The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, August 29, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Religion ... Spirituality ...

Life got back to normal for me today. And it felt so very good! Oh sweet quotidian life, why do we take you for granted? Only when a nasty storm like Irene comes along and robs us of your quiet charms, do we see, and then only briefly. (But watch out, we may get another chance — there’s something called TD 12 over the eastern Atlantic, soon to become ‘Katia’; which sounds a bit too much like ‘Katrina’ for my liking).

During my lunch hour at work today, I mostly slept!! My body is trying to recover a bit from the stress of the recent hurricane watch. I have a lunch-hour book to fall asleep to, Dale Allision’s “Jesus of Nazareth, Millenarian Prophet”. After I woke and before I got back to the computer screen, I pondered a few more lines from Prof. Allison’s extremely detailed and irrefutable exposition of how and why the Gospels reflect Jesus as a ‘millenarian’, i.e. the self-appointed announcer of the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom in Jerusalem.

(Yes, in Jerusalem in 30 CE, not up in Heaven or some other realm in the distant future; but immediately, right here on earth, pushing aside the evil Romans and the others in cahoots with them, e.g. the Temple priests. That was the real Jesus, like it or not; and I suspect a lot of Christians would NOT like it).

So it makes sense that Jesus  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:44 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Photo ...

Looks like we survived Hurricane Irene here in Montclair. My house didn’t lose power — but then again, there are still some “back end” gusts outside, so I shouldn’t talk too loudly just yet.

Nonetheless, I found an old raincoat my brother gave me years ago and took a little walk this morning, just as the eye of the storm was passing to the east. Here’s a shot of ‘Old Glory’ riding it out.

I’m still hopeful that Old Glory will keep on riding out all the storms that face her these days.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:40 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

At the moment, there’s a big nasty hurricane bearing down on my humble abode. The eye of it is still down around North Carolina, but it’s already raining here (no wind yet). So I am finally going to get a taste of all the rough treatment that Mother Nature has dished out to humankind since the start of the year. First off was all the snow that fell on the east coast (actually I did slog my way thru that), then the killer earthquake and tsunami in Japan, then various floods and tornadoes in the USA along with Australia, Pakistan and China. Even some volcanoes and mudslides! And more earthquakes, including one in New Zealand. And even a little one in the northeast US! (Which I experienced, by the way – I felt some strange vibes in my desk chair at work last Tuesday, and first thought that I was having a heart attack!).

By July, the year 2011 was already the costliest one on record for property damage from natural disasters. Not exactly what a world economy struggling to recover from a variety of financial shocks over the past 3 years needs. And now we have a huge hurricane pointed at the New York metro region and New England. So, I’m going to get a real taste of what millions of others around the world have experienced over the past few months. Hopefully that taste will be relatively mild; perhaps by Wednesday the power will be back on and the streets will be cleared of all the trees and debris that will be blown onto them. I don’t see this as becoming a Katrina-like situation, especially in my neighborhood which is on high ground far from any major body of water. But one never knows . . .

Some of this world-wide mayhem can be associated with anthropic climate change, but some cannot (however, hurricane Irene is much bigger than the ones I remember hitting New Jersey in the past – it does make you wonder).  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:33 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Economics/Business ... Society ...

On this blog I tend to be a storm petrel, focusing on things that are going wrong with the Western world. I could talk more about the joy of being alive, and perhaps I should. The Buddha was quite a storm petrel himself; he kept hammering the point that life itself is suffering. And yet, the Buddha’s greatest lesson was to lift a flower before his students. Beauty is the ultimate lesson.

Well, that’s what I try to say when I post a picture here or talk about my Zen experiences. But tonight, it’s back to the suffering side of things. I’m thinking specifically of the American economy and what it has been doing lately to our society. I just read Don Peck’s incisive article “Can The Middle Class Be Saved” in the September Atlantic Monthly. Mr. Peck packs the article with plenty of probative statistics (onomatopoeia intended!), showing where we are and where we are going . For example:

— The richest 1 percent of households in the US earn as much as the bottom 60 percent (i.e., total dollars from all households in top 1 % = total dollars from all households in bottom 60% of households).  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:48 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

I like it whenever I find some little, relatively inexpensive way to make a tiny part of my life just a bit more “together”. This doesn’t happen often, but the other day I found an opportunity in my kitchen. I decided to upgrade my cooking life by getting a ring-bound copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I still have my 1981 paperback copy that I bought right after I broke up with my ex-wife, and by now it’s pretty beat up, all crumbly and yellow-y with pages falling out. My X introduced me to the New Cookbook while we were married, and I built up a lasting relationship with it over the 3 years or so when we were together. It pretty much had all the basics; how-to’s on bread, cookies, soups, pasta, veggies, main dishes, the works. I spent a lot of quality time with it in the tiny little kitchen to our apartment, its narrow pages forced open on the kitchen table by a can of beans or whatever else was handy, peering down at it as to figure out “what’s next”.

