The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Outer Space ... Politics ...

On this final day of 2011, I wanted to share some things I read recently on the topic of whether there are life-forms in the universe beyond planet earth (i.e., “extraterrestrial life”), and if so, whether there is intelligent, sentient life akin to what we homo sapiens believe that we experience. And finally, what might this mean for our life together here on earth, i.e. on whether we (and any other possible civilization in the Universe) are truly intelligent and sentient, or just a disaster waiting to happen.

As to the first question, the astrophysicists seem quite confident that there are other living things out there. Continued studies regarding the adaptability of microbes to extreme conditions on earth indicate that there could even be some kind of bacteria or fungus fairly close by, on a moon of Saturn or Jupiter, or perhaps even on Mars, buried somewhere under the red soil. Given the recent success of the Kepler “exoplanet observer” satellite in finding far-away planets that are relatively earth-like in size, composition and distance from their own sun, it’s a good bet that there’s plenty of slime mold out there.

The question gets a bit more tricky when you ask whether there are intelligent, self-conscious life forms which communicate and organize themselves into social structures, out on  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
History ... Religion ... Spirituality ...

The Christmas season makes Christians think about Christ. Or should make them so think, anyway. Ah yes, keep Christ in Christmas! Even thought I don’t practice Christianity despite my Catholic upbringing, Christmas still makes me think a bit about Christ, i.e. the idea of interpreting Jesus of Nazareth as the manifestation of God’s true Son. I once believed that Jesus was the Christ. I no longer do. Not because I don’t believe in God, nor because I believe that God would never send humankind a special envoy to convey God’s glory and disperse salvation.

It’s just that I can’t believe that God would make a “once for all”, one-shot appearance in Jesus and relegate everyone who hadn’t heard of Jesus (i.e., those who lived before him and lived in lands that would not hear the Gospels for many centuries after Jesus) to second-class status, unable to attain true salvation. And what about all those people who have heard of Jesus as the Christ and savior, but just couldn’t relate to what was being preached for any variety of reasons . . . which seems to happen quite a lot in modern times. Why should all these people be automatically barred from union with God’s kingdom?

I just can’t see God operating this way. Jesus may well have been a special messenger of God’s word. But that message, as preserved by the Christian church over many centuries,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:33 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Spirituality ...

I recently read an ancient Hindu parable regarding a salt doll and the sea, and it made me think about the late Steve Jobs. I can’t say that I was a big Jobs fan; I never bought anything made by Apple, as I don’t like “slick” technology. I like the honestly clunky stuff where you can see or hear the gears grinding or digits mashing together — everything that Jobs and Apple stood against. Jobs was not an inspiration to me, as he was more of a hippie-artist turned high-tech businessman than a true geek at heart.

But I read a recounting of Jobs’ final minutes, and was impressed by the fact that he was still awake and aware enough as his life was slipping away to utter a few last words. Very simple words — simply “oh wow”. Perhaps he was achieving some form of enlightenment.

Maybe like the salt doll. In a nutshell, the salt doll is alive and conscious like us, and is on a journey  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:43 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 23, 2011
Politics ... Public Policy ...

I have said several times here on my blog soapbox (and on my web site) that I think that a voucher system is the best way to get the health care cost crisis from ruining our economic future.  I wouldn’t say that vouchers are a “perfect” way, nor would I claim that a voucher system would have no side effects (most all good medicines have some).  But I do think that it’s the best of the list of messy options available for health care reform (this list includes notorious characters such as: do nothing at all as things continue to worsen; socialize all medical practice; socialize the payment system i.e. “single payer”; continue over-regulating medicine and insurance with overly complex, contorted, no-longer-understandable laws and myriad agencies – i.e., Romneycare, Hilarycare and now Obamacare; or get government completely out of medicine i.e. survival of the richest).  A voucher system can be tweeked in many ways as to promote economic fairness and maximize access to good health care. (I won’t say GUARANTEE ACCESS TO THE BEST HEALTHCARE, as most politicians do; I have higher standards of veracity than most of them, which still isn’t saying much these days).
So, I was rather pleased to see that Senator Ron Wyden, the thinking man’s Democrat when it comes to health care issues, has teamed up with GOP social program slasher Rep. Paul Ryan to promote a new plan for the overhaul of Medicare, one that relies heavily on vouchers to get costs under control.  I’ve only read the summary of the plan, I’m not familiar with all the details, nor the devils that no doubt lie within.  However, on the surface, it seems promising.  First off, it won’t affect people 55 and over (which includes me, to be quite honest!).  We will still get the old-fashioned, high-cost Medicare that everyone has come to hate and yet crave at the same time.  But younger people would face a choice between old-fashioned Medicare and a cost-indexed “insurance support system” that is basically a voucher to purchase a comprehensive health insurance plan. 
Actually, that’s not such a new thing; the Medicare Advantage program has been around since the GW Bush days as an option to all Medicare recipients.  Medicare Advantage isn’t exactly  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

Today at the zendo, our ‘practice circle’ discussion focused upon the “red thread” of human passion. Long ago, as a young man, I walked down this pathway in the Washington Spring Garden park in Paramus, NJ, very much in love. I was involved with a lovely woman, and together we followed the red thread of our passions. Some of our best moments, our simplest and yet most profound times together, we spent along this pathway.

Our paths eventually went separate ways, the red thread for us frayed and ended. And yet, the threads are still there in all of our lives and along all our paths, if one looks closely. If Zen means nothing else (or means nothing at all, as some of the teachers might like to say), it means looking closely and carefully at life, to see all the things that we pass up in our hurry to get ahead or not get behind.

And so I’m not in any great state of passion right now, but I’m still searching for the thin but myriad red threads of passion that are woven through most every aspect of life. They are not as obvious as young romance, but they are there, in the stillness. They can yet be seen today along the Spring Garden pathway.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:00 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Politics ...

Two of the better political commentators out there right now are Margaret Carlson and Peggy Noonan (IMHO). They both have a lot of insight into national politics. And both made very some interesting comments recently about Newt Gingrich and the moon. As you know, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich got into a little tussle at last Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate about Gingrich’s proposal to set up lunar colonies for mineral mining. Romney cast it as a wacky, delusional idea while Gingrich defended it as visionary and inspiring, the bold stuff that makes America great.

A few days after the Dec. 10 debate, Ms. Carlson wrote an essay reviewing Mr. Gingrich’s recent eclipse of Mr. Romney in the GOP presidential stakes. Despite her article’s broad scope, she selected a catchy article title focusing on the lunar controversy: “Gingrich No Loon to Preach Moon in Hard Times”. Obviously, Ms. Carlson thinks that Gingrich’s moon gambit will not hurt him, as it reflects that which makes him so attractive to the T-party factions that now “occupy” the Republican big tent. I.e., the loony faction has found a fellow traveler in Newt, after brief flings with Bachmann, Perry and Cain.

Ms. Noonan’s article was published in the Wall St. Journal just before  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:48 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Outer Space ... Politics ...

So, Newt Gingrich is drawing fire for his vision of setting up a lunar base, presumably sometime during the 8 years that he would be President. This lunar base would mine some stuff on the moon for use here on earth (i.e., before 2020). Well, I give Mr. Gingrich credit for thinking big, thinking really high tech. But something about the reality of science, technology and economics often seems to get in the way of those “high frontier” dreams about manned space exploration. Right now, the USA is pretty much out of that business. We just can’t afford it at the moment, and the economy won’t be booming again for quite some time. That mountain of debt that we and the Europeans face won’t go away any time soon.

But if things do somehow turn around in the next 5 years, it would not be impossible for the USA to work toward a return to the moon, with the eventual goal of setting up some sort of small colony for longer-term habitation. Actually, this will probably come off as an international partnership between China, India, Russia and us, assuming that we can all learn to get along well enough to pull off something so complex.

As such, Newt’s dream of a lunar colony really isn’t any more radical than G W Bush’s goal of returning to the moon by the third decade of the new century. It’s just that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

I like charts. So I’d like to share a good one that I saw recently regarding world crude oil output. It was part of an interesting and somewhat troubling article on Mr. Gregor’s web site about energy production and standards of living. Here’s my update of his chart, which adds oil prices for comparison purposes (Brent futures in $ per barrel as the green line, use right hand scale on chart).

Mr. Gregor’s bottom line is that energy is the key input — and the key limitation — to how well industrial economies do. Therefore, its ups and downs have observable impacts on the overall wealth and quality of life in these economies. And the USA is a sitting-duck economy as far as energy is concerned. The only thing that has absorbed some of the shock, both here and in Europe, has been the massive amount of government borrowing that has transpired. But that game seems to be just about over. The sovereign debt chickens are coming home to roost in Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland . . . and are not far out from the American shores.

For better or worse, the industrial nations still depend upon oil. There are alternatives including natural gas, nuclear, coal, wind, solar, and other ‘green energy’ sources. But they are all limited  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Philosophy ... Spirituality ...

What’s in a name? We all have names – hi, I’m Jim. There’s more to my name than that, but for starters, call me Ishmael . . . eh, Jim, that is. (Admittedly I’m out of my element when discussing classic authors like Melville.) So names are important. But just what are they, and why do we have them?

Those questions don’t seem all that tough – – unless you want them to be. If you pursue the more difficult issues raised by such questions, you will eventually reach one of those show-stopping queries from philosophy, i.e., just who and what are we, once our names are taken away? This is all Zen stuff, but I like Zen stuff, so let’s follow this a bit further if you don’t mind.

Names. They are necessary for social living, and human survival requires living social. We are hard-wired as a social species, although we’re not “eusocial” like ants and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 5, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

My ethnic heritage is Polish, very Polish. Three of my grandparents were born and raised there, and the fourth lived there after growing up in White Russia (Belarus). So I don’t exactly enjoy Polish jokes.

But I must admit that sometimes my motherland culture deserves their reputation. Especially when the issue involves tolerance for those who are different. I mean, when you are the butt of derogatory jokes, you might try to be a little more sensitive about the evils of looking down on other groups. But Poles are famous for their intolerance, especially with regard to Jews.

I had hoped that Poland had been purified from anti-Sematism through its experiences with the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s (not to mention  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
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