The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Outer Space ... Spirituality ...

It turns out that many of the US astronauts who have been up in the Freedom space station for several months have had vision problems. About one third have reported some level of vision impairment after coming home. Most have gotten better over time, but NASA is worried that more permanent damage would be done on a very long space mission, such as a trip to explore Mars.

Likewise, it turns out that 36 astronauts who were on “high radiation missions”, including the Apollo moon astronauts, experienced cataract problems. This was due to their heightened exposure to cosmic rays and other particles from the Sun and from space, given that they spent time beyond the earth’s magnetic shielding. (The space station astronaut problems stem more from brain fluid shifts caused by prolonged weightlessness — they are in low orbit and aren’t as severely exposed to radiation).

But interestingly enough, the deep space missions had another type of “vision” effect — vision in a spiritual sense. It turns out that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:19 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Psychology ... Society ...

As I mentioned earlier in the month (Sept. 10), I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, a popular book on decision-making. Thirty-eight percent of its reviewers on Amazon believe that it only merits 1, 2 or 3 stars. Even one of the 4 star reviewers says “The book is a series of semi-socio-scientific articles on insight and intuition. It is not a cohesive theory . . . Gladwell fumbles in trying take them into some unified theory that is comprehensible let alone cohesive.” My friend Mary basically agrees with that sentiment (see her comments on it); she finds it to be a desultory mix of topics and a grab-bag of sundry theories.

As to myself, I am also scratching my head, wondering why I don’t see what seems obvious to Gladwell, i.e. a big idea that will change how we and our leaders make decisions, big and small, and for the better. Not that Blink is devoid of all worth. There are a number of small ideas that have some value.

One such idea was elegantly presented recently in a short article on the Scientific American web site,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

I took a little drive this morning, stopping at a handful of places that had meant something to me in the past. It was a late summer/early autumn trip down memory lane. The coming of autumn always makes me nostalgic.

One of my stops was at the church where I got married way back in the mid-80s, St. Joes in East Rutherford. While walking thru the parking lot looking for a photo angle, I came upon this little scene. A dumpster and some garbage cans — friars only. Hmmmm, makes you consider that St. Francis was born wealthy but voluntarily became a mendicant, trading luxurious clothing and sumptuous meals for what ever he could garner from begging and sifting thru trash heaps (or where ever they put their garbage back in the 13th Century — but is garbage mostly a modern concept, a luxury of affluence?).

Well, I doubt that any modern OFMs had sifted through these bins. And more ironically, the friars are now gone from St. Joes, having given the parish back to the local diocese not long ago in order to conserve their dwindling manpower. So, this sign is a double anachronism, another memory of things that are no more. Which is just what I was searching for this crisp, cool morning.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:23 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Current Affairs ... Society ...

I heard a report on NPR the other day about the band of elderly Japanese people who are volunteering to do work at the Fukushima nuclear plant melt-down, in place of younger people whose lives might be shortened by the high levels of radiation there. The government and the utility company have not taken them up on this yet, but they might.

Wow, the Kamikaze spirit lives on in Japan! At least amidst the older generation, those who grew up during WW2 or not long after. This is quite an honorable thing, the notion of older people willing to cut short whatever years they have left, so as to keep younger people from losing a decade or two due to radiation-induced cancer.

Practically speaking, these old codgers are going to suffer if Tokyo Electric sends them out to nuclear hot spots  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

I didn’t go to any of the 9-11 memorial services today marking the 10th anniversary of the attack, although I was listening to the live radio coverage from the Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Instead, I went to a “tombstone uncovering” ceremony at a Jewish cemetery, to remember a fellow from my Zen group who passed away back in January. He lived to age 87 and had a long, full life including marriage, combat service in the Army during WW2, running a successful accounting firm, on-going involvement with his synagogue, and regular attendance at our zendo.

While at the cemetery, I was looking around at the writings on the other “memorial stones”. I’m used to tombstones from Christian cemeteries, which don’t usually say much other than a short quote from the New Testament. The Jewish stones I saw today had a lot of interesting sayings on them, by contrast.

The saying that I would like to share here today is actually my own mis-reading of what the stone actually says. Let’s start with reality; the stone says: “Do Not Remember Me With Tears But With Smiles”. My own misreading of it goes like this:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Psychology ...

A friend at work recently loaned me a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and I’ve been cruising through it over the past few days (it’s a fairly easy read, with lots of anecdotes; interestingly, a movie is being made about it, to be released later this year). Gladwell’s main point is that we humans are built to make snap judgments about things and people that we see or encounter for the first time, based upon initial impressions; and that such judgments are generally more accurate than you might expect. He calls this the “thin slicing” technique of decision making.

But Gladwell also points out that “blink” judgments are sometimes wrong, and offers some conjectures about what can throw us off when we start judging books by their covers. To be honest, Gladwell doesn’t really leave you with much to help decide whether and when to trust your gut instincts, and when to re-think them. He gives a few examples of the many overt and subconscious prejudices that people harbor, but doesn’t say how to detect when these are blinkering your blink. This book is kind of “blinky” in itself, actually; various critics have said that the evidence for Gladwell’s contentions is usually quite thin. But the stories in it are interesting enough.

One of Gladwell’s stories regards Warren Harding, 29th President of the US and arguably the worst one ever. This was an instance when the “thin slicing” of a first impression let us down. According to Gladwell,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, September 5, 2011
Photo ...

It’s the Labor Day holiday here and I’m trying to have a calm, restful day. I’m still been a little jittery from the big storm last week (Hurricane Irene). Even though I weathered Irene rather well, my body went into “Defcon One” status for it, and it doesn’t just throttle down right away once the crisis is past. Perhaps I have a miniature version of PTSD. So a nice peaceful day would go a long way to getting me back in the groove.

And so I slept late (8 am is late for me) and had a leisurely breakfast, then went to the bathroom to begin my daily ablutions. Things were going well, and then it was time to pull off some toilet paper. But there was a little surprise waiting for me …

Ah, life; always some unexpected surprise awaits!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:13 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

When I was around 16 or so, I remember walking down a local street one day and seeing two guys in a city maintenance truck setting up for some sort of job. As I passed them, I remember one saying to the other “Aaron, kids today just don’t want to work”. I couldn’t help but recall incident that after making similar comments recently to another fellow Baby Boomer regarding the up and coming Millennial Generation of today. I guess that it’s a natural cycle; we couldn’t understand why the older people were bitching about us so much when we were young, and we in turn find things to bitch about regarding the next generation now that we’re old. This cycle has probably been going on for a long, long time.

But to be honest, I wonder if Aaron and his friend were fundamentally correct about my generation. Looking back on what has happened to the world during the reign of the Boomers, I can’t say that there is much to be proud of. We grew up when America and its middle class were unquestionably secure in their economic privilege, and we assumed that we could speak for the whole of humankind. We focused a lot on rights – rights of the minorities, rights of women, rights of consumers, rights of long-haired freaky people, you name it. Unfortunately, we didn’t think too much about responsibilities.

So naturally, the Boomer generation fell in love with credit and debt. We found ways to “make borrowing work for you at home”, we allowed our government to borrow staggering sums  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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