Eventually the wife left me and took with her the New Cookbook paperback, so I quickly found another copy for myself in a local bookstore. And thus the happy relationship continued over the years, even as I took my vegetarianism more and more seriously. I no longer had use for a big chunk of the NCB, but still found myself needing the rest of it quite frequently. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to memorize how much water goes with a half cup of rice, or how much milk is needed for a small stack of pancakes — it was right there on-call in the NCB.

So, after 30 years, I decided to upgrade to the ring-bound edition and retire the old veteran. Now I could lay the binder flat on the kitchen table and flip thru the pages easily, without tearing the binding and loosening pages while trying to hold the book open at a particular page. So I went on Amazon and found a “like new” copy of the 2010 version for just $5 plus $4 shipping, and it showed up at my doorstep yesterday. This was great timing, as I was just about to mix up my annual batch of basil pesto after doing some harvesting from my mini-garden next to the driveway. So I opened the binder on the table and went to the index, searching for the “pasta with pesto” entry.

Hmmm. Something seemed wrong. There was an entry for “penne and chicken with pesto”, so I checked it out, figuring that I could ignore the chicken part and just focus on the ingredients that went into the basil sauce. I leafed to the page, noticing all the pretty pictures and attractive page layout in the new version, quite a contrast to the “nothing but recipes” format of the old paperback. Lots of pics of tuna casseroles, big cuts of grilled meat, salami salads — not exactly very comforting to my vegetarian sensibilities. But then I reached the penne with pesto recipe and was in for a real shock — it calls for “one 7 ounce container purchased basil pesto”.

PURCHASED??!!?? What the heck!!! — this is a cookbook, and it’s supposed to tell you how to make sauces, not purchase them!! Like my old 1981 paperback version does.

Sorry, but I’m getting old and I need things to hang on to. This isn’t the same cookbook that I shared so much of my better years in the kitchen with. It’s a cookbook for modern times. Like most people getting old, I think that modern times aren’t as good as the old ones. I see that Better World Books has a 1982 hardcover version that they will send for $3.50 (shipping cost only). I’m going with that. Maybe it would be better to leave Better Homes altogether and just go with The Joy of Cooking — the other great basic cookbook of America, perhaps a bit more cosmopolitan (NCB always did have a quaint mid-western flavor to it, with classics like egg-sausage casserole and ham hodgepodge). But then again, from a quick look at the index of JOC, their pesto recipe calls for anchovies.

Nope, I’m sticking with the past. FYI, here are shots of the old and the new.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Science ... Society ...

I’m still a big science buff, and I now have a subscription to Scientific American. I even read it, cover to cover! Here’s a quick review of the July 2011 issue.

To be honest, most of the articles are about science and research at work; i.e. how the day-to-day workings of science (what philosopher Thomas Kuhn called “normal science” and “puzzle solving”) promise a variety of social benefits in the foreseeable future (e.g. better ways to control malaria mosquitoes or contain health care costs), or how researchers are getting closer to affirming or denying a theory regarding an unresolved issue (e.g., dark matter or chronic fatigue syndrome). Other articles inject a scientific viewpoint into a major policy issue, e.g. the question of HIV rates in southern states and what to do with the melted-down Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan. And there are still a few ‘pure science’ articles like SA focused on before 1990, e.g. about trends in the luminosity and surface temperature of visible stars, and the evolution of the eye. But certain SA issues have a handful of articles with broader, more game-changing implications, and the July issue was one of these. So, here is what I think was important.

In the neuroscience realm, I liked “The Limits of Intelligence” by Douglas Fox. I’ve read a lot of books about how the brain works with all its networked neurons and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:40 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Things aren’t going so well these days in the venerable land of Europe. Greece is bankrupt, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are on the verge, Italy is rolling toward the cliff, France and Britain are in continued recession, and the old cites of England, including London itself, are rioting and burning. Nope, not a good time for Europe.

It’s ironic that the western world fought two major wars and sacrificed millions of people during the 20th century to keep Germany from taking over Europe. But today, Germany is the only European nation that knows how to thrive in the modern world economy. The Germans, with some help from the Chinese (who else?), seem willing to take responsibility for much of the damage that has done by the less business-oriented, less productive members of the Euro community. Up to 2008, Europe could get by as a cultural museum floated by American tourist dollars. But now America is also losing ground economically, and the nations that are gaining it might not be as sentimental about Italian food, French wine, Greek ruins, Spanish fishing villages, London’s theater and all those old cathedrals and wonderful museums. I can’t see throngs of Chinese, Brazilians and Indians lining up outside the Vatican or the Louve.

