The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Current Affairs ... Science ... Spirituality ...

My topic for today regards a line from a book about Hindu spirituality, entitled “The Secret of the Yamas”. This book was written in 2001 by a self-discovery guru named John McAfee. Yes, this is the same McAfee who was a NASA computer programmer in the late 60’s and later founded McAfee Anti-Virus. After selling his stake in that successful enterprise for around $100 million, McAfee went to Belize to work on a “natural antibiotics” venture based on bacterial “quorum sensing“, but became a suspect in a murder investigation and went fugitive, fleeing to Guatemala with a 20 year old girlfriend. She was allegedly one of many young women who have participated in his vision of a yogic spiritual lifestyle, one which certainly has a robust “kama” component to it. McAfee finally found his way back to Portland, Oregon, and still dates a number of women less than half his age (67).

Despite his dicey reputation, McAfee’s Yama book is a nice summary of eastern spirituality, written from a Hindu / yoga practice perspective. The Yamas are part of yoga, but aren’t the usual body posturing exercises that we Americans think of when we refer to yoga. Yamas (and the related niyamas) are actually a religious code of ethics, rules for living one’s life, akin to the Ten Commandments and the Buddhist Precepts; they are part of a “bigger yoga”, an integrated Hindu approach to life. There seem to be 5 Yamas, regarding Non-Violence, Non-Stealing, Non-Attachment, Chastity (non-you-know-whating) and Truthfulness (non-lying, I guess). McAfee’s book is a quick read, but presents a good overall summary of the ideals, values and philosophies behind almost all “eastern religions”. I’m not sure if McAfee is the best example on how to actually live according to the Yamas, but as with many spiritual guru’s, it’s a matter of “do as I say, not as I do”. Especially with regard to that fourth Yama on chastity.

Back to the line in the book needing correction . . . in the Introduction chapter, McAfee says that “We [i.e., humankind] can know the workings of distant solar systems and can predict the movements of subatomic particles . . but how many of us  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:00 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Enough time has gone by since the Zimmerman verdict (two weeks ago) for emotions to cool down a bit. During the trial I had studied the available evidence, and thus I agreed with the jury that the evidence did not support a “beyond a reasonable doubt” determination that Mr. Zimmerman had committed a high-level felony homicide or manslaughter offense against Trayvon Martin. In the most technical sense, the system of laws and legal procedures set up by centuries of British common law tradition and the United States Constitution worked as intended in this situation (as they did in the OJ Simpson criminal case way back in 1995).

But of course, most people interested in this case were NOT interested in the technical workings of the criminal justice system in Sanford, Florida. They wanted to get down to the big question: what the heck really happened on that fateful February night at the Twin Lakes condo complex in Sanford. We are living in a very politically divided and combative society today, and thus it is not surprising that two very different narratives have emerged regarding the fatal encounter between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman. Liberal politicians, pundits and media outlets joined with various African American leaders and commentators to tell a story of an unjust, racially motivated killing, one that repeats an ugly historical pattern of heinous assaults and homicides against innocent blacks by racist white people.

In contrast (quite an intentional contrast, given the charged political atmosphere), GOP and conservative elements emphasize a very different narrative, one that substitutes Mr. Zimmerman as a bumbling but well-intentioned victim  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:33 am       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, July 22, 2013
Health / Nutrition ... Society ... Technology ...

We just survived our first major mid-summer heat wave here in New Jersey. Despite my advanced old age I’m still a bit on the thin side (BMI about 19), so the hot weather doesn’t bother me as much as for many other people (but of course, I pay the price in January and February during the dark, sub-freezing days). I recently saw an article on the Boston Globe site suggesting that perhaps we could get used to living without as much air conditioning as most of us have now come to expect. I had to smile, as I never did come to expect AC that much; I don’t have an air conditioner in my apartment, and I hardly ever use the one in my car even in July and August (except when I have have someone with me who might get ugly if the A/C stayed off).

There was another recent note in the New Yorker reflecting on how cheap air conditioning has changed our social customs and expectations over the past few decades and generations. I’m old enough to remember when many small stores and workplaces didn’t have it. I worked for a railroad during my college summer vacations, and none of the offices where I did my job had it (the railroad was broke and couldn’t afford it). Many small stores didn’t have it either. There were still trains, buses and subway cars in the 1960s and early 70s that didn’t have it. But as the 70’s, 80s and 90s progressed, air conditioners became cheaper to buy and more efficient to run, and thus conquered the world. After 2000, the victory of air conditioning became complete with world manufacturing (read “made in China”) and stable energy costs (due mainly to hydro-fracking of natural gas and oil; ask the anti-fracking advocates if they are ready to turn their AC’s off in August). You have to be really, really poor these days to be deprived of air conditioning. Most public housing in Newark (where I work) has central air, and very few houses or multi-family buildings don’t have at least one or two AC’s in the window (sometimes with anti-break-in window bars shaped to accommodate such a unit).

So today, every car, store, home, apartment, workplace, bus, office, construction vehicle, control station, outhouse, just about every enclosed space that can be occupied by humans has AC. AC has become as much of a universally recognized right here in the USA as  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Photo ...

Just a few shots from a gritty spot that doesn’t attract much photographic attention. I.e., Riverside Avenue in Newark, NJ. But this is as real as it gets.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Current Affairs ... Society ...

The Treyvon Martin murder trial will soon be over, but it touched a nerve in our country regarding the perplexing question of racial profiling in police work. Almost all of us want good policing and criminal justice systems in our nation so as to protect us from criminals. At the same time, we can only spend so much of our limited money and resources to support these systems. But more importantly, we want our systems to be color-blind, to treat all fairly regardless of race, religious views, sex and sexual preference, ethnic heritage, age, etc. We’d like to think this could all be done without any conflicts. But as the Feb. 26, 2012 incident in the Twin Lakes complex in Sanford, Florida showed, sometimes conflicts are inevitable. And most regrettably, they can be deadly.

George Zimmerman, the volunteer community guard at Twin Lakes accused of murdering Treyvon Martin, clearly was not acting in a fashion that was blind to color, age and sex on the night of Feb. 26. He decided to carry out an enhanced level of surveillance against the late Mr. Martin, based possibly on the fact that Mr. Martin was a young black man (17 years old). While Mr. Zimmerman did not appear to interfere with Mr. Martin’s passage, he certainly did follow him, and called the municipal police requesting them to join in his surveillance effort. This certainly was an intrusion into Mr. Martin’s privacy and quality of life; very few of us would want to be followed and continually monitored by law-enforcement officials, even when outside of our homes. This treatment certainly was the fruit of profiling on Mr. Zimmerman’s part, which almost certainly did include consideration of Mr. Martin’s race.

The question is, can such irritating law enforcement action based on a profile-matching logic be justified by the circumstances? The housing complex where Mr. Zimmerman lived and volunteered to guard had over the past year experienced  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ...

Today I’m going to take a break from my usual attempts to grasp at issues of cosmic significance [mostly unsuccessfully]. I’m going to get down to some nitty gritty, for a change. Today I’m going to talk about fruit flies, and what to do when they infest your home. I’ve been dealing with these nasty little buggers for the past 3 or 4 years now, without much luck in reducing their hordes. In the winter they slack off somewhat, but summer is a halcyon time for the fruit fly nation. Once they take root in your home, you can look forward to constantly seeing them buzzing around you, oblivious to your futile swats (they are amazingly fast and agile fliers). And even if you do get lucky and managed to squash one, there are hundreds or thousands left out there, all working towards the ultimate fruit fly destiny of world domination. (What was especially unsettling was when I would look at the ceiling above my bed just before I turned out the light; it was often speckled with waiting fruit flies, obviously lying in wait as to make a meal out of my own flesh and blood!) I was ready to give in to despair, as I didn’t want to take radical measures like smogging my apartment with some really noxious poison spray, or paying an exterminating service to do that.

But over the past few months I’ve made progress in at least keeping this vermin community under control. It’s almost mid-July and we’re into the hottest part of summer; and yet, I’ve only been seeing a handful of these critters lately (and I haven’t seen the nocturnal ceiling congregation so far this year). So here’s what I can tell you about fruit flies and keeping them in check.

There seem to be web sites dedicated to almost everything these days, and fruit files are no exception. Not surprisingly, the fruit fly site is called www.fruitflies.org. It is a good place to start, in order to get to know your enemy. Fruit files are sexual creatures, as they  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:25 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Zen ...

For all of you regular readers of my blog (all one or two of you — thank you for your support!), it comes as no surprise to know that I have my problems with Zen. Well, actually any honest person has their problems with Zen; it seems to be designed to be a burr in your spiritual saddle! I’ve been a regular practitioner in a Zen sangha for over 3 years now, and I’ve absorbed a lot of Zen teaching and Zen people over this time. Obviously I’m talking about American Zen. Americanized Zen. But then again, most of the American Zenmasters and populist writers put lots of energy and emphasis on trying to be true to the Eastern traditions, especially the (historically late-stage) Japanese / Buddhist version of the Zen tradition.

(Even though they clearly are guilty of picking out those aspects of J-B Zen that suit their fancy, while ignoring other parts that don’t fit — especially the “educated modernists” who want Zen and Buddhism to support and affirm their secularist, anti-God world views; and yet, most of these people still worship a divine power, one requiring a radical leap of faith . . . doctrinally they call it “psychology“, and the religious manifestation of that doctrine is known as “therapy” . . . the priests and acolytes of that religion are commonly known as “psychologists” and “therapists”, “analysts” in some sects).

I’ve heard a bit about the training that is required for a Zen practitioner to become a recognized Zen “teacher” (a “sensei” or “roshi”, in our lineage). It involves a lot of koan study under the tutelage  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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