The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

I just read an article on the Texas Monthly site about Gov. Rick Perry, the latest heavyweight contender in the GOP Presidential nomination ring. Of course, Perry hasn’t announced yet, but most of the political reports indicate that he’s building a campaign organization and is out raising money. The latest speculation is that Perry will formally announce in the second half of August.

Is Perry viable? A recent Gallup poll shows Perry picking up strength. This poll sets forth a variety of different scenarios between the many present and potential GOP contenders, but the most important set of charts puts Romney, Bachmann and the six other dwarfs (Cain, Gingrich, Pawlenty, etc.) against the three “shadow” candidates (Perry, Palin and Guiliani) on an individual basis. Thus, you can see the effect that Palin alone would have on the present field, versus the Guiliani-alone effect, versus the Perry-alone effect.

In each of these three “trial heats”, Romney retains a 23% share. But Perry comes within striking distance at 18%, while Palin gets 15% and Rudy G takes 14%. More important is the effect on Bachmann’s support.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:26 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Science ...

Eapen, my friend from work, work hails from India. The other day, we were talking about, what else, the hot summer weather. I asked him if he experienced similar weather in India, and he said yes, even hotter. Then he offered some traditional Indian wisdom on what to do about it. The village wise men and women in India say that on a hot day, you should start a fire and heat up some water for tea or some other hot concoction. And yes, the inverse holds also – when the cold Arctic winds are blowing outside, open the fridge and pop the ice cube tray, load up a glass and then quaff down a tall frosty drink.

Why? Well, according to Eapen and his ancestors, sipping a cup of hot soup or whatnot opens up the skin pores, blood vessels and other body passage ways. This allows the blood and other body fluids to “radiate” more – i.e. they have more area for heat-exchange with the surrounding environment. And so, even if the drink makes you hotter at first, after a while you will feel cooler. By contrast, that bracing icy drink in February contracts the pores and vessels, keeping the body heat trapped within. So again, you get a short-term effect (feeling cooler), but over time you feel warmer.

Actually, Eapen is pretty much Americanized, and thus allowed that this might not always work for unbelieving US natives. However, he did point out that the American custom of eating ice cream on a hot day while imagining it to make you cooler was quite irrational. Perhaps your mouth and stomach feel cool for a few moments, but as soon as the fats and sugars start to metabolize, your body certainly heats up as the barrage of excess calories floods your system.

Actually, I had a science teacher in high school who also made this point. And no, he was not Indian; his last name was Williams. (Ah yes, Jim Williams from East Rutherford High School; he was definitely one of the better teachers, as he actually had a sense of humor. Except about ice cream in the summer.)

Going back to India but sticking with science,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:29 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 22, 2011
Brain / Mind ...

It’s been a rough year weather-wise for the USA as a whole, but my corner of suburban New Jersey has missed the worst of it thus far. Thank goodness, no tornadoes, no floods, more snow than I would have liked, but even that gave way by late February. However, the nasty heat wave that has been parching the heartland has finally invaded the east coast, and we’re getting fried with the best of them. The ocean breezes cool things off near the shore, but crap out just a few miles inland. Thus, I am enjoying that unique combination of 100+ heat and Jersey-style humidity. The air outside is something like a chocolate fudge volcano cake just out of the oven — but without any of the sweetness.

In this weather, I still think about big questions; but I don’t get too far in pursuing the answers. For tonight then, I’m just going to ask the questions and leave them unanswered. For now, and probably for a long, long time, as these questions are about the human mind. Ah yes, the mind and consciousness, that mysterious middle-ground between the physical brain, and what we would imagine as “the soul” (perhaps rightly so, despite all the disdain by the scientists and Buddhists). Philosophers, psychologists, doctors, biologists and computer specialists have been arguing for decades and centuries about this topic. So, I guess that I’m not going to solve it all on a hot summer night in Jersey.

Nonetheless, here are my questions about mind and consciousness.

1.) Does consciousness evolve and emerge from the workings of a human mind when and because such a mind can attain a certain level of information integration,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Photo ...

Looks like things got a bit out of hand recently at the local char-broil restaurant. It was a popular place, so hopefully they will get an insurance settlement and rebuild in the near future.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:52 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Economics/Business ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

There’s a rather unexciting business article in the front pages of the July/August Atlantic Magazine, entitled ‘Why Content Isn’t King’. It examines “how Netflix became America’s biggest video service—much to the astonishment of media executives and investors”. In this article, author Jonathan Knee tries to explain some basic economic concepts regarding fixed costs and efficiencies of scale and scope, and doesn’t really do such a great job of it. The conclusions of the article itself are rather mundane; overall I give it three and a half yawns.

