she certainly didn’t do very well in choosing a husband. But hey, she appears to be trying to make lemonade out of it, and I give her credit for that. Thus, I am personally ready for 8 more years of the Bush-Clinton era. They started out fairly well (George Herbert Walker Bush might well qualify for “under-rated” status; he did a pretty good job with his own Iraq crisis), but they went down from there (although the prosperity of the Clinton years made Bill seem the better man). However, I think they could end on an up-note. I’m willing to take a chance on Hillary, especially since the best alternatives seem too young (Obama) or can’t gain traction within their own party (McCain).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:42 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Philosophy ... Photo ... Science ...

Time for a pic. Here’s a distinguished member of the local wildlife scene, a male cardinal. He’s just hanging around in the bushes, awaiting an early sunset in December. It looks as if he’s filled his belly for the day and is just taking in the scene. In a few minutes he will be heading back to the nest for the night with his mate.

The cardinal brings up some interesting questions about the process of evolution. The male cardinal evolved it’s delightfully colorful plumage so as to better attract females for mating. The red color gave some members of the early cardinal species a reproduction advantage, so the color was “selected” into the male genes. But once the process was completed and every male cardinal was red, was the overall cardinal species any better off? Arguably it was worse off; the female retains its camouflage brown, but the males became sitting ducks for those animals that attack birds for a living. And yet, despite this evolutionary dead-end, the cardinals somehow survived, and lived on to delight us humans (especially on those drab winter days when everything is all brown and gray).

Now I’m as Darwinian as any legitimate scientist. I don’t like those “intelligent design” theories that the Bible-thumping creationists are trying to sneak into the school curricula. I think that those folk should go find better ways to save souls and spread the word of salvation than to corrupt our scientific and educational institutions (like maybe helping the poor and the needy). I know that there’s a good scientific reason that explains why red cardinals still get by in certain environments. BUT. I do have to wonder if there is a deeper layer of reality behind what physics studies, a layer that does allow for things such as beauty and virtue (you know, the Kantian categorical imperatives and such). And also the mental consciousness that allows us to appreciate those things. Perhaps the little evolutionary dead-end that gave our world the cardinal’s beautiful plumage, and the consciousness to enjoy it, are reflections of something more than our science can now (or should now) attest to.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:00 am       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 7, 2007
Society ... Technology ...

I was searching some Russian web sites for info about my family name, and accidentally came across a photo-blog in Cyrillic. It looked interesting, so I did a Google translation and found a poem about the start of the long Rusky winter. Of course, the translation was klunky. So I tried some other on-line translators, and the results were somewhat different. But still klunky — in a charming sort of way. Two of the words just didn’t translate, but I put my best guesses in brackets. But as to that “necessary disk”, you’re on your own there.

Here are four Americanized versions of this ode to the start of the long Russian winter. Despite the syntactical static, you still get the idea. I don’t have any similar thoughts for mid-December in New Jersey, where the temps currently oscillating between the low 20s and high 40s. All I can say is that I’ll take our prosaic late autumn over their poetic early winter, any day!

Dec. 1, 2007

This silence and coziness in the soul, which even does not be desirable to lie down to sleep. You control snowflakes in the lantern light and you begin to breathe flatter and it is calmer… You namurlykivayesh [sing?] to itself tikhonechko [song?], through the word, through time the song, which now would listen to….no the laziness to search for necessary disk… With the winter you… Let it will be bright and comfortable…

Such silence and comfort in the soul that does not even want to fall sleep. Witnesses for the lamppost in white light and you start breathing smoother and calmer … Namurlykivaesh [sing?] imagine tihonechko [song?] through the floor, through the courtesy song, which now would poslushala [listen] …. but Laziness go desired disk … In winter you … Let it be bright and comfortable …

Such silence and coziness in a shower that would not be desirable to go to bed at all. You observe of snowflakes in lantern light and you start to breathe more exactly and more easy… Намурлыкиваешь [sing?] to itself very quietly, through a word, through steps песенку [song?] which now would listen…. But laziness to search for the necessary disk… With a winter you… Let it will be light and cozy …

This silence and coziness in the soul, which even does not be desirable to lie down to sleep. You control snowflakes in the lantern light and you begin to breathe flatter and it is calmer … You namurlykivaesh [sing?] to itself tikhonechko [song?], through the word, through time the song, which now it would listen to….but laziness to search for necessary disk … With the winter you… Let it be bright and comfortable …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:06 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 3, 2007
Art & Entertainment ... Philosophy ... Religion ... Society ...

