The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Photo ...

Another winter, a long and tough winter, is finally over here in NJ. But spring, with all her glory (yes, spring is very pleasant even in New Jersey), has not truly kicked-in yet. We’re in-between seasons. When the clouds grow dark, we no longer worry about shoveling snow. Almost all of the snowpack has melted. But the trees are still bare, and the brown grass and leaves from last autumn haven’t been replaced yet by fresh green shoots.

You can get the sense of it in this picture taken earlier today. A rain puddle reflects the gray clouds, looking not much different from a January and February sky; and the reflected bare trees await their new green buds. A half-rotted leaf from one of those trees remains, awaiting its ultimate assignment as mulch for a new season of growth. The stage is set for another season of renewal, but for now, the damp chill remains.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:27 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Philosophy ... Science ... Society ...

Back in 2008, I got interested in the idea of “Boltzmann Brains” after reading an article about them in the NY Times. That article explained the concept and examined the philosophic implications, but really didn’t get down to the political nitty-gritty behind it all. Boltzmann Brains turn out to be a battlefield of hubris, a battle between smart people who become really dumb about just how smart they really are. This is something that has gone on since the days of the ancient Greeks, when the first “intellectuals” (as we think of them) came on the scene and fell in love with the exquisite fabric of thought that they wove about themselves and their followers.

I wrote a blog about Boltzmann Brains after reading that article, a compendium of my own rambling thoughts and reflections on the subject. I was trying to find reasons why the idea (and it’s only an idea, there is no evidence whatsoever of even one “Boltzmann Brain” floating out in space) means anything at all. But only recently did I discover why Boltzmanns Brains are truly relevant — and it’s not because of the subtle ontological and epistemological ramifications that Dennis Overbye of the Times and I focused on.

Boltzmanns Brains are something more than an interesting intellectual theory based on the implications of modern science and cosmology; they are “mortar shells” in an ongoing battle  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Current Affairs ...

Just a few thoughts and comments on the world events of the past week. Well, I’ll start out with some non-thoughts about to the disappearance of Flight 370. I’m a born analyst and I’ve posted my theories on many a mystery on these pages. But that situation seems to defy all common sense.

To review: the latest satellite debris photos and the final “ping” data received from the 777 by the monitoring satellite indicate that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, between Australia and Antarctica. And yet, the last military radar info indicted that the plane was flying on a north-west heading, after crossing the Malaysia peninsula on a due-west diversion from its normal south to north path to Beijing. This doesn’t look like a terrorist plot, since no credible group is taking credit. Even if it was a bungled attempt, say to crash the plane into an Indian city, most terror groups would still take “second prize” credit for bringing down a big commercial airliner. It would still be a “trophy” and an act of heroism in the sick world of terrorism. But blank silence on that account.

And yet, blank silence from the 777 flight too, even though the plane was well within aviation radio range when it went thru all the course deviations. If there were smoke from a fire (say from the lithium batteries in the cargo bay), or a hi-jacking going on, you would have expected  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

If you’re tired of reading about the crazy winter weather of early 2014 and about Flight 370, or about Crimea or Beyonce or Ashley Judd or Johnny Weir or Phil Jackson and the Knicks, there’s an interesting article in The Atlantic about fraternity life in the 21st Century (“The Dark Power of Fraternities” by Caitlin Flanagan).

I wasn’t aware of the bad things that have been going on at the frat houses over the past decade or two. I’ve been out of college for almost 40 years now, and during my undergrad years I had almost nothing to do with fraternities. (More on that “almost” qualification in a moment).

There were a handful of frats at my engineering school, and like all frats they offered their members more beer, partying and sexual adventure than the average schlug got. But most of us average schlugs were still  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:49 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

Megan McArdle, an economic policy writer for Bloomberg, has published a series of articles over the past few months expressing doubt about the long-term viability of Obamacare. Ms. McArdle acknowledges that the Affordable Care Act of 2009 has had some positive effects. However, she has her doubts as to whether the government-private hybrid system that the ACA maps out can attain its lofty goal of providing affordable health care to the vast majority of American households, given the many complex problems that it has encountered and the many compromises that have been made by the Administration in the roll-out. Oh, and also the hostile political environment that the GOP and the general public have created for the ACA. It ain’t easy to radically re-design and re-arrange 16% of the American economy (and a terribly complex segment of that economy, one involving life-and-death issues affecting nearly everyone) within 5 years, especially when about 55% of the adult population is against it.

Up to now, I haven’t taken Ms. McArdle all that seriously. A lot of other writers, such as the redoubtably liberal Paul Krugman, are arguing that teething pains are to be expected and that a lot of major government initiatives (including the 2006 Romney health care reforms in Massachusetts) seemed very messy at first but eventually kicked-in and accomplished their major goals. But Ms. McArdle’s review of a recent poll released by the McKinsey consulting company is causing me to have my own doubts. In a nutshell, only 10% of uninsured adults using the new insurance exchanges (mostly thru the troubled federal web site and the various individual state care sites) have bought it by end of Feb, 2014. Most of the purchases that have been made through the exchanges are by those who already had insurance. The biggest issue appears to be high costs, even net of the subsidy that the ACA provides to lower-income households.

Another recent survey by Gallup gives a more optimistic view. An NPR article notes that this survey shows that the uninsured rate has fallen significantly in the  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:48 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... History ...

Ah, the poor Ukraine. Three of my grandparents hailed from Poland, growing up not far from the Ukraine border. The fourth was from Belarus, just to the north. They all came to America about 100 years ago. It’s nice to see that Poland has escaped domination and gotten itself on its feet as a modernizing Western nation. Belarus is still a mess, but it’s a mostly stable mess, having accepted second-rate status as a Russian satellite nation. But the Ukraine – – it just can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be another Poland or another Belarus. And the Russians have made it eminently clear that they will make it as difficult as possible for the Ukