The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...


 
Ah, Halloween, that secular celebration of impermanence. People in my town do up their lawns will all sorts of cheery things like mock tombstones and skeletons. It’s mostly for the kids of course, a celebration of “spookiness”; a reflection on the return of early darkness, sunset shadows, long nights and cold weather. That the decorations relate to human decay and death is irrelevant to them; they are young, and they are going to survive every winter and live forever. At worst, they might need to ponder the possibility of tooth impermanence from all the trick-or-treat candy.

For us adults, however, especially those like me pushing past the 60 marker, it’s not a game anymore. Impermanence is staring us in the face. The Buddha said that “all conditioned things are impermanent — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering”. So, the Buddha with all his wisdom could walk the streets of my town in late October with perfect equanimity; the skeletons, spiders and black cats wouldn’t bother him in the least. (And who knows, with his yellow monk robes and begging bowl as a “costume”, someone might give him some Halloween candy!) For the rest of us . . . oh well, just keep whistling past the mock graveyards. And Happy Halloween!

 
 

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Philosophy ... Photo ...

Yes, the mighty have fallen. Mighty trees, that is. I took a little stroll recently thru the local county nature reservation, and began to ponder all the trees that got blown over by “superstorm” (semi-hurricane) Sandy, almost a year ago to this date. Some of the trees here were fairly old; you can see all the yearly rings on one of the cut cross-sections. I guess-timated over 100 rings / years for some of these trees. So over a century went by and life went on quite successfully for these strong living objects. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, a “superstorm” came along, and nothing was the same again.

Yes, that is something to ponder. No matter how well things seem to be going, no matter how abundantly one is blessed with success, no matter how much a person “just seems to have the knack” . . . in a moment, it can all come crashing down. We do need to heed the lesson of humility that nature is offering here.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
History ... Politics ...

I still can’t understand why so many Americans think that Ronald Reagan was a great President. A recent Harris poll indicates that Reagan is considered by 25% of Americans as the best President since 1940, beating FDR (at 19%) and Kennedy (at 15%). A 2012 survey by Nate Silver of 4 presidential scholar polls found Reagan to be the 10th greatest Prez, just behind JFK (and ahead of Lyndon Johnson, at #12).

I lived through the Reagan years, and to be honest, I think that the Gipper is one of the most overrated leaders of all time. Actually, he was one of the luckiest. The economy started in slump when he was first elected in 1980, but then achieved significant growth levels for the balance of his two terms. People still attribute this to his tax cuts and “Reaganomics”, but actually, oil and energy prices dropped significantly during this time (due to technical factors on the world level and not due to anything Reagan did or didn’t do), and inflation was tamed by the initially painful restraint on money supply growth by Fed Chairman Paul Volcker (who, remember, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter).

The US’s major enemy for the past 50 years, the Soviet Union, had also lost its strength and began its collapse by the end of Reagan’s term. Part of this could be attributed to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 18, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

I’m in something of a bloggers rut right now. Just can’t think of anything all that interesting that I’ve read or seen or heard or thought about over the past week that I need to share with the world. So I’m just going to share a silly thought that I had this morning while brushing my teeth.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading some early Buddhist scriptures, trying to get a better feel for what Buddhism is really all about. Well, as with most big religious traditions, there really is no one “Buddhism” to get a feel for. What I’m trying to do is get as close as possible to what the Buddha himself was trying to sell to humankind. Over the past 15 years I’ve read any number of books, articles and web sites about Buddhism, and in my Zen practice I hear weekly lectures about it. And yet, if you were to stop me after all this and ask me to explain Buddhism and the arguments for following the Buddha’s teachings, I’d be darned if I could give you a good answer. Part of that, I suppose, is that I never really convinced myself to become a modern-day disciple of “Shakyamuni”, as the in-crowd likes to call him.

So, despite all my exposure to Buddhism, I’m not a Buddhist. Why not? Well, to answer that question, I’d have to finally get a grasp on  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:14 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, October 14, 2013
Politics ... Society ...

Once in a blue moon, I come across an article on current affairs that really cuts thru the fog, an article about today that sounds like it was written 25 years in the future, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. There’s a lot of fog these days in the realm of national politics. How can anyone make sense of the current dysfunctional struggles in Washington DC between President Obama and the GOP / Tea Party alliance? What can be said about all the infighting and the corresponding failure of our collective leadership to address immigration problems, long-term debt and other financial dangers, global warming, slow economic growth and unemployment, heightening economic inequality, inadequate education systems, on and on? Even our national decision to expand access and fairness of the health care system thru the 2009 Affordable Care Act is now being re-visited in a rather unwholesome fashion. Why are our leaders fighting so much amidst themselves while the pillars fall and the barbarians approach in the distance?

One interpretation of the vehement efforts by Republicans to undermine President Obama’s leadership is based on racism, on racial prejudice against those of sub-Saharan African heritage; pure and simple, old-school bigotry. The Tea Party is seen by some as being driven and inspired by racist resentment of Obama’s political success.