I voluntarily live in a perpetual culture lag; I have no idea what movies, songs, artists, clothes, etc. are going to be talked about 3 months from now. (I once had a girlfriend that made me watch E! with her — arg, bad memories.) So, don’t be surprised that I just found out about “The Golden Compass”, a movie that is now hitting the screens. Or that I’ve just become aware of the theological controversies behind Philip Pullman’s child fantasy novels, on which Golden Compass is based.

Oh good, another child-fantasy movie series. Just what we need. As if Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings weren’t enough (then throw in Naria, although I do very much respect C.S. Lewis). I’m glad that I grew up long before this stuff became required-seeing for every kid. Back when I was young, we walked around by rivers and railroad tracks and factories, and we made up our own fantasy adventures using whatever junk we found lying around. Kids today have their lives completely scheduled and controlled by their parents (admittedly, for their own safety – this is a more perverted world now). Thus, they have to stay indoors and read or watch a movie or DVD about fantasy adventure. Again, I’m glad that I grew up when a kid could still go out by himself after school or on a Saturday and do his own thing. But I digress.

Back to Philip Pullman and the Golden Compass. There’s a bit of controversy going on over Pullman’s “atheistic” message. The big enemy in Pullman’s stories is “The Magesterium”. I believe that God is eventually killed in some meta-cosmic battle. And we’re all the better for it, according to Pullman. With God gone, we can then be natural – and that includes allowing teenagers to satiate their burgeoning lusts without delay. You can see why Pullman would be popular with teens, especially with the guys. But without God and the hovering superego, just what in Pullman’s world keeps our beautiful desires from being sullied by cruelty, power-lust, neurosis and all the other bad tendencies that people actually have? Where would the virtues necessary to sustain our social order come from?

From “Dust”. In Pullman’s imagined world, there are invisible particles of goodness all around us. And they tend to cling to us when we’re in our most honest and natural states. By contrast, dust goes away when the Church and the Authorities start preaching to us in the name of God and Country. If only we’d all just let go, Dust would make it OK. But God and The Magesterium won’t let go, so they have to be done away with by Pullman’s protagonists (which appear to include a polar bear and a 12 year old girl).

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like to be told what to do by established religion and government. Both institutions go overboard too often, limiting freedom when it’s unnecessary and even counter-productive. I still respect the ideas and ideals of liberalism. But as to just throwing the establishment out . . . well, I guess there’s still a bit of Edmund Burke in me.

But one more queer thing about the Pullman idea. I’ve been listening to some Teaching Company lectures by Daniel N. Robinson lately, so I’ve learned a bit about ontology. I.e., “just what is there” in our universe, just what is the nature of everything. It’s a big question, but that’s the fun of ontology (and philosophy in general). The early Greeks got interested in ontology, and came up with various theories. One Greek idea is called “atomism”. Atomism is the idea that at bottom, there is some tiny elementary particle from which everything is made of. That particle is the end of reality; you can’t get any smaller, can’t break it down, can’t change it. You can only combine it in different ways to get different things, e.g. kites and kittens, Caesar salads and Corvettes, neutron stars and nitrogen gas, etc. The trick was to learn about the basic particle; then you’d know the common characteristics of all things.

Once upon a time, this seemed like a good idea. But over the past 2,500 years or so, science has come up with better views. It came up with field theories (e.g. magnetic fields and gravity, seemingly continuous phenomenon), and then had to modify those field concepts with quantum realities (little units almost like the Greek “atom”, but which jump around and change randomly). So now reality is composed of a whole lot of interacting quantum perturbations in a series of fields (or maybe one ultimate field, if and when physics achieves the unification of all basic forces).

Theologians have simultaneously come up with much more sophisticated theories of what God could be like. God, and our own sentience and awareness, are now seen by some theologians in terms of an emergence based upon large volumes of quantum perturbations of some common underlying field. God is not on one end, with us on another. We’re all part of something common, according to the process theologians. We’re all moving towards something. It seems like a good way to think about ontology and metaphysics given what we now know from the physical sciences.

So, Pullman’s “dust” ontology and theology appears to be a throwback to me. It seems immature. Sure, the Vatican and the many other religious authorities on our planet have a long way to go to catch up with the emerging and sophisticated views that their theologians are proposing. But that’s the way it’s always been; the authorities always need a century or two to adopt a good idea. Pullman doesn’t want to wait; he would imagine doing away with the authorities and going back to a very elementary and immature view of where truth and virtue come from.

“Dust” is something to cough and choke on. Pun intended, even if it’s quite lame. The philosophers and scientists long ago figured out that we ultimately are not dust, and ultimately it is not dust to which we return. And even the more progressive churchmen now emphasize that they are only talking about the body, and not about the soul, when they speak of our dusty mortality. I hope that Golden Compass’ audience of young minds will likewise be able to move away from Pullman’s countervailing but still immature way of thinking about the world and where its truths ultimately lie.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:39 pm       Read Comments (10) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Food / Drink ... Society ...

I’ve noticed those TV commercials that eBay now has running, pitching the idea that it’s more fun to shop competitively, which is what an eBay auction is all about. I do indeed buy stuff there, but I certainly don’t find it fun to use eBay. You can save money on something you want if you play the game right, but you have to work at it. Ebay is hard work, no doubt about it. And it can be frustration too; you can put in a bid at the start of a 7 day auction and go most of the way as the high bidder, and then be outbid in the last 10 minutes. This has happened to me a number of times (and also to every other regular eBay user). In fact, it happened just last week; I noticed that eBay now sends out a consolation e-mail when you lose. How thoughtful.

It appears that eBay is a bit worried that people are getting tired of it. It’s actually not very hard to pay more on eBay; you can sometimes find something cheaper on a regular (non-auction) web site after maybe a half hour of searching. I have seen that a number of times (luckily I wasn’t the person making the sucker bid). And you have to be very careful about adding in the shipping charges. Admittedly, eBay is good for certain high-volume markets such as used home computers and other consumer electronics (although I had rotten luck on eBay with digital cameras; I found it best to just look around at the regular electronics sites).

But you don’t go to eBay for basic stuff like household items or food or clothes or books. Ebay is good for collectors items and hobby items, anything that you don’t really need and can walk away from if the price goes too high. With eBay, you either need patience, or you need to be so well off that you don’t really care about paying too much on something that you don’t really need.

I’m glad that I don’t work for eBay. They are one of the small handful of success stories from the Internet Revolution That Wasn’t back in the 1990s. However, eBay and the American economy have not gone through a serious economic recession since eBay started back around 1996. We may possibly be in for one if the current mortgage and real estate crisis doesn’t get better soon. If unemployment does increase and consumer spending finally starts to tank, eBay would not be in a good position. If families need get serious about spending within their means, spending on eBay is probably the first thing they will cut out. So eBay is perched for a big fall if the consumer spending blitz that has powered the American economy for the past 15 or 20 years finally stalls.

Ebay is a nervous canary in an economic coal mine right now, hoping that some creative advertising will keep people interested in “the eBay experience”. Unfortunately, that experience is much like the root-canal experience; you don’t do it because it’s fun, you do it because it might help in the long run. But unlike a root canal for a rotting tooth, most everyone can live without eBay. If you see eBay go down, you will know that something big is happening to the U.S. economy. It’s something to watch.

And while I’m thinking about trends, I’ve noticed lately that the word “foodie” has become rather popular in publications like the NY Times, Newsweek, Harpers, etc. So I looked it up. It turns out that “foodie” is a rather old term, coined in the mid-1980s. There is even a web site called (but it’s only a link site, little original content). “Foodie” is more or less equivalent to “gourmet”, i.e. someone interested in experiencing fine food. But it owes its current popularity to the fact that it seems more informal and flexible than the stuffy, high-browed images that “gourmet” conjured up.

Given our modern consumer economy and the availability of a wide variety of foods through specialty shops, web sites, and mega-supermarkets, you no longer need to be a patron of the most exclusive restaurants to experience fine and once-rare foods. You can be a soccer mom and dad who get down to the local Whole Foods or other high-end supermarket to buy fresh buffalo mozzarella and fresh-grown fennel and stuff like that. Maybe you could even be a veg-head like me who patronizes four different local supermarkets and a couple of food web sites, who spends every Saturday morning and part of the afternoon cooking for the week, who looks out for new things to make and new ways to make old stuff, etc. I myself am certainly not a gourmet, but I might be a do-it-yourself foodie.

I will admit that it has been our “consumer paradise”, i.e. the same American economy that supports stuff like eBay, that has allowed “oddball foodies” (like myself) to find their way in the suburbs and exurbs. I don’t like the hustle and aggressiveness that seems necessary to support our economic miracle. It looks like that hustle is finally tripping itself up with the mortgage crisis, and I can’t help but laugh. Still, I’d miss being able to buy soy flour and steel cut oats and wheat berries and portabella mushrooms and decaf white tea within a mile of my house . . . foodie that I am.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:09 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
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