The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Current Affairs ...

I’m a fan of The Atlantic magazine, but I’m not a fan of Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan. He can be interesting given that he considers himself to be a conservative convert from liberalism, but his views are mostly warmed-over liberalism, what you can get in droves on Huffington. But for whatever reason, I had a look at his Daily Dish blog earlier today; and can I believe my eyes? Is Andrew Sullivan actually expressing doubt about President Obama’s leadership? Sullivan, who last autumn put Barack Obama on the highest pedestal, who reveled in the Democrat’s landslide victory in November — can it be?

Over the past few days, Sullivan has posted two comments both entitled “Reality Check”. On today’s check, he shows a graph regarding Obama’s declining approval rating, and introduces it with a simple statement. Worth quoting:

Americans are losing confidence in Obama’s ability to bring change. Because he hasn’t.

What? Does Andrew Sullivan no longer believe  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:45 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Current Affairs ...

THE GATES ARREST: BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE — OK, here’s my 0.02 about the recent arrest of Harvard Professor Henry L. Gates by a white police sergeant investigating a report of a break-in at Prof. Gates’ home. Most writers take the bate and go right for the race issue. I’d like to go beyond that question, and instead focus on the general relationship between the police and the public. Yes, I know that racial status has a lot to do with how many police officers treat a person. I’m not denying that that is a real problem, an on-going social dilemma. But it seems to me that even between police officers and members of the public who share the same race, there is still a problem; and that Sergeant Crowley’s decision to arrest Professor Gates may well exemplify that problem, more than the racial problem.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-police. I work for a law enforcement agency; I’m not an armed officer, but I know a lot of them. They are all good people, in my book. But there is a certain cliquishness, a certain bravado that they share amongst themselves. And that has to be. Cops are the people charged with the duty of running into a crazy situation where lives may be at stake, and to restore social control and order. They are trained to go into situations where a Hamletian approach (my own modulus operandi in life) doesn’t work, and can even get you killed. I respect them for that.

But they also get sent into situations where assertion and bluster can be counterproductive.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:25 pm       Read Comments (8) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Economics/Business ... Public Policy ...

I’ve been critical of President Obama and his approach to health care reform, but when asked “well, what would you do?”, I’m stopped in my tracks. The more I learn about the whole situation, the more befuddled I’ve become about it. I have voiced my dissatisfactions on this blog with the current American health care system; about how terrible it is to deal with insurance companies, about how the government (especially Medicare) is too inflexible, and about how doctors are being forced to give you too much care in some places (e.g. tests and referrals to specialists) and too little in other areas (e.g., getting to know who you are and how you really live; and with that knowledge, finding ways for you to improve your health and avoid disease). And of course the rising costs of health care continue to diminish our nation’s economic recovery prospects, and is taking a lot of families down in the process (with uninsured and insured but uncovered health care bills). But as to coming up with a solution — I’ve been at a loss. TILT.

However, I had a revelation about it today, a road-to-Damascus experience. I figured that I’d share it with the world, for whatever it’s worth (probably not much). It struck me that we really don’t have any competition in the health insurance market – even though that’s the one place in the system where a competitive market could do the most good. As with most people who have health insurance (other than Medicare or Medicaid), my insurance is provided by my employer. I don’t pick out my plan; I take what the company decides to provide me with. (Yes, we can choose between 2 different providers; but we can only change in limited circumstances, and the plans are pretty similar anyway). My company decides which insurance company will provide my insurance, and what the features of that plan will be. I hope that the company is thinking about the importance of keeping me and my fellow workers healthy so that we can continue to work; but for the most part, my employer is concerned with controlling costs when it selects an insurer and a plan. It doesn’t really think about my particular needs.

Imagine if we all got our autos that way.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:15 pm       Read Comments (6) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Photo ...

We’ve all heard that phrase kicked about over the past six months, regarding the effect that the financial crisis and economic recession has had on the vast majority of people. I decided to take a drive over to a local Main Street (actually called Broad Street, in Bloomfield NJ), to see how it was doing. Here’s what I saw:

A nice old card store, calling it quits.

Chinese food and bankruptcy appear to be doing well.

Looks like Maria is hanging up the tape measure.

Prayers for downtown.

How much is that doggie in the window . . .

Bill, Mike and Ariel still have their parking spots.

Lots of space available.

Protecting our way of life.

And everything looks worse in black and white . . . or does it?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Politics ... Public Policy ...

It looks like something big is finally going to happen to the American health care system. President Obama seems hell-bent on getting major reform legislation passed and enacted before the snow clouds return to my little corner of New Jersey. He appears to realize that in 18 months he won’t have a strong Democratic majority in Congress, and his relatively high popularity ratings will continue to slide, as they do for almost all presidents. His power and influence as President, along with that of the Democratic Party, will generally wane over the next 3 and presumably 7 years. So Obama is pulling out all the stops to get something big done now.

Most everyone seems to agree that something big is needed with regard to American healthcare. But as to whether our political system can deliver a system that can meet all of the promises that the Democrats are making, and avoid all the pitfalls that the G.O.P. is predicting, just may not be possible. It may be like hoping that you can drive a Ford Expedition from Maine to Florida on one tank of gas. When everyone is getting into the SUV as it is about to leave Portland, the crew might be optimistic. They might say to each other “sure we’re going to make it, no need to take any gas money.” And by saying it back and forth, round robin amidst each other, everyone gets a good, confident feeling. It’s easy for everyone in a group to think “hey, everyone else believes it, so it’s probably true”. Ah, the pitfalls of circular group-think. This little Expedition expedition might get past Boston, might even see the Rhode Island border, but it will finally realize that they’re going to run out of gas.