About the only people who could re-start the engines of Europe are be the Germans. If the Euro Union is going to stick together, the Germans are going to call the shots.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:32 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Society ... Spirituality ...

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a lot of full page advertisements in a variety of magazines composed mostly of text, having a small picture of an old 1950’s-style white guy named Richard W. Wetherill. Every now and then I’d try to read some of these ads, but they never seemed to say anything all that interesting. Whoever is behind these ads (the Richard Wetherill Foundation, I gather) obviously has a lot of money, and just keeps on posting them. A quick web search shows that these ads have appeared in Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science and Science Illustrated; the Foundation people are obviously aiming at scientific rationalists. But they have also hit The Smithsonian and The Atlantic at times, trying to broaden their audience a bit (but still aiming at the more educated reading population).

Well, persistence pays off; after 3 or 4 years of seeing these ads, I finally took a few minutes and tried to focus on their message. I also tried to find out a bit about Mr. Wetherill himself, who died in 1989, over 20 years ago. I’d also love to know just who is behind the big push to popularize Wetherill today. But as to Wetherill, he worked for a big railroad car manufacturer in Philadelphia, the Budd Company, as a training executive back in the 1940s. That was back when unions were powerful. I gather that Mr. Wetherill was concerned with union-management and employee-management relationships, which could be rather tumultuous. Well, at some point he decided to quit his job and become a management consultant. Later, he became a prophet, a “man with a message”. (The guy came from Jersey, but must have tapped into an old Main Line family with $$$, which probably pays for all the ads you see out there today). So he wrote all these books to get his message across.

Just what is that message? His ads talk about natural laws of behavior and laws of absolute right. This all has something to do with how people should get along, how political and social and business relationships  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:30 pm       Read Comments (12) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

Being an old guy who grew up in the 60’s, I still like The Ventures and the surf guitar instrumentals that they were famous for. It’s well known amidst Ventures fans that this group had a special relationship with the people of Japan. They started touring there in the early 60’s, well before the other pop music stars of the west started noticing Japan. Actually, almost no one in the west noticed Japan back then. It was only 17 or 18 years since the big Pacific war (that they started) had ended with a nuclear ‘bang’, and no one much took ‘the Japs’ seriously anymore. Japan was starting to export stuff for sale in the US by then, but it was mostly considered ‘cheap garbage’. A few Zen-masters from the Japanese temples were starting to arrive on our western shores, as to take advantage of the nascent ‘beat generation’ and the search for meaning amidst affluent American bohemians. But for the most part, Japan was not on anyone’s radar anymore (an ironic choice of words, given what had happened at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941).

In just a few years, the sun would begin to rise once again over Japan. But in the misty pre-dawn of the Japanese cultural and economic resurgence, the Ventures found a niche, a place that became special to them. After the Beatles hit the music scene and the British pop invasion swept the surf craze aside, the Ventures became an “also ran” band, still useful on occasion for things such as the theme for the TV show “Hawaii 5-0”. However, they could still pack ’em in at the concert halls of Japan, and made annual tours to the Land of the Rising Sun. Believe it or not, despite all the changes in the music world, the group continued doing that thru the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s.

By now, the surviving Ventures are in their 70s (Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards; Bob Bogle and Mel Taylor both passed, but Mel’s son Leon still tours with the band on drums). You would think that in the wake of that terrible tsunami disaster back in March,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:56 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Politics ...

Looks like the Tea Party has notched a major victory in its quest to change the course of American history. Yes, I certainly am referring to the debt limit extension and deficit reduction plan approved by the House and Senate and about to be signed into law by President Obama.

I just read an article on the Daily Beast site that is right on point. The “Beast” (a spin-off of Newsweek Magazine) and its writers are very much on the liberal side, and thus have a lot of admiration for the Saul Alinsky dream of grass roots organizing, of ordinary people rising up to take power from the elites who control our government. One reason why “Beast people” (and “HuffPo” people and “DailyKos” people and NPR people, etc.) love Barack Obama so much is that he was once a community organizer himself, who cut his teeth going door to door and attending countless evening meetings in church basements, right on Alinsky’s home turf (i.e., Chicago).

OK, so Beast writer Peter Beinart points out that the Tea Party is one of the most incredible, stupendous examples of the Alinksy dream realized. It just rose up from the grass roots and organized itself,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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