The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Religion ...

At our zendo recently, one of the teachers made a comment during a “practice circle” discussion on how Buddhism does not have much “ism” to it, compared with other religions. For one thing, Buddhism does not tell of a god coming to earth to appoint a certain human with the responsibility to spread the cosmic truths to the rest of humankind. Nor does it include a personal force that tempts that certain human to seek human greatness and ignore this celestial calling.

Oh, wait, actually Buddhism does include those two things. After Siddhartha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, with all its oxygen emissions, the Shakyamuni Buddha was in no hurry to go off and spread the word. [There are various names for the founder of Buddhism, including Siddhartha, Gautama, and Shakyamuni.] But the Hindu god Brahma Sahampati soon came to Shaky and convinced him that he needed to teach the Dharma to others. Brahma Sahampati was the creator deity in Hinduism, so this was no small thing. Obviously, Shaky Siddhartha took Sahampati seriously and devoted the rest of his life to relating the Dharma to humankind. OK, so we have a conscious, non-scientific cosmic force here, one who knew that Siddhartha was on to the truth and who could talk and reason with him.

As to the tempter, that would be Mara, the devil-like force who often tried to foil Gautama on his search for the greatest truths. Mara provided beautiful women, fearful beasts, and finally played mind-games with the Big Shaky B, to get him off track. But of course,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Personal Reflections ...

I’ve been working in Newark since late 1989 and for the most part, I commute by car (I take a train or bus every now and then). Most every day I find myself driving across a variety of urban neighborhoods. The suburban streets where I start and end my voyage each day are fairly sedate. Once in a while there’s a police car or some fire trucks to dodge, and the garbage trucks and school buses are always a nuisance. I’ve seen more than one idiot run a stop sign in front of me, in the nicest of towns; luckily I’ve always managed to stop in time. But on most days, the suburban portion of my drive is quite predictable.

But once I get into the Newark / East Orange zone, the situation gets a little more interesting. You have to be ready for things you wouldn’t expect living in the ‘burbs.

Over the years, I’ve seen cops on foot chasing a suspect running along the road; a guy arc-welding in the street (without shielding,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:02 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Photo ... Society ... Technology ...

In the 1960s, steel was still a big deal here in America. We made lots of it and we used lots of it. Our cars, refrigerators, beer cans, pipelines, guns and many buildings were made mostly of steel (unlike today, where such products have much plastic, aluminum, molded carbon, and other “composites” in them). So back around 1970 I noticed that US Steel was running ads on TV about their latest innovation, called “Cor-Ten” steel. Actually, Cor-Ten was invented in the 30s, but by the late 60’s US Steel felt it was ready for wide-scale marketing and production. Cor-Ten is now known as a “weathering steel“.

Basically, weathering steel was supposed to eliminate the need for paint. Most steel rusts away if not properly coated, usually with paint. But Cor-Ten supposedly rusted in a way that protects itself from further rust. I.e., when exposed to the elements, it creates a dark-red coating something like rust. But unlike rust, this coating keeps it from decaying any further . . . in theory. So long as you could put up with the rusty look to it, you didn’t need paint to keep the steel from frittering away . . . again, in theory. US Steel touted Cor Ten’s rusty look as somehow artistic or natural, something that people would like to see.

I was a big railroad enthusiast back in the 1970s, and I remember seeing new railroad cars made of Cor-Ten, complete with the “faux-rusty” look. But by the 1980s those cars disappeared. Could it be that Cor-Ten wasn’t the magic material that US Steel made it out to be?

Well, a quick web search confirms that notion. It turns out that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

President Obama did the country a favor the other day by making the following statement:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Of course, the Republican and conservative voices have jumped all over Mr. Obama for this, painting him as a communist. Well, that’s what they get paid to do. The important point is that the average citizen is [finally] being asked to do some serious thinking. As an aging “eternal student”, I’m all in favor of serious thinking. I definitely need to give Obama credit here.

In his pre-political life, Mr. Obama was a community organizer and a teacher. He’s obviously trying to teach the overall “community” that is the American nation, teach them an interesting and important lesson. And even if his curriculum is not entirely correct (but not as incorrect as his opponents claim), he is stimulating thinking on the part of people who actually need to think, but don’t think that they do. That’s what a really good teacher does; he or she does NOT indoctrinate, but causes her or his student to get interested and think it through on their own.

(Well, perhaps Mr. Obama IS trying to indoctrinate, given the political inspiration for his statement. Maybe he is NOT trying to stimulate a thoughtful debate regarding the future direction of the American political economy, i.e. towards more government involvement, investment and direction of the economy with safety-nets and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

Continuing on Mr. Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement and the discussion that it seems to have inspired regarding the future role of big government in America: I also hope that Mr. Obama will expand this discussion to the difficult but inherent choice between maximum economic growth versus a fairer distribution of wealth. I hope that he will be honest with the public and not sugar-coat this issue in the name of politics.

Let’s face it; if you want maximum economic growth for the nation as a whole, as Mr. Reagan proposed in the 1980’s, the rich are going to get richer at the expense of just about everyone else. If you impose mechanisms to share the wealth, if you install mechanisms that somewhat reduce entrepreneurial incentives and raise the cost of government oversight (i.e., via higher taxes), then you will NOT get maximum economic growth. If you impose too much government regulation and redistribution, you can stop growth altogether and start the nation on the road to poverty (perhaps Greece is the latest case-in-point; and let’s not forget Cuba and North Korea, poster children for the Soviet bloc nations of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s).

