The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Current Affairs ...

Since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve not had a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. I would not have believed that on the evening of 9-11. Through a combination of response and dumb luck, our government has managed to protect the American public from the horrors of ideological death and destruction, a horror that has become too familiar in other parts of the world. Our “homeland security” protections on American soil, together with our international intelligence efforts and pro-active military involvements (too proactive, perhaps, in the care of Iraq) have stopped another “big plot” from hatching in one of our cities. For that, we must all be grateful.

Unfortunately, while the big plots haven’t gotten anywhere, a different kind of terrorism has asserted itself in recent years, with small but fatal consequences and unsettling implications. I’m thinking about the “one man”, self-inspired terrorist plots, such as the shooting spree by Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, and the airplane explosion attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab over Detroit on Christmas Day. These kinds of terrorism are harder to detect and stop. They involve a certain kind of person with a certain mentality, who absorbs an “idea in the air” like an infection; i.e. what some psychologists and sociologists call a “meme”.

It only takes one big, well-publicized terror incident (e.g., 9-11)  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:57 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, February 26, 2010
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

It’s a workday but I’m staying home because of the big snowstorm over the New York metro area. The birdfeeder outside my window is extremely popular this morning, attracting birds that usually don’t want to get close to human territory. These include juncos, which are also known as “snowbirds”. Over evolutionary history, birds evolved from reptiles; their feathers are really just modified lizard scales. So, those juncos, like all the other birds jumping around in the feeder box out there, are in effect ‘flying lizards’.

This storm is being called a “blizzard” by some of the more flamboyant local news reporters (I don’t think it really meets the technical qualifications for very low temperature and high wind). So if it takes a blizzard to bring juncos to my window birdfeeder, perhaps I should think of them as “blizzard lizards”.

Yea, I know, that’s kind of stupid. But that’s what cabin fever will do to you.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:59 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Religion ...

I’m still slowly plowing through a book by philosopher Paul Churchland about neural networks and the profound implications they have for understanding how our brains and minds really work. The book is called “The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul”, and it is good. Churchland gets down to some nitty-gritty on what neural networks are and how they work (well, he can’t exactly give examples, as the mechanisms by which these networks behave are still quite complex, even though they ultimately ground themselves on fairly simple logical rules; in other words, you can’t just go out and build your own neural network on a computer after reading this). And then he goes into all of the implications for philosophy, psychology and even sociology.

I will say that if you can follow him, you will think of the mind in a somewhat different way than you did previously. I hope that psychology majors are learning this stuff. And sociology and philosophy majors too. But then, should we go the next step, into religion? Well, Churchland certain does.

Neural networking is the process by which the brain  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:02 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Socrates Cafe ...

I went to the local Socrates Cafe meeting the other night, for an interesting discussion about God. The topic for the evening, suggested by a young medical school student from the Middle East, was whether God exists. Yes, the young student made it clear that he comes from the Islamic faith tradition. However, the science and high-tech environment of western medicine was giving him some . . . well, perhaps not doubts about God, but some second thoughts anyway. He said that he was reading some books by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who of course goes totally nuclear against any notion of a transcendent creator and sustainer in the universe. So, the young fellow with the beard had come to the local half-assed western philosophers, to see what they had to say about it.

This was quite interesting and special. I myself have lived a sheltered life, relative to the Islamic world. I really haven’t known too many Muslims; and the few that I have known weren’t / aren’t very up-front about it. They are mostly just average Americans, trying to get by; their religious practice and heritage just happens to be Islam. This young doctor-to-be wasn’t really all that different. However, he certainly did care about God, and was open-minded enough to reach out beyond the counsels of the local mosque or imam to talk about “it” (i.e., the question of God’s existence).

The group was rather small, only myself, the moderator,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:06 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Spirituality ...

I’m engaging in some theology tonight. Simplistic theology, however, since over dinner I had a chocolate imperial stout that weighs in at 11% ABV (Southern Tier Choklat).

