The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Photo ...

I don’t get to New York City much anymore, despite living only 14 miles from it. But today I took a train into the big city to attend the wedding of a former work associate who I have occasionally stayed in touch with over the years. On the way home, I took a look at the streets and blocks in mid-town that I once did frequent — because I once worked there. Back in the mid-to-late 1980s I worked at Penn Plaza near Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. The PP1 complex spanned the ground between 33rd and 34th Streets, and thus I took a few shots there just before scampering down to my train home for sweet New Jersey.

First up is a human-scale shot, New York from street level and people level. Mid-town Manhattan is an incredibly dense amalgamation of humankind on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, and West 33rd Street is doing its part here to host the hordes who find one reason or another to be in the big town. To be honest, it really does make the less crowded suburbs of Jersey seem a bit sweeter!

In the next shot, you see  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:41 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Society ... Technology ...

In my last blog, I pondered the complaint of the Millennial generation, i.e. that they have been given a raw economic deal, especially compared to the opportunities to achieve the “American Dream” that my own Boomer generation was given. Instead of seeking some form of anti-youth conspiracy amidst our aging leaders (arguably in their quest to maintain Social Security and Medicare benefits for their peers, including myself), or suspecting an unhealthy sub-conscious mindset grounded in the jealousy and disappointment of an aging generation that once sang “hope I die before I grow old” and chanted “never trust anyone over 30”, I will next focus on what machines and technology are doing to the modern workplace . . . which is quite a lot. I will note that technology has been changing what workers do for over a century now, with mostly good results (e.g. increasing pay tied to growing worker productivity). But the pace of technology change seems to be accelerating and taking us into new territory, such that humans and their social systems are losing the ability to keep up. Are the Millennials the shock troops facing an ultimately contracting need for human skills and abilities in an increasingly automated production economy guided by artificially intelligent (computerized) managerial systems?

The human race overall is getting smarter and better with regard to finding improved techniques to build or create things from nature. The pace of progress seems to keep on accelerating. Entrepreneurs and politicians soon see the possibilities created by these new techniques, and put them to use for their own fortune and power. The biggest impact on the masses results from better and cheaper ways to do things that once required people to do. So, are we facing the nightmare of a world where machines eventually take over most everything, while most people (other than a handful of rich “masters” and a small contingent of their extremely intelligent lackeys who are able to keep up with accelerating machine intelligence) become un-needed, and are thus cast into desperate poverty with lives that are nasty, brutish and short?

This nightmare is not a new one, as many economists like to point out. Technology and change in the workplace has been going on for at least 300 years now in the west. A look at the economic history of America since the Civil War reveals many innovations that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:49 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Economics/Business ... Society ...

I’m getting old now, as I recently completed my sixth decade here on Earth. So it’s kind-of natural for me to look back on the days of my youth and count the ways in which they were better than today. But then again, perhaps there really were some things about the suburban world of the 1960’s and 1970’s that were better. A lot of young people of today — the “Millennials” — are pretty upset about their declining social and economic possibilities. Some of them even look back with envy and irony on the world that I knew when I was their age, perhaps questioning the fairness of why their parents’ generation (the “Boomers”) had such abundant opportunities for a good, comfortable life as compared with the challenges that they now face.

In fact, the Millennials have created an Internet fictional character called “Old Economy Steve“, to stand as a “meme” (something like a mythological sound bite) for their frustrations. Old Economy Steve is a series of short messages posted on a series of identical pictures showing a long-haired white guy who definitely looks like a refuge from That Seventies Show. To be honest, I didn’t look all that different from Steve back then. And to be more honest, most of what they say about O.E. Steve’s world is more-or-less true. Back then, you COULD get a job with good pay right out of high school and be fairly sure that if you kept your nose to the grindstone, you would soon have enough to get married, buy a house, and raise a family. If you wanted to shoot a little higher, you COULD go to college and pay for books and tuition from what you earned on a summer job (I did just that!). And a college degree just about guaranteed a very decent job (that is, until the year that I graduated). No moving back in with mom and dad, not back in those days.

As with every ‘meme’, reality doesn’t completely fit with the story behind it. As Megan McArdle points out, if you weren’t a white male,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:39 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Music ... Psychology ...