And yet, this may be one of the most important articles that I have read in recent years about why America seems to have lost its groove in the world today. There has been plenty of commentary published in recent years about America’s economic role in a changing world. I am old enough to remember when the USA was the number 1 maker of things; in my lifetime, that has changed quite a lot. There were once factories all over the place in my corner of New Jersey; now there are almost none.

The manufacturing segment of the American economy is not dead by any means; the US still produces about 19.4% of world manufacturing output, versus around 22.3% back in 1995, and probably above 30% after World War 2. Highly automated factories in the Midwest and South bang out stuff with an efficiency that the old plants in NJ could never match. However, the Chinese have both efficient technology and cheap labor, and since 1995 China has gone from 4.7% to 19.8%. This trend arguably will continue — at our expense.

Back when I was in college in the 1970s, our teachers were already aware that America was facing increased competition from the East (back then, Japan  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Photo ...

My brother and I took a little road trip out to Lancaster, PA over the weekend. Why Lancaster? ‘Cause we hadn’t been there before. And we wanted to meet Andrew, The Martini Czar. (Also, plenty of interesting arts culture around town.)

Well, we found the Czar holding court on Friday night at the Rosa Rosa Pizzeria on Harrisburg Pike. (Not to be confused with the Rosa Rosa Ristorante, a few blocks away; the Pizzeria is past Franklin and Marshall College, going west away from downtown). Members of his royal family were in attendance, and the Czar stayed busy mixing drinks for his loyal subjects. Andrew mixes a mean martini. And the food at the Rosa2 was very good, definitely up to New Jersey Italian restaurant standards.

But if you go, don’t get thrown when you walk in the front door and see just another pizza joint before you. You need to walk along the side, to a room in the back. You will find a door opening to the restaurant section, where Czar Andrew sets up his martini bar on Friday and Saturday nights.

Here’s a shot of the Czar (on the right in shades of royal gray), along with two family members (Joe in red and Bryan in blue). These people are definitely the real thing. And so are those martini’s!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:54 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 8, 2011
Science ...

If you read up on the state of particle physics and cosmology these days, you might notice that there’s a lot more humility out there these days. Not too long ago, physicists often gave in to the temptation to get haughty, given how far they’ve come over the past 100 years in untangling the deep mysteries of how the universe is put together at the most fundamental levels. First there was Einstein with his sophisticated notions of how time, space, force and gravity interact on a grand (and not-so-grand) scale.

Then came Bohr and the quantum boys, who unlocked the strange mysteries of matter and energy at the tiniest levels. With better and better astronomical observations over the years, the physics people figured out that the universe had a “big bang” that began it all some 13 or 14 billion years ago. As particle accelerators grew more powerful, a unified theory about what the most basic building-blocks of matter and energy came together (i.e., the “standard particle model”). These concepts allowed physicists to come up with predictions that in many cases were verified by observations and experiments. It seemed like the final “theory of everything” was just around the corner.

But then things got strange. The universe wasn’t acting right. There was too much gravity around, pointing to some kind of matter that we don’t know about (“dark matter”). Even worse, the galaxies were flying away from each other at an expanding rate,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:32 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Brain / Mind ... Spirituality ...

During a “daisan” talk with my sensei (Zen teacher) recently, we delved into the ever-popular subject of death. We had started the discussion with a koan about change, (Zuigan’s “Everlasting Principle”) and then got around to fear and the anxiety caused by change. But ultimately, all the roads of change and fear lead to death. I don’t think that we resolved anything – Zen inherently resolves nothing – but at least we were both being honest.

What do we humans fear so much about death? Well, for me, it’s the idea of no more consciousness. No more experiences. No more knowing myself and the world around me. During our little discussion, I told the sensei that I realize that during any night of normal sleep, we lose all of our consciousness for a period. No dreams, no sensations, no nothing. It’s about the same as being under anesthesia. So what is so terrible about that? Nothing – no fear, no anxiety, no suffering – no hell. That moment of “black sleep” seems very natural (when you’re conscious, anyway). It isn’t a great tragedy. So why should a permanent state like that be seen as such a great tragedy?

And yet, consciousness itself seems so different from the doings of the objective world, something entirely special, “sui generis”, something that represents a gift  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:36 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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