OK, so the question is God. And there is no answer; it’s pretty clear that there will never be one in this life. So why isn’t there an answer, why can’t there be one? Maybe because, if there was an answer, we would take God for granted. And for God to be God, we could NOT take God for granted. But if we were sure that God existed, surely we would; that’s just the way we are. So, if we could know for sure that there was a God, there couldn’t be a God. Simple as that! (At least after a bottle of imperial stout! But then again, Ben Franklin said that beer is proof that God wants us to be happy . . . ).

There are two, maybe three problems that we commonly have about God.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:28 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Current Affairs ... Photo ...

We dodged the snow bullet last Saturday, see my last blog; but we couldn’t hide from this one. Here are some views from my little corner.

TOYOTA THOUGHTS: The recent news that Toyota has been selling faulty cars that need a recall in order to avoid crashing is a bit disturbing. Toyota has been thought of as the gold standard for quality at a reasonable price. (Well, relatively reasonable; car prices are NOT reasonable anymore). But recent Corollas have sticky accelerators (gas pedals), and Priuses have something wrong with their anti-lock ABS brake systems. I think that each situation raises a different concern, aside from the prime concern of fixing the cars before someone gets killed.

As to the sticky accelerators — that looks like  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:52 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Photo ...

It’s time for some new pictures on this blog. We were supposed to get hit by a big snowstorm coming up the coast, which has Washington DC under two feet of snow. So, I was going to take some ‘winter wonderland’ pics during the storm and post them today.

HOWEVER, the storm got pushed south unexpectedly, and we had hardly a flurry. So I got out of bed and went to a 7am memorial Catholic mass for my mother (who passed last October), at her old neighborhood parish in Passaic. On the way back, I pulled into a little vest-pocket park along Broad Street in Clifton, called the Morris Canal Historic Park. I had often seen the signs for it, but never stopped; didn’t look like much from the roadway. It turned out to be a cute little park, down a hillside wedged between a high-voltage electrical power line and the Garden State Parkway. Some local people really cared about it, as it was nicely maintained. Despite the glum clouds and 25 degree weather, I got out and snapped a few pix.

There’s actually a small stretch of the original canal there, complete with frozen water and towpath along side.

They put up a modern plastic canal post with good wishes for the world, next to the usual bronze historic plaque.

They also have a little duck pond near the canal. Here we see a bit of duck commotion going on in the freezing (for humans) weather.

This is a nice little find. I’ll have to go back in a month or so, once the greenery is returning and the sun is out and the temps are more pleasant.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:28 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

Last night I got up around 3:30 AM, and I knew that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep. I wasn’t upset about anything; every few weeks my sleep cycle just gets out of whack, and I have a few bad nights (and zombie days). I usually try to lay still and get as much rest as possible, but sometimes that really isn’t possible. So I got up last night and turned on the little plastic radio near my bedside. I tuned into the local station airing the national “Coast to Coast AM” talk show by George Noory, out of Los Angeles. I had recently read up on Noory in The Atlantic, and this was my chance to hear what he and his show were all about.

In a nutshell, Noory and “C2C” are about paranoia and the paranormal. His 4-hour overnight talk show has burgeoned in popularity over the past few years. Basically he’s the biggest thing on the conspiracy-theory market since the X-Files came to an end back in 2002. (Coincidence? I don’t think so. The X-Files gave the paranormal/paranoia crowd a rallying point, a cultural respectability; you would expect someone to eventually fill the vacuum left by it). I listened for about 30 minutes, and heard a handful of callers discussing President Obama’s recent cancellation of the Constellation space program, which was started under G.W. Bush so as to get the USA back on the moon and headed eventually for Mars. They were all defending the notion, against Noory’s very weak “devil’s advocate” posturing, that there are bigger reasons behind the cancellation than those given by the President.

According to these people, President Obama is not in charge; he’s mostly a puppet of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:01 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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