The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Current Affairs ... Health / Nutrition ...

I recently changed my eye doctor, despite officially being a “suspect” for a nasty little eye disease that eventually leads to blindness. I was going to the same doctor at a big multi-function eye clinic for over 15 years. I can’t say that he ever did anything that was technically wrong; I just got tired of his attitude that “I’m the miracle man and you are the poor victim, I’m always right and anything you believe outside of what I tell you is wrong; and hey, I’ve already been here too long and have to get on to the next patient, so if there are no further [futile and stupid] questions on your part, then have a great day”.

This fellow has been cited in various local magazines (including New Jersey Monthly — look under ophthalmology) as a “doctor of the year”, for many years running. At first this seemed impressive; but it finally dawned on me that these “super doctor” magazine nominations aren’t exactly made by the Nobel Prize committee. This is more of an old-boy network judgement than an assessment based on ultimate benefit to the patient.

I finally decided to change to the eye doctor that my mother used when she was alive. He is a few years older than my former “doctor of the year for every year”; actually,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:12 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Politics ... Public Policy ...

It looks like President Obama and the signature achievement of his Presidency, i.e. the Affordable Care Act which is commonly known as “Obamacare”, is experiencing some tough sledding. There’s a good article in the National Journal that sums up what is really happening now. In a nutshell, the wealth redistribution effects of ObamaCare are now being realized. And it is very uncertain that political support for it can be maintained now that more and more ordinary citizens are feeling the effects of these re-distributions.

These effects may get even worse in 2014 when the employer mandates fully kick in and a lot of people lose their employer health coverage (which is already starting, as some companies are dropping coverage of part-timers). The wealth redistribution from ObamaCare is generally from rich to poor, young to old, health to sick – and this has been allowable, up to a point, in US politics (Social Security and Medicare both do this).

HOWEVER – at some point, the political backlash from the rich (and the somewhat better off), the young and the healthy can get very strong. The primary example being cited is the failure of the 1988 Catastrophic Care Medicare expansion  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:06 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Photo ... Practical Advice ...

I read something about the new “microgreen movement” and I had to get on board. There’s nothing that much to it; the idea is to plant some veggie seeds somewhere in your home and let them grow for maybe 10 to 14 days, then wack them and eat the little plants with soup or in a salad. They add a fresh green taste, and they are loaded with vitamins. Pretty simple, right? Sure. Except when it’s not.

I looked up some microgreen instructions and then set up a growing tray near a window. As per the instructions, I got a aluminum food tray (the kind you bring home from restaurants when you don’t finish the meal but it’s too good not to take home — plastic trays are good too), and found a plastic water tray big enough to encircle the growing tray. I punched small holes in the bottom of the metal so that water could seep between the metal and plastic trays, then poured in some potting soil. Then I sprinkled on the seeds that I had bought especially for microgreen growing, sprayed some water over them, placed the clear plastic lid over the tray to keep it warm and moist, and I was in business!

Or so it seemed at first. The sprouts shot up quickly after a day and were soon pushing off the plastic dome. But after 5 or 6 days, something went wrong. The shoots  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, November 18, 2013
Music ... Society ...

I was thinking today about my religious heritage, and it reminded me of a song. For the most part, my religious heritage is . . . well, nothing and everything! I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, and I remained loyal to that faith well into my 30’s. For various reasons, I became a “roam-in catholic” after that, roaming from religion to religion. I committed myself to the Episcopalians for a few years (not much of a commitment, I guess), sat with a Quaker congregation on and off for about a year, went to a Unitarian church for a few weeks, visited a few Buddhist groups, and for the past 3 years have been a part of a Zen sangha. Furthermore, my initial DNA ancestry results indicate that my paternal grandfather may have hailed from a Jewish family. If this evidence holds up, I may need to somehow honor the Jewish tradition in my old age.

I’ve also read quite a bit about all of the major world faith systems, and include many of their sacred writings within my evening prayer routine. I even give atheism it’s due; I feel that faith and doubt are two sides of one coin; they are part of a yin-yang complementarity, like the quantum wave-particle dualism of light. Without a legitimate atheist shadow in our lives, we could never take God seriously. I think that God wants us to have our doubts, even though it causes a deep existential longing, a sometimes painful longing. No pain, no gain.

But that aside, the song that came to mind today was “Universal Soldier“, which was originally written and recorded in 1964 by Buffy Sainte Marie, a Canadian folk singer that I’m not otherwise familiar with. I remember “Universal Soldier” because  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:20 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 15, 2013
Health / Nutrition ... Practical Advice ...

I decided to join the “consumer DNA testing” revolution not long ago, and my results just came in. Yes, I joined the crowds that have went with, currently the most popular consumer DNA testing service (although I might also do business with FamilyTreeDNA in the near future, given the respect they appear to have from the genealogy community). With 23andme, you get a double DNA whammy — you get both a health report AND a genealogy report. All for $109 bucks ($99 plus $10 shipping for the spit sample). Most of the competitors right now focus on one or the other.

