The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Socrates Cafe ...

Here are two brief scenes from my life from last week.

  1. The Clear Mountain Zendo on a chilly, dark and wet morning at 6:30 AM. It was Thursday, and I got up at 3:45 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got out of bed a half hour early and did some meditation at the zendo. The zendo was dark but the door was open. In the sitting area, two members of the sangha were sitting, and a lone candle was burning. I joined them for the next 20 minutes. At 7 am, as the sky struggled toward an uninspired dark grey dawn, we exchanged our greetings and headed out for our daily routines.
  2. At the Socrates Cafe meeting on Tuesday night, the topic was . . . rather forgettable. Something about whether there is a plan being the human race and our individual lives. But what was interesting was a little tirade one of the older members made about the evils of a quickly changing, increasingly technology-dependent world. Mr. Jimmy said that he would rather go and live the Native American life of old . . . before the Euro Americans came and spoiled everything. He would like to live in synch with nature, as he images they did; he would rather take his lumps with nature than with health insurance regulations and credit card payment rules and IRS forms and the constant shift of modern life. There was a lady who was of Native American descent there, and she applauded his sentiment.

    Personally, I think they are romanticizing an imagined past. No doubt there was much wisdom to the ways of the Native Americans, but they were not without violence, anger, war, ego, stupidity and obnoxious characters. Both Jimmy and his Native sympathizer were in their sixties; I wonder how many Native Americans reached that age say in the 1500’s. I myself feel that it’s a nice dream, but mostly a waste of time to imagine any sort of “going back”. I believe that we just have slog along in a complex and frustrating techno-capitalist world, and keep trying to sift out what matters from all of the garbage strewn about the modern social landscape (both literally and figuratively).

Oh well, let’s see what November brings (aside from increasingly cold, blustery weather).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

Something or other got me thinking today about Yes – the art-rock band that had its fame and glory in the early 1970s (Yes is still around in one incarnation or another, playing at state fairs and local art centers). I was specifically thinking about the opening routine Yes used in concert back in the early 70s, which was captured perfectly on their first live album, Yessongs. I was hearing it all in my head this morning, and remembering the time or two that I myself experienced a Yes show back in my youth.

Ah yes, Madison Square Garden in New York. The opening act started at 8, but was mostly just a distraction. They got off stage around a quarter to nine, and everyone in the seats got restless. Then just before 9, the lights went out, the arena went dark – and you could feel electricity pulsing thru the crowd. You could see hundreds of yellow light spots amidst the crowd – young people toking up. And then, very quietly at first, you heard the opening notes of the lead-in theme song. That was a recording of the finale to Stravinsky’s Theme From Firebird Suite.

The Firebird went on, resonating in the darkness for another 2 or 3 minutes, growing in volume and intensity. On the dark stage,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Science ... Spirituality ...

I just read a short but important essay by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in Scientific American, all about string theory and reality. The authors say that because string theory requires 5 or more different sub-systems in order to comprehensively cover the nature of reality, there really is NO UNCHANGING, BEDROCK OF REALITY in our Universe.

They use the analogy of a map to explain this. There is an inherent contradiction involved in drawing topological maps on flat paper with limited borders, given that the underlying reality is a spherical planet (Earth) that has no topological borders. Standard maps do a pretty good job of giving the viewer an idea of the shape of the terrain and the relative distances between cities, rivers, road and other landmarks, within a 100 to 1,000 mile zone. But if a map gets too big, distortions set in due to the curvature of the earth. Mapmakers have all kinds of tricks to deal with those distortions, but not without trade-offs; i.e., correcting for one thing (relative distances between cities, say) introduces other problems (the overall shape of coastlines and national boundaries, along with continents and oceans, get warped).

So, if you need to use maps to guide you over a long, long distance (e.g., New York to New Delhi), you best use a series of maps. Each map is pretty-good for a few hundred miles,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:19 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Outer Space ...

I caught up recently with NASA’s latest big thing, the James Webb Space Telescope. There’s a good article about it in the October Scientific American. In a way it replaces the Hubble, and in a way it’s different. The Webb is built to observe a broad range of infrared light coming from distant reaches of the universe, whereas Hubble focused on the visible spectrum, with a bit of range into the ultraviolet and infrared zones.

Also, the Webb is more of a “deep space” mission; whereas the Hubble orbited at around 380 miles from Earth, the Webb will find its way to a “gravity point” about a million miles from Earth, on the far side away from the Sun (towards Mars). It is a good bit more sensitive than the Hubble, partly for being bigger, and partly for being so far away from Earth (which radiates a lot of energy and fuzzes up the really faint signals from space). It won’t deliver those fantastic pictures as Hubble did, but it will return a lot of data maps that will help answer a lot of questions about what went on in the first 200 million years after the Big Bang. It will also help to find other planets of distant stars that might support life.

If it makes it. The James Webb is scheduled for launch in June 2014,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
◊  Zen Alley
Photo ...

This is simply a detail shot of an alleyway near the Clear Mountain Zendo in Montclair. Zen is about increasing mindfulness, which includes noticing the little things. So here’s an alleyway with a lot of little things that you usually don’t notice.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

The USA is experiencing some bad economic times, and everyone wonders where things are going. In order to get some sense of where we’re headed, I am going to review where our economy has been in recent years. So here goes; perhaps is will point where the road seems to be leading. If I’m right, we may be heading for the New Middle Ages.

Between 1945 and 1975, the US economy experienced a tremendous boom because of a tremendous boon; i.e., most of the factories in Europe and Japan were devastated. By comparison, the US had built up a huge industrial factory base during the WW1 and WW2 efforts, and this was fully intact and fairly modern (relative to the 1950s, anyway). Energy was cheap; oil and gas were available from US soil and were plentiful. Major discoveries soon happened in Arabia that made things even better.

The USA was by far the most developed industrial nation just after WW2. Great Britain and the Soviet Union were recovering relatively quickly,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, October 11, 2010
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ... Personal Reflections ...

There’s a nice article in the October Atlantic Magazine about Donald Triplett, the first human being diagnosed with autism. This is a well written article containing a very edifying human interest story; but most important (to me, anyway), it provides a valuable perspective on just what we do and do not know about autism. Bottom line here: we’re still not really sure just what autism is, despite all of the pontifications by the medical and psychological sciences pretending to have strict definitions and diagnostic tools. At bottom, “we know autism when we see it”.

Over the past year or so, I have ‘studied up’ on the question of Aspergers Syndrome and the dreaded “autism spectrum”. I have read articles and books, watched videos about autistic people, and have rubbed elbows with a group of young adults who identify themselves as “Aspies” or “high functioning autistics” (at a monthly Meet-Up group). Obviously I’m trying to learn more about myself, about where I fit in. Yes, I could pay a shrink a couple of thousand bucks to get a “professional diagnosis”, but I’d rather “take the journey” and save myself the grand or two.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 am       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Current Affairs ... History ... Society ...

1.) Was the Vietnam war a mistake? It’s a question that still matters to us aging Baby Boomers. I had a thought on the subject the other day. It seems to me that there are wars that a nation has to fight. Those are the “holy wars”; where the other side is not just trying to plunder your bounty, but is trying to change your way of life. I.e., where the other side is trying to impose some sort of vision, be it religious (e.g. Christian or Islamic theocracy), or philosophic (e.g., Communist or Nazi fascist utopia). Whenever a nation or a tribe convinces itself that it has a plan for the world and that instituting that plan requires the use of firepower, about the only cure is to fight fire with fire. War is hell, but utopian visions that require belligerence are an even worse hell.

The USA fought the Vietnam war because it was trying to stop Soviet Russia from instituting its Marxist-Leninist vision, which indeed had been promulgated through the use of firepower and other belligerence. Was Vietnam really a Marxist holy war? It was being fought by Asian visionaries; but what was their vision? Did Ho Chi Minh want to see collective farming in California? It seems to me that the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese Communists were a bit more pragmatic and nationalistically inspired. From what little I know, the “eastern mind” is quite pragmatic. It doesn’t dwell on grand visions of how humankind should live their lives. This can be seen in the difference between Buddhism and the major western / middle-eastern faiths. (But admittedly, there are forms of dogmatic Buddhism, and Buddhist holy wars have been fought).

It’s too bad that Kennedy and Johnson and MacNamara and Rostow and Kissinger just couldn’t seem to grasp this.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:47 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ... Society ...

As I get older, I give conservatives (the true conservatives, anyway) credit for putting emphasis on the notion of “values” and “virtues”. They have a point; no matter how good and effective the government is, no matter how extensive its social programs are, no matter how just and effectively enforced the laws are, a nation and the society within it will not hold together unless there are unwritten personal rules which everyone respects and plays by. That’s what values are all about; they are based around certain simple notions, such as the “Golden Rule”, and reflect many hundreds and thousands of years of accumulated wisdom passed on from generation to generation.

The conservatives complain that values aren’t holding up so well in present day America; we are trying to replace value-driven self-regulation with more and more programs and written regulations, and that is causing thing to go to hell. Well, I don’t entirely agree; but it is something to ponder.

In my pondering, I tried to think of some people from my youth (in the early 1960s, when values hadn’t yet declined too much yet according to some conservative thinkers) who truly lived “value-oriented” lives. People who could be called “the salt of the earth”. People who no one much noticed, but quietly did many tiny little things that collectively help keep life civilized. Yes, like the raindrops that collectively assemble themselves into rivers and oceans. I can think of many people from my family who were like that. But my memories of my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives is probably clouded by sentimentality, given how long they have been gone. So I have picked out a guy who was not a member of my family, but still impressed me and many others that I grew up with as a really good person.

That guy’s name was Rocco Locarro, Rocky as everyone called him (I have discussed him before on this blog). He was the janitor at McKenzie Elementary School  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:45 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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