The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Public Policy ...

David Brooks had a good column on health care reform the other day (NY Times, Tuesday Nov. 24). He decided to get above all of the details and look at the question of “values”, i.e. where the country is going with this monumental legislation. Good one, Mr. Brooks!

I can’t say it better than Brooks,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:38 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 27, 2009
Photo ...

Thanksgiving usually marks the unofficial beginning of the winter season where I live. It can snow any time now (although for the next 2 or 3 weeks, it would not be much). Most of the trees are bare and the summer vegetation is just about gone. The morning glory plants near my parking spot are also turning brown and dying. But one vine is dying hard. It tried to put out one last flower today, given the relatively mild temps over the past few days (in the lower 50s). There isn’t enough life left in the vine to push the flower to full bloom. But it still got pretty far, despite all of the brown leaves and yellowing vine stems surrounding it. So here’s a pic, with much admiration for those stubborn elements of nature that keep pushing for life even in the midst of decline and death.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:32 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Science ...

Every now and then, even a guy like me who has a very hazy, non-mathematical understanding of quantum physics comes across an esoteric article on quantum research and realizes that what it’s saying might be dynamite! Important stuff, in other words. I believe that I came across such an article the other day. It’s on the web site, and is innocently titled “Ripples in space divide classical and quantum worlds”.

What the article seems to say, if I’m reading it right (which is a BIG IF), is that gravitational waves — which were predicted by Einstein but are still mostly hypothetical, no solid evidence has been found for them yet — cause quantum particles having mass (i.e., the quarks that make up neutrons and protons) to “decohere”. What is “decoherence”? Well, you know how crazy quantum particles can act, being two or two billion places at once (i.e., in “superposition”), and where you can know one characteristic about it but not another (or vice versa). In a nutshell, decoherence is like that line from the Jimi Hendrix song “Fire” — i.e., “stop acting so crazy”. When a quantum particle decoheres, it becomes “classical”. It settles into one place, with certain fixed characteristics, fixed relationships with its fellow particles.

Again if I’m reading this right,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:23 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
History ... Science ...

I was watching NOVA on PBS the other night, and it was about human evolution (the final episode of a 3-part series). So I now know that there was once many different types of humans, “hominids” as the biologists call them, just as there are a variety of different apes and monkeys. These included the Neanderthals, “homo erectus”, and the dwarf “Hobbits” in Indonesia. Our specific species, “homo sapiens”, was a late starter. By the time we evolved in Africa, the other hominids had already expanded beyond Africa, into Europe and Asia. But for a long, long time, we all lived together in Africa.

And then, around 200,000 years ago, the weather started changing; things got colder and drier. Some of the various human-like species disappeared, and our group didn’t do so well either. After 60,000 years of things getting cooler and dryer, a lot of Africa became barren. There weren’t many places left that could sustain homo sapiens; scientists analyzing the diversity of our DNA estimate that because of this, our gene pool traces back to only about 600 people! So it probably got down to only a thousand or so homo sapiens on the face of the Earth, at some point. The other millions of homo sapiens who had descended over many thousands of years from earier versions of hominoids had all died!

Hmmmm. If that’s true, then the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible wasn’t  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:08 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Current Affairs ...

A lot has been said in the press and in the blogosphere over the past few weeks about Major Hasan and the massacre that he carried out at Ft. Hood, Texas, seemingly in the name of radical Islamic beliefs. To many people, however, the Islamic angle does NOT seem to be relevant, even though a lot of evidence points to Major Hasan’s involvement with “jihaddist” proselytizers and his acceptance of their dogmas. They point to Hasan’s many problems in life, and conclude that his actions were a function of universal human weakness and not specific beliefs.

I myself sympathize with those who espouse that line of thought, including many high-level commanders within the Army itself. They are trying to take the high road, so as to discourage others from taking the low road (i.e., blanket prejudice against all Muslims or Arabs). However, I myself feel that semi-conservative (or sometimes quasi-conservative) NY Times columnist David Brooks came close to getting it right on this point. In a recent column, Brooks concluded that although the dangers of Hasan’s actions fanning irrational hatred and prejudice in our nation against those with an Islamic heritage are quite real, the truth is that certain quarters of modern Islam do put forth dangerous ideas; ideas that a disturbed person like Major Hasan might act upon in violent fashion.

Yes, radical jihad emanates from a small and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:32 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Photo ...

Nothing much here, just some mid-autumn sun on the porch at my homestead. Soon it will be December, with plenty of short, cold gray days. That makes a nice sunny morning like this all the more precious. It’s nothing much – but in January, it will seem like everything!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:05 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 8, 2009
◊  At Random
Science ...

Just what is “randomness”? That’s actually a good question. In everyday life, we separate things that happen “for a reason” from things that “just happen”, things that seemingly have no reason (and are thus beyond our own control, beyond any human control for that matter). Sometimes we want randomness, we want there to be “no reason” for what happens; as in the selection process for lottery numbers. We want to make sure that the government agency from whom we’ve bought those tickets is selecting the numbers without regard to who bought the tickets. We want to make sure that if some bigshot buys a bunch of million dollar lottery tickets, the government won’t sway the outcome because of that bigshot and all his or her political pull. We want RANDOMNESS, and the government gives it to us by putting balls with numbers in a drum, and shaking up the drum really well. Then there’s also the “heads or tails” situation, where we flip a coin to see who gets the last piece of cake or who bats first, or whatever bit of booty or honor is at stake.

But generally we don’t like randomness. We don’t like the idea that while we’re driving down a road, someone might “randomly” run a stop sign in front of us and really mess things up for us. Or that we might randomly come down with a nasty disease. This is when “lack of control”, lack of predictability, is our enemy.

I’m thinking about “randomness” because it was discussed in a DVD series  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:57 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Spirituality ...

HOPE AND DESPAIR IN POPULAR CULTURE: Yesterday I encountered two different approaches to the question of God and justice. In the morning, I heard a song on the radio from my favorite band, 3 Doors Down; so I got on Google and looked up the lyrics and the video. The song is called “Not My Time”, and here’s the video site.

According to a Christian discussion group, 3 Doors does NOT qualify as a Christian band. (Well, all the better in my reckoning.) But the video in question clearly has a religious theme to it, reinforced by various shots of churches with crucifixes and Madonna-like statues along the path of the young running savior with dreadlocks (who is versed in an extreme sport called “parkour”). And one of the refrains to the song goes “there might be more than you believe, there might be more than you can see”. Another nice line (I think it’s nice, anyway) goes like this: “my friend, this life we live, it’s not what we have, it’s what we believe in”. Sorry if that’s not enough for the “Christian warriors” out there.

Later in the day, I decided to go see the Coen brothers’ latest movie,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Back to the international scene for a moment. Regarding three middle-eastern countries, I have two notes of interest:

1) A note of irony: The guy we were rooting for in Iran just a few months ago — Hossein Moussavi — is speaking out against any uranium deal with Obama. “If the promises given [to the West] are realized, then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined” according to Mr. Moussavi.

So, last summer’s “Green Revolution” in Iran is still nuclear.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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