I was going thru an interesting article on the neuroscience of introversion recently. There have been a surprising number of brain studies which well establish that the brains of introverts and extroverts operate quite differently. One side effect: extroverts are found to be “happier”. Well, why not, America is an extrovert culture, and those who go with the flow generally have an easier time of it. Personally, I feel more “fulfilled” as an introvert, even if my life isn’t one big smile.

Another interesting fact about introverts: our brain reacts more sensitively to certain physical stimuli. One such stimuli is lemon juice. Various tests have shown that introverts salivate quite a bit more then extroverts in response to lemon juice in the mouth. Actually, I do rather enjoy licking fresh-cut lemons (when no one else is around and only I will use them). It’s interesting that extroverts can’t easily turn a sour lemon into a pleasurable experience, as the introvert within me can.

This all reminds me of an old episode of “The Little Rascals“, one that I watched many times when growing up (one of the pleasures of summer vacation  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Religion ...

I recently finished a second listen of the Teaching Company course on the Bible’s Old Testament, by Prof. Amy-Jill Levine. I first heard it several years ago, when I was only interested in getting a general overview of what went on before the Gospels. (Obviously I grew up in a Christian tradition; but not in a Bible-thumping tradition, as I grew up in the Catholic faith. Perhaps that’s why I’m trying to catch up on Bible study!). This time around I focused more on the history of Israel, on what the Tanakh can tell you about Judaism and the Jews. Perhaps it is appropriate that I finished the course just before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which was celebrated this past Thursday).

So, over the past few weeks, I sat through (or mostly stood, while making dinner or ironing shirts) the great stories of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob (my namesake!), Moses and the Exodus, Aaron, Joshua, Deborah, and Samson; then on thru the kings, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, then the split of the two kingdoms with the fall of the north; then the rise of the wise prophets, Elijah, Elisha, and Amos; followed by the Exile, Isiah, the Restoration, and the rise of the priests; and finally, the Diaspora, Job, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel and the growth of apocalyptic expectations (setting the stage for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth). All are great stories indeed, but this time I was listening for meta-themes regarding the formation of the Jewish people and the roots and development of “what it is” about Judaism, about its “social mindset” (if you will). And yes, there was definitely some of that to be had in Professor Levine’s lectures.

One of the most significant “mindset” things that I took away was something of a wise weariness developing amidst the Jewish tradition over the centuries (not entirely my own idea,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Current Affairs ... Food / Drink ... Science ...

As of this writing, the Atlantic Hurricane season is about half over . . . and there hasn’t been a hurricane yet! This is a bit surprising, given the frequency and intensity of Atlantic and Caribbean tropical storms over the past 10 years. In the over $10 billion of damage range (adjusted to 2010 dollars), since early 2004, we have had Katrina ($105.8 billion 2005), Ike ($27.8 billion 2008), Wilma ($20.6 billion 2005), Ivan ($19.8 billion 2005), Charley ($15.8 billion 2004), Irene ($15.8 billion 2011), Rita ($11.8 billion 2005), and Frances ($10.02 billion 2004). Oh, and let’s not forget the memorable almost-hurricane that knocked New York City and New Jersey for a loop last year: Sandy, weighing in at about $64 billion in overall damages (adjusting back to 2010 dollars for comparability). There were only four other 10 billion + storms between 1965 and 2003 (admittedly, there was less coastal residential development back then; but there was also more industrial factory and port infrastructure along the East Coast and Gulf before 2003, so 9 mega-damage storms in 10 years still says something against 4 others in the previous 39 years).

Is this an early sign of global warming? The jury still seems to be out on this. Even the 10+ billion list above indicates that two-thirds of the recent mega-storms were concentrated in two seasons, 2004 and 2005; indicating that this hurricane outburst may have been something of a “freak of nature”. If progressive global warming were the main driver of increasing hurricane intensity, you might have expected more storms in the second 5 years (2009-2013) than the first; but the results are skewed heavily towards the first 5 years (7 versus 2).

But there is something else happening in the weather that doesn’t make the headlines like major hurricanes, but is more likely to be resulting from “anthropogenic climate change”. And that is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 1, 2013
History ...

I’m not very good with short twitter-like messages; just can’t seem to think of anything that would come across in 140 or even 200 characters. Especially not about stuff like World War 1 and its lessons for today’s Middle East.

But here’s a good short thought that I recently read about World War 1. I think it serves nicely to explain what that war was really all about.

[Our belief that] when a government we find unsatisfactory is overthrown, we can expect a better government to follow, goes back at least as far as President  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:14 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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