I’m going to share some thoughts right now on how to “take” the DNA health results (not on how to “take the test”; that isn’t too hard, although you do need to be careful about getting enough spit in the tube and closing the vial properly before you put it in the shipping box). This is new and weird stuff, i.e. the idea that your body characteristics and your present and future health can be predicted by certain single nucleotide polymorphisms (“snips”) from your genes. It has the potential to be both upsetting and reassuring at the same time. Unless you are really at peace about your life and totally reconciled to whatever your future is (and my hat is off to those of you who have actually attained such a state, whether thru meditation or religious faith, or just-don’t-care-no-mo), there is going to be some stress when you get the results. 23andme even displays a page asking you before you look whether you are ready for this, or do you want to just ditch the whole thing and pretend it didn’t happen (you would still get your genealogy reports, which is really why I got tested anyway).

Next, there’s another blood pressure raiser: for certain conditions, including the BRCA gene, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinsons Disease, your results are initially  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:11 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Photo ...

In the Edward Hopper tradition, some store dummies at night, Montclair NJ.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:55 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

I hate to say this, but I actually agree with something that Senator Ted Cruz is saying. A recent article in Forbes quotes Cruz from a recent political dinner:

I think that we ought to be relentlessly, tirelessly, exclusively focused on growth, because every other priority we have depends on growth.

This article goes on with some math regarding the relative long-term impact on the federal budget from the spending cuts currently being urged by the GOP (i.e., going beyond the present sequestration and including some entitlement reductions, but not big enough to eliminate any major federal program); and from the tax increases currently being urged by the Obama Administration. I agree with the Forbes author’s conclusion: “in terms of impact on federal finances, both spending cuts and tax increases pale in comparison with economic growth”.

If the USA could get growth back up to steady 3% rate, versus the average 2% over the past 4 years, a lot of the stuff that we are arguing about today (i.e. entitlement and program spending cuts, plus reductions in the military; along with eliminating various tax deductions, ending corporate tax incentives and increasing taxes on the wealthy) wouldn’t seem so important anymore. If we could get back above 3.35% (which the US economy averaged from 1988 to 2000), many things would just fall into place without any major changes to our tax code or military spending or entitlement programs. Oh, and let’s not forget about job growth and getting the unemployment rate back below 5%. A whole lot of working people, and more importantly people both young and old who want to work but can’t find jobs right now, would feel a whole lot better in a 3+ growth situation.

Ted Cruz has a list of things that he prescribes to get economic growth rates going again, which I mostly disagree with. His main cause is to eliminate Obamacare, because he says that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:02 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Current Affairs ... Technology ...

I’m seeing a lot written these days about “Big Data”. I’m not fully versed with it yet, but the concept seems to be grounded in the fact that many people today (especially younger people) put a whole lot of info about themselves on the Internet via social network sites, and through buying stuff on-line, banking on-line, and doing business with government agencies. And there are even more data sources, especially the smartphone: it monitors your calls, figures out your location with GPS locators, and otherwise snitches on what you are doing to some central command, like it or not. Furthermore, businesses (and even government agencies, albeit slowly) do more and more of their business via on-line mechanisms, exposing themselves to data collection.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by the big communications companies and web site corporations (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.); they are compiling huge databases with extremely detailed info about the day to day doings of individuals and corporate entities. And it’s not like all of these databases with all kinds of private information about almost everyone get used only by the compiling company or agency; they put this info out there for sale, so that the info gets amalgamated into mega-databases.

Obviously, a lot of people get upset about erosion of privacy due to these big databases. But a lot of young people don’t seem  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ...

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, and I haven’t made much use of their services in my lifetime. But I still try to keep up with what goes on in “shrink world”, i.e. within the realm of the mind and brain, with the theories on how they work and the practices meant to help make them work better. From what I can see, one of the biggest fault lines and sources of tension in the whole field right now revolves around the old classic “nature versus nurture” issue. And it’s not just a dry, academic debate amidst the trained elite anymore; it’s becoming a matter of what the consumers of these services demand from shrink world.

For most of the time since Freud, psychotherapy and applied psychology has mostly involved talking; i.e. the good old “couch method” where the therapist and patient discuss what’s going on in the latter’s head, e.g. fears, compulsions, desires, frustrations, envy, attraction, etc. Sure, psychologists also perform some behavioral observation studies and surveys, plus they administer and analyze the results of standardized written tests as to gauge what is going on in the minds of their subjects. But for the most part, the whole thing revolves around Freud’s paradigm of “the talking cure”, i.e. a long-term interactive process through which the therapist figures out what the patient’s hang-ups are, and slowly directs the patient toward attitudes and behaviors meant to overcome negative, harmful patterns (neuroses), so as to develop healthy patterns that allow personal growth and positive achievement. At least that’s the theory.

In the past generation, talk therapy has become less and less prevalent;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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