I believe that there is some truth to that point of view. The uncooperative behavior on the part of Republicans goes beyond what I have  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It was a somewhat interesting day today. I got up early, as I usually do on Saturday, and after finishing my oatmeal I decided to drive over to the South Paterson Food Market, to pick up some fruits and veggies. As I have written before, I always enjoy going there; lots of different produce there for sale, great prices, and a very interesting mix of people (this isn’t your usual upper-income suburban farmers market, these are mostly working class people looking to get by). While driving up East Railway Avenue (where the markets and street bins are located) towards the parking lots, I saw a rainbow in the sky. Most interesting, given that it hadn’t been raining. The morning sun was shining thru some wispy clouds, and somehow a rainbow effect was created on the other end of the sky. Other people on the street stopped to look at it too.

Then, while inside of one of the stores getting a carton of soy milk (at least a $1 cheaper than in the local supermarket in Montclair), an old guy originally from South America started talking to me about what is wrong with this country. I wasn’t in any hurry, so I gave him some attention, and we stood there talking (mostly him talking and me listening) amidst the swirling crowd for about 20 minutes. I remember him saying that he was retired, and I guess that he just needed someone to chat with. Hey, glad to be there for him; I’m getting to be an old guy myself these days, and it ain’t always easy for me either to find friendly people to interact with.

Then I got home and stored away all the tomatoes and apples and onions and such. I decided to put on my running gear and take a half-hour jog, and when passing the front of my house, I noticed something tiny yet somewhat out of place. Was that a crocus blooming near the sidewalk, in the middle of October? A sign of spring, just as the cold winds get ready to blow and the leaves start to fall? Well, after I finished my run, I got my camera out, as to share this nice little surprise with the world. Not a bad Saturday; cheap food, a morning rainbow, an interesting old guy, and a crocus in October. A good omen for us old guys facing the autumn of our own lives? Hey, I’ll take it! [Ironically in a good way, it is early spring right now where my food store conversation partner came from . . . perhaps crocuses are also blooming in the town or village where he came from!]

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

My brother and I started a new family tradition about a year or so ago; just about every Friday night at 8, we gather ’round a TV and tune into VH1 Classic, to watch a re-run of That Metal Show. For those of you who may not be fans of metal and classic hard rock music, That Metal Show is hosted by Eddie Trunk, a fellow from New Jersey who gained a reputation over the past decade or two as a DJ, VJ, author and impresario about metal bands and their music. Actually, Eddie takes an expansive view of metal so as to acknowledge most any band, old or new, that delivers pure, hard-edged “heavy” rock music, whether “metallic” or not (he also includes Rush and Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp in his circle, despite their tendency to focus more on ballads and story-telling). He’s something of a still-young-looking fellow in his late 40’s, but Mr. Trunk nonetheless pays much attention and tribute to the now-graying musicians who opened up the metal and hard rock scene in the 1970s. (He’s also not at all what you might expect, personality-wise; Eddie Trunk comes across on TV as an extremely pleasant character, a bit rotund and generally harmless looking, a slightly matured version of the good kid from high school who just happened to play lots of Sabbath and Kiss and Priest and Iron Maiden and Deep Purple on his I-Pod between classes and after finishing his homework.)

So, my brother and I usually find ourselves on Friday watching Eddie and his two sidekicks (comedians Jim Florentine and Don Jaimison) interview various rock performers. Eddie’s show is in the classic talk-show format, although there is usually a “musical” guest who will jam a few guitar riffs or a quick drum solo just before a commercial break. What is interesting is that almost none of Eddie’s guests are “spring chickens”. That Metal Show is not for the cutting-edge acts of today like Nickleback or Halestorm or Papa Roach. While many Metal Show guests are still in pretty good shape in their 40’s and 50’s, some of them are way past their prime (such as Lemmy from Motorhead). Eddie also spends a fair amount of time keeping up on what is happening or had happened to the earliest, most venerable bands — and what is happening to them generally is old age and death. Some of these bands, such as Deep Purple, still record and perform, but many or most of the original members are now retired or dying or dead (e.g. John Lord of Purple). It’s not that unusual for Eddie to wish someone to get better after a bout with cancer.

Friday night is generally a time to kick back after a tough week at work, so I tend not to philosophize too much. But still, I can’t help but ponder the irony  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:34 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 4, 2013
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

I became something of a fan of “Voice of Russia” radio after it started broadcasting regularly here in the NY Metro area on an AM channel back in 2011. Well, maybe not a fan, but I did find it somewhat interesting — the notion that Vladamir Putin would spend some of his precious oil and gas money to deliver the world news and his political views directly to my car radio. But for the past few days, everything on 1430 AM has been in Spanish. So where did Voice of Russia radio go?

Looks like Radio Russia has indeed been replaced on the New York airwaves, by something called Radio Cantico Nuevo. VofR no longer lists a New York outpost on its list of broadcast frequencies. Not that I am or ever was much of a “Russophile” (pro-Russian). But their radio station was worth an occasional listen on the drive to and from work. And given all the turmoil going on in the US government right now, I can’t help but wonder if their strongman government philosophies might be the better choice from a list of bad options, at least as far as the Russian homeland goes.

Speaking of Russia and the current disarray of American national leadership, I also can’t help but long for the days of the Cold War. I lived thru the second half of it, and I will admit  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:48 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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