The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

In The Prince, published in 1513, Nico Machiavelli wrote:

one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

That quote makes me think of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the US-led air war in Libya. Although this is supposed to be a UN sanctioned operation carried out by NATO, it’s actually Barack Obama’s first real war. A bit embarrassing for a guy who just a year or so ago received the Nobel Peace Prize. So, you can’t blame Obama for going in with “limited goals” and much ambivalence. Obama obviously wanted to support the idealism of the “Arab Spring” as it spread from the east, challenging an old-time tyrant like Muammar Ghadaffi. We want to be on the side of what appeared, according to the western press, to be a movement of young Arabs with smartphones who were networking their thirst for democracy and freedom via Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately we didn’t stop to think this might just be another garden-variety, old-world tribal battle, where the forces challenging the bad guy aren’t all that much different from those supporting him. Suddenly, a nutty strong-man whom we tolerated and even cooperated with (in return for Ghadaffi’s 2005 pledge to give up weapons of mass destruction) became our bitter enemy.

It appears to me that our President has placed our nation in an embarrassing position. This war was supposed to be over in days,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Photo ...

 

Here’s a strange one. Is it the surface of some planet where water or some other kind of liquid (perhaps liquid methane, if far from the sun, or melted rock, if close to it) is flowing? Or is it the inside of some kind of living tissue, say a liver or a muscle? Or are these some kind of strange trees or weeds growing?

No, actually this is right from my own kitchen. I was cleaning a wok after having a nice stir-fry veggie dinner, and I sprinkled on some scrubbing powder (akin to Comet, but the supermarket generic brand) and then swished some water around. After a few minutes, these strange and interesting patterns formed on the side of the wok. Somehow, they share something of the physical processes within living tissue or the surface of a very dynamic planet (akin to earth, with its many river systems).

As Mister Spock would say — “fascinating”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

I like to get my news while driving in my car. So, I make use of good old fashioned AM radio. I have my pre-set buttons tuned to two different commercial newsradio stations (unfortunately, both CBS affiliates), NPR, Bloomberg radio (focusing on financial and economic topics), and a local New Jersey “oldies” station (need to hear some music now and then). But I have one more pre-set button, and I have been searching for the past few months for a worth station to lock-in on. The other day, I stumbled across something quite interesting – AM 1430, the Voice of Russia. Yes, Russia, Vladimir Putin’s Russia; once our mortal enemy and still not always our friend. Why does Russia run a newsradio station in the New York area (and also one in Washington DC)? I’m not 100% sure, but I’m glad that it does.

Ted Koppel wrote an article last November summing up the current status of American broadcast news media, in contrast to how it was in the time of Walter Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley. Once upon a time, the big TV and radio networks provided high-quality, mostly unbiased news shows as a public service. They did not expect to make a profit on the news; they ran commercials during newscasts, but generally did not during “live coverage” events like the Apollo moon flights or reports on the Cuban missile crisis.

Nonetheless, the big corporate broadcasters spent a lot of money on news coverage back then, given that the federal government tightly regulated the airwaves and imposed a “public service” requirement and a “fairness doctrine” in return for broadcasting bandwidth. CBS, NBC, Westinghouse radio, etc. largely fulfilled this “service” requirement by providing very high quality news journalism. In return, they could put on whatever junk that would sell as much soap as possible during the remaining 21 to 22 hours each day (e.g., corny sitcoms).

Today, things have changed.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
History ... Outer Space ... Personal Reflections ...

There was a BBC show the other nite on the local PBS channel about the early days of the American manned spaceflight program. I.e., the Mercury and Gemini programs. It made me nostalgic for those days, the 1960s, when the USA established its presence in space and proved it was ready to go to the moon. I was growing up in the suburbs, and my father worked for an aerospace company that provided some pieces of the guidance systems for those rockets. Watching those launches on TV, hosted as always by the unsinkable Walter Cronkite, was always a thrill. America just seemed back then like a place that did things right and got the job done.

Versus today. Ah, what happened? What changed? Well, perhaps it is as much a case of me changing as well as America. There are hundreds of reasons, many of them good reasons, to lament the decline of our nation in recent years. I have discussed some of these things here from time to time. But it occurred to me that perhaps America is still doing some great things, despite all the not so great things going on in and around it.

Like what? Well, we elected a man from an ethnic minority group as our President not long ago; that would have been unthinkable in the space-race days.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:44 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Religion ... Spirituality ...

When I was 15 years old, I worried a lot about what Jesus said in the Gospels. Yea, I was a bit different from most guys my age, who mostly worried about playing sports, getting hold of contraband (cigarettes, liquor, marijuana), and getting girls to notice them and perhaps allow them into the garden of sensual delights. For a host of reasons that would require a small book to explain and a panel of shrinks to interpret, I became more and more religious just as most kids lost interest in churchgoing. I was taking the Gospels seriously, looking to them as the rulebook by which I was to live my life.

The problem with that is that Jesus set really high standards. I became increasingly worried about my ability to live up to his standards; like hey, even thinking about sex was just as much a sin as doing it! So I started going to confession a lot (that wonderful Roman Catholic ritual of having a priest listen to your sins and give you pardon, on the condition that you perform some penance – usually saying a bunch of prayers), because I was afraid of the danger of going to hell for not fulfilling the strict standards that Jesus set.

A few years later, when facing the possibility of being drafted into military combat service in Vietnam, I decided to file for conscientious objector status so that I would not violate Jesus’ blanket prohibition on taking another human life.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:48 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

As mentioned before, I am a proud member of the sangha at the Clear Mountain Zendo in Montclair, NJ. Our sensei (Dharma teacher), Carl, often emphasizes during his talks that the core theme of Zen is “this moment, right now”. That reminds me of duct tape.