Side note: It is my opinion that one of humanity’s biggest challenges is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:58 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Personal Reflections ...

I used to be a “journaler”, for about 5 years in the late 1990s. It seemed like a good spiritual practice; a Catholic Benedictine priest/monk, for one, told me so. I kept it up until I started this blog in November 2002 (hard to believe, it’s almost my tenth anniversary with it!). I guess this blog became my “dear diary”.

Anyway, I now have a dusty stack of those marble-pattern composition books, filled will all sorts of self-indulgent thoughts. I almost never look at them, seldom ever read what I wrote. Nothing all that surprising or insightful when I do. I guess that I wasn’t as interesting as I thought I was.

Nonetheless, I recently came across my entry for September 12, 2001. I didn’t write anything on the night of Sept. 11, but here are some excerpts from “the day after”.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:51 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

President Obama got a lift in the tracking polls following the Supreme Court decision last week upholding the health care reform law (“Obamacare”). But another discouraging job creation report was released yesterday for the month of June, and some political writers are thus swinging back toward pessimism or neutrality regarding Obama’s prospects for a second term. If I were on the Obama campaign, I wouldn’t get too upset yet. There have been three down months from March to June, following some up months from November to February. Most of the numbers were discouraging in the first half of 2011, following a string of good months in late 2010. There were negative months (net job losses) in the second quarter of 2010, following a few very positive months from January to March. Then before that were a string of negative months, but growing less negative from late 2008 onward.

In other words, things are going up and down. Almost as if the economy is something like a bell that has been hit, disturbed, and is now ringing as it tries to settle down. A systems analyst might call this a “quasi-periodic behavior component in a complex, disturbed system”.

Complex systems like the US economy are subject to many trends, including pure chaos and periodic attractor (oscillation) behavior. But even a chaotic “strange attractor” is ultimately periodic; it goes up, then down, then up, etc. Our economy went through various shocks from 2007 onward, from the mortgage financial crisis and then the federal governments’ various interventions to avoid a severe business depression. The “bell” that is our economy has been hit hard from many angles. It may not be ringing with a nice, recognizable tone like a normal metal bell; it’s quite a bit more complex in structure. But it DOES seem to be “ringing” around an overall trend back towards more-normal employment and growth patterns.

Unfortunately, I’m not a brilliant economic mathematician with supercomputers at my fingertips to analyze all of this. But I do have a chart of job creation since 2009, along with an early version of Photoshop Elements. Here is what I see as a crude version of what may be happening:

The blue line is the general recovery trend, while the purple line shows the periodic up and down trends. There is still a lot of chaotic noise  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
History ...

My latest area of historical interest is the Crusades. I wanted to get up to speed on the Crusades quickly, which rules out reading a book. I’m not aware of any adult education mini-courses in my area on the Crusades (which is a shame; I wish there was a bigger assortment of serious adult education options out there, not limited to adult school night classes regarding spreadsheets, pottery making and starting a business). So, I had to find a DVD series. The Teaching Company is famous for its recorded courses on serious college and grad level topics, and indeed it offers a course on “The Era of the Crusades”. Unfortunately, it lasts 18 hours and doesn’t even get to the first crusade until after 6 hours of background lectures.

So, that narrowed my choices down to the History Channel DVD series. They offer two Crusades shows; one is fairly brief and focuses mainly on the first two crusades, ending after the loss of Jerusalem. The second show is narrated by British comedian Terry Jones and gets thru the fourth crusade and the rise of the Egyptian Mamluks, who overwhelmed the last Crusader strongholds in the 13th Century (ending with the fall of Acre in 1291). OK, it seemed pretty good on the cover, so I bought it and watched it. And yes, I learned a lot about the Crusades from Mr. Jones. But I was also disappointed with his presentation.

Mr. Jones is definitely interested in medieval history and has studied it quite a bit. But he is still a comedian, so his Crusades show mixes in  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Photo ...

The town sent a fire inspector over to where I live not long ago who decided that most of the doors needed to go, as they aren’t “fire rated” under modern codes. So the landlord was good enough to shell out for some solid, custom-made new doors last week. Steve, our part-time building superintendent-of-sorts, decided to store the old doors out behind the garage until the next junk pickup by the town.

So, here are some pieces of wood that were once doors, out in the morning sun. Ah yes, doors. Aside from the name of a “heavy” rock group from the 1960s (RIP Jim Morrison), doors are an important but mostly un-thought of part of our lives. We need doors to keep out bugs, bad weather, dust, and other people from important places (like our houses and apartments). Doors give us privacy, comfort and security; a modicum of control in a largely uncontrollable world. It makes you wonder, what would it be like to live in an environment without doors? Is there still a culture on some island or in the heart of the Amazon or the Nile where doors are hardly used? Some animals and bugs also make use of doors to protect their nests and provide shelter from predators.

So these doors have seen their day. But despite all the changes to the world over recent years, despite all the stuff now going out of style like land-line phones and postage stamps and televisions with antennas, doors aren’t going out of our lives anytime soon.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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