The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, March 30, 2012
Nature ... Society ...

Here’s a little shout-out to my friend Mary, who has been keeping me posted on the second season of the Decorah Eagles. For those few of you who don’t know about the Decorah eagles . . . last year a conservation group called the Raptor Resource Project set a web cam up in a tree on a nature preserve in Decorah, Iowa, where eagles usually made a nest. So you get a “birds eye view” of an eagle couple at work bringing new eagles into the world, from egg to fledgling. This web site turned out to be a hit, and a lot of people got hooked on watching the domestic aspects of an eagle couple’s lives. Year 2 looks to be just as popular.

I take a look at the site now and then, and . . . well, it’s like human family life. I.e., nothing much happens most of the time. For a summary and some images of those moments when interesting stuff does happen up in the tree in Decorah, there are various sites that keep track of that. One of them is a Facebook site, which I checked out the other day. I noticed that the discussion wall on this site is dominated, if not owned outright, by the female gender of the human species. So, the Decorah eagle show is something of a “chick flick” (you might think that I’m taking a bad pun and making it even worse by referring in the alternative to the hatchlings in the nest; but no, baby eagles are technically “pips”, not chicks).

One reason why an eagle nest might be popular with female human viewers is that eagles are a “pair bonded” species. I.e.,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Photo ...

I pass this building most every day on my way to work. But only recently did I notice it. Pretty sad looking. I wanted to get some shots just to capture the down mood of it.

But it also reminds me that there were once many old buildings like this in northern NJ; I’m old enough to remember that. The ones out in the suburbs were mostly knocked down and replaced by new housing or shopping malls in the 60’s and 70’s. A lot of junky buildings survived in the urban neighborhoods into the 80’s, but gave way to re-development efforts by the mid-90s. Somehow this one, in the Central Ward of Newark, escaped notice thus far.

There are new townhouses and condos all around this site; it probably would already have been redeveloped but for the mortgage crisis of 2008. Looks like it was some sort of mini-factory, maybe a fabric sweatshop of some kind (Newark used to have a lot of those). Whatever, it will soon be gone. Take one last look at the funky grunginess that was once common throughout the older neighborhoods in NJ.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:05 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 24, 2012
History ... Politics ... Society ...

I haven’t yet seen The Hunger Games, and to be honest, I probably won’t. But I still keep up with the times, so I generally know what it’s about. There has been plenty of talk about it in the newspapers, radio and TV, and I’ve managed to read a few reviews. What interested me more was the conservative punditry about it. A handful of conservative authors, e.g. John Tamny in Forbes and James Pinkerton on the Fox News site, seized the occasion to claim that Hunger Games ultimately speaks to the evils of big government and big liberal-friendly media. I couldn’t help but note the irony of conservatives latching their ships to Hunger Games.

As you and 99.99% of the American population already know, Hunger Games is about a ruined post-war America of the future, where the government entertains and disciplines its remaining subjects by holding yearly survival games (something like all those “reality TV shows” on today, but with truly fatal consequences). The powers-that-be select a group of male and female teenagers and pit them against each other (and against some additional deadly challenges imposed by the gamemaster) out in the wilds. Only one player is allowed to come back alive.

Most anyone with any interest in the old Roman Empire knows that this is a throwback to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:10 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Psychology ... Zen ...

Our zendo group (sangha) recently discussed a koan story about a lady who heard a lecture from a wise teacher about how one might find “a Buddha of light” in one’s mind and heart, an infinite enlightenment within one’s own body, a light that would make everything you encounter seem to glow. So, the woman takes this to heart and a few days later she has a religious experience while washing a pot. Everything started to glow for her. So she ran over and found the great teacher and told him about it. He tried to deflate her a bit by asking if the smelly pit beneath an outhouse would also glow for her. She slapped him and called him an old fart (just to play off the teacher’s eschatalogical theme, I guess). He got a laugh out of that. End of story.

Turns out that all of this has something to do with happiness. Or so said the guy who wrote the book that we are studying, a Zen teacher named John Tarrant (book entitled “Bring Me the Rhinoceros”). Roshi Tarrant’s challenges his readers by asking “Are You Afraid of Happiness?” He sums it up by saying “when you are not afraid to forget who you are, life in the kitchen or life in the office might contain huge and overwhelming happiness [assumedly, one’s life in the smelly outhouse might also qualify . . . just to push this koan’s gastro-eschatology to the limit!] . . . when you are not afraid of your own happiness, you don’t get in its way”.