So just what is the Democratic group-think getting at right now with regard to health care?  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:50 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Monday, July 13, 2009
Science ...

I’ve been interested in chaos theory for almost 20 years, ever since reading James Gleick’s “Chaos, Making of a New Science” in 1990. I’m not a mathematician, but I was able to appreciate most of the general concepts that scientists were finally beginning to consider when chaos started to become popular. E.g., the “butterfly effect”, how a butterfly flapping its wings in a certain way over Beijing can influence the track of a hurricane over Jamaica six months later.

Today the “butterfly effect” has pretty much become folk wisdom, although the folk view often goes too far. (E.g., if only that darn butterfly went left instead of right, New Orleans might have been spared!). Chaos study shows that many physical systems are non-linear in nature and are recursive in nature. They are thus best described by math equations that are themselves non-linear and recursive (i.e., they utilize the recent outputs from the system as one of their input streams; the past never completely goes away for them). Under certain conditions (and NOT generally), these equations can be very sensitive to initial input assumptions. Again, in certain limited situations (such as the weather), a tiny change in an input factor, say about a tenth of a percent worth, can send the output up or down by maybe ten percent.

People who have reason to be cynical about science, e.g. New Age types and spiritualists,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 10, 2009
Religion ... Science ...

I try not to run one of those blogs that mostly link to something else out there on the web. I.e., “here’s an interesting thought or article”, end of post. I try to contribute some content, put in some original thought, via my little corner of cyberspace.

But I did come across something of linkable interest the other day, i.e. an article on the British Telegraph site about an auto repair franchise in the southern USA called “Christian Brothers”. They’re not called that for nothing! The whole point is that the owners of the shop are Christians and are going to treat you as a good Christian should – with fairness and respect. I.e., they’re not going to rip you off for repairs that aren’t needed. That’s the theory.

I’m not a religious man, but I still respect religion and acknowledge the general social good that it can accomplish. The emphasis here is on “can”; unfortunately, religion too often turns into a harmful agent itself. This kind of “customer service ministry” — if it’s sincere – could help Christianity (and maybe religion in general) get some street credibility back. I’m all in favor of Christian car shops, Christian laundries, Christian accountants, Christian exterminators, etc. — so long as they focus their Christianity on doing a good job and charging a fair price to all who do business with them. And that would include Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, sinners, saints, all comers regardless of their own faith or lack thereof. If these Christian business managers would judge not and preach not, given their Christian humility, then I’ll say that there might really be something to this Christian business movement.

On another note: Computer-generated artwork based on fractal patterns caused by chaos-theory equations (i.e., equations with exponential factors where past output values are fed back in as inputs for each new output) is nothing new. But I was fooling around with a fairly simple Excel spreadsheet that some math guy put up on his web site recently, just having some fun looking for critical threshold values for the two parameter inputs, seeking combinations where interesting things happen on the output graph, and I came across this pattern. I thought it was kind-of neat, so I’m sharing it with the world. It looks almost like an octopus. It truly does lie at the boundary of chaos – just a slight increase in the parameters send the output values skyrocketing, breaking up the spiral; just a slight decrease in both parameters changes the pattern whereby the “tentacles” are lost. I.e., the system is at a sensitive point, whereby the “butterfly over Beijing” effect can actually be seen and demonstrated.

It’s pretty neat what you can do with a simple spreadsheet and a little chaos theory. If you want to fool with it, here’s the site link where you can download the Excel program (DYNAMIC.XLS). Oh, and the parameter values for the “octopus” are: REAL parameter: 0.046; IMAGINARY parameter: 0.61.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:40 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 5, 2009
◊  Fireworks
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

Two quick questions for thought tonight: first, regarding Independence Day. Does anyone out there intentionally not go to fireworks displays and keep their kids away from them (at least while they can) because fireworks are in effect a celebration of war (or at least a commemoration of it)? How many people stop to ponder that fact?

Second question about war, this one a bit more rhetorical: Is it possible that the American public are snoozing through a real geopolitical threat from Iran, avoiding all thoughts of military preparedness for Iranian aggression, because former Vice President Chaney “cried wolf” in Iraq back in 2003?

Sidenote: I heard on the radio that our current Veep, Joe Biden,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:07 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 3, 2009
Politics ... Religion ...

I just finished reading the article in The Atlantic on William F. Buckley, the classy conservative of the 60’s and 70’s. The article was written by Gary Wills, who worked for Buckley at his National Review magazine. Wills shared many of Buckley’s political and philosophical viewpoints until the late 60’s and early 70’s, when Wills could no longer defend Nixon and the Vietnam War. Wills, being a devoted Roman Catholic, says quite a bit in his article about Buckley’s strong concern for “The Church”. Buckley was a life-long Roman Catholic and a true defender of the bishops and popes, who are generally conservative themselves.

This made me ponder something about how liberals and conservatives relate to the Catholic Church, especially if they are Catholics themselves. I’m no expert, but my general impression is that the liberals usually focus on Jesus. They paint a picture of Jesus as a guy much like themselves, someone who is quite progressive, someone who wants to change things, someone who wants to overcome the existing power structures and replace it with a proletariat revolution. They want to give the world to the downtrodden, to the “anawim”(a word that is fashionable amidst the liberal Catholic set). And they figure that Jesus had much the same ideas as they did.

By contrast, the conservatives don’t talk too much about Jesus.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:38 pm       Read Comments (6) / Leave a Comment
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