Duct tape is a “right now” kind of thing. When you patch something up with duct tape, it’s today that you’re worried about; certainly not next year or next month, maybe not even next week. Duct tape keeps you going for now, but it makes no guarantees whatsoever for the future. It’s not built to last. Duct tape reflects a Zen vision of reality, in a way.

I’m not at all sure that Carl would agree with this. And I can’t imagine the great temples of Kyoto using duct tape to patch up the sitting cushions or the paper and bamboo shoji screens. But hey, Zen is becoming Americanized; and in the process, duct tape might eventually play a role in promoting awakening and awareness. I’m sure there’s a koan in the making somewhere, regarding duct tape’s versatility and it’s “in the moment” character!

PS — with all thoughts and intentions for the suffering happening now in the home of Zen, Japan.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Photo ...

Just three weeks ago, northern Jersey was mostly buried under various layers of ice, slush and dirty snow. We had a rough stretch of snowfall and cold temps from late December thru mid-February. We were one big storm away from “coagulation”, from a transportation clog-up that would have shut down stores and offices (given our extreme dependence upon automobiles and trucks to move us around and deliver the things we want to buy and sell).

But then it all just stopped. No more snow, and temps started rising into the 30s and 40s, even some 50s here and there. We might get a surprise snowstorm yet (March can be fickle), but for now, this is what remains of one of many big snow banks that towered over us and swallowed up all the sidewalks and parking spaces and road lanes, just a few weeks ago. Goodbye till next winter, let’s hope.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:46 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

If you had to predict the major geopolitical trends for the rest of the 21st Century, the surest bet would be China’s rise to global empire-hood, and America’s decline from it. The major implication from such a view is that the Greek – Roman – Anglican – American heritage of personal freedom, human rights and representative democratic governance has finally run out of steam. Democracy, freedom and constitutions of and by the people were not the “light of humankind” after all; the sun seems to be setting on those ideals after 2,500 years of light (they didn’t call it en-light-tenment for nothing). The Chinese are setting an example for the rest of the developing world: that the better way to growth, prosperity and sustainability rests in a complex mix of personal economic incentive and collective “order-keeping”, combined with deference to authority (and perhaps even a desire for it). It’s all very Confucian, so I’ve read (despite the fact that my own readings of Master Confucians seem rather benign and even edifying).

OK to most of that, but before we write the eulogy for the Anglo-American ideal, we have to ask if there exists a people on the ascent who might pick up the torch presently in America’s faltering hands. I believe there is — India. Despite India’s relatively exotic history and cultural heritage, and despite its vigor to free itself from British domination in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there is evidence that India values the Anglo socio-political philosophies and intends to protect and promote them in the “brown-skin world” of the future. I just read an article in Forbes about India as a growing world power, and there was in incredible quote from an Indian scholar based at UCLA, Deepak Lal. Professor Lal said: “It is in India’s long term interest to recognize that the continuance of its liberal democratic open economy also requires it to support and, if necessary, take over the imperial burden from the U.S.”

India still has a way to go until it truly has the economic and military power to take on an “imperial burden”. It still needs  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:32 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Psychology ... Science ... Society ...

I came across another article about bonobos today; bonobos are a chimp-like African monkey that are growing in popularity amidst their human cousins, because they are so peaceable and hippy-like. When bonobo tribes have conflicts, they often settle them by having an orgy. They also share and hug a lot, and not surprisingly, women are mostly in charge. They seem so happy and well-adjusted, like we humans could supposedly be if only we’d get over our greed and violence and masculine hubris regarding our souped-up brains.

Well, the bonobo world does sound nice. But this article briefly mentions something that probably explains why bonobos are the way they are, and we are not. Quote:

Bonobos’ generous nature likely evolved because they live in an area of the Congo where food is plentiful. They never had to compete with gorillas or kill for a meal like common chimps do.

OK, so the bonobos found a place where everything balanced out for them. Unfortunately, the human species did not.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 6, 2011
History ... Religion ...

I’m still a fan of the modern academic / historical approach to Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve sampled a bit of the various schools of modern-day thought on the life of Jesus, and I’ve come down on the side of the eschatological / apocalyptic approach. Under this paradigm, Jesus was trying to save Israel from Roman subjugation by preparing the people for direct intervention by God. Jesus did not have in mind some future heavenly realm; he felt that God was coming down to earth very soon. God would land in Jerusalem, and would orchestrate a series of marvelous events that would push the Romans out, cast out the bad Jews, and leave the good ones to live very long lives in a land of peace and righteousness. Again, not in some heavenly realm, but right on the dusty soil of Palestine.

One of the big controversies among the professors is whether Jesus saw himself as having a direct role in the big event and the administration of the “Kingdom of God”, once in place. A number of Historical Jesus researchers conclude that Jesus did NOT claim such a role, what could be termed a “messiah” role, despite various notes in the New Testament saying that he did. A handful of others come to the opposite conclusion, saying that the “son of man” and “messiah” lines and stories (e.g., entering Jerusalem riding a donkey, hearkening back to Hebrew Scripture stories of kings riding on donkeys) were original, if somewhat trumped up over the years by the Christian biblical redactors. But most seem afraid that if they accept this notion, they will be helping the “snake handlers”, those academicians who support a Christian proselytizing agenda.

I come down on the side of the snake handlers. But not because  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:36 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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