Happiness is an interesting word. The more you think about it, the less you understand it. If you try to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Philosophy ... Science ...

Today I have a few thoughts to share about science and reality. First, is there a difference between science and reality? Isn’t science the study of reality, i.e. the seeking of the real in reality, the standard by which reality is judged real? Yes, up to a point. But science requires repeatability in order for some phenomenon to be counted, and a lot of things and events in the world don’t repeat themselves. A lot of stuff is one-of-a-kind, one time only, or continuously changing at the most fundamental levels. Science has a hard time getting its arms around stuff like that. (E.g., science still hasn’t definitely answered Freud’s question “what does a women want” . . .)

But science is still a very useful, powerful and beautiful way of looking at the world. I was recently perusing some articles on some modern science topics, including the standard particle model and dark energy, the force causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

This stuff amazes me. It’s amazing just how much humankind knows about the universe  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:08 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

Dear Sandra,

OK, you’ve got me beat. I read your article (in the February-March Atlantic) about why you want your father to die. I went through a similar situation with my mother between 2000 and 2009. I never actually wished for her to die, but portions of my subconscious did toy with the notion at times. I’m sure that my brother had a similar mental struggle, but even more so, given that he actually lived with her and took care of her each day over those nine years. He went though a lot of angst in the first few years as his life and his freedom were mostly taken away. During one clumsy wheelchair episode during the first year, he threatened to kill me.

His day and night revolved around Mom’s growing needs. I lived 10 miles away and went on with my life mostly as before (except during the emergencies and hospital stays); with the caveat that a portion of my take home-pay was no longer mine, needed for the homecare assistants that allowed my brother to continue working and maintain some semblance of a social life. In the end I was out $175,000. Not quite the half million that you cite, but if you include the cash that my brother contributed, plus the insurance premiums we paid since 1985 to maintain a long-term care policy, you get into the 500K ballpark.

So yes, my brother and I paid some elder care dues. But no, not quite the level that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:29 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Being a public agency employee, I spend some time each workday perusing a variety of web sites. Nothing that could get me into trouble, of course. I look for interesting, well-written articles, not for lurid pics or video.

One of today’s interesting articles was on the Atlantic magazine web site. It was a discussion with a professor of philosophy named Nick Bostrom on the possibility of human extinction over the next few hundred years. During the chat, the good profession made a quick aside that I found just as interesting as his various doomsday scenarios. I.e., that even if we don’t go extinct, evolving social, economic, technical and environmental trends could conspire to create a rather unpleasant world, a bit of a hi-tech revival of the Dark Ages.

Here’s what Prof. Bostrom had to say about that:

Of course there are also existential risks that are not extinction risks . . . One could imagine certain scenarios where there might be a permanent global totalitarian dystopia. Once again that’s related to the possibility of the development of technologies that could make it a lot easier for oppressive regimes to weed out dissidents or to perform surveillance on their populations, so that you could have a permanently stable tyranny, rather than the ones we have seen throughout history, which have eventually been overthrown.

Hmmm, a stable authoritarian regime using high-tech tools to keep an eye the rebels and rabble in check. Hate to say it, but doesn’t that sound a bit like modern China?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:44 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Photo ...

Spider webs under a fan, in the winter sun.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:16 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Current Affairs ... Society ...

People are always dying and it’s hard to keep up with that, even just the celebrities. But I’ll offer a quick comment or two on three recent celebrity deaths.

First, Christopher Hitchens, back in December. Hitchens was quite a phenomenon in “the world of letters”, but I mostly knew of him from his book reviews in The Atlantic. And to be honest, he was one of the most abstruse and incomprehensible authors to appear in that magazine. I couldn’t figure out why they kept him. Hitchens covered a wide variety of topics during his many years with The Atlantic, and had a way of muddying the waters even with relatively famous subjects like Gandhi and Stalin. But a majority of his reviews focused on British and European writers from the 1800’s thru the first half of the 20th Century. His finale is on G.K. Chesterton, and as usual, I hardly know what he’s getting at. Something about Chesterton’s conservative defense of Roman Catholicism in the context of British history, but it’s hard to make out; Hitchens always assumed that you were an expert on his latest field of interest. No time to get dilettantes up to speed.

So, I am not going to miss his writings. He was an interesting guy given his hard-core atheism, which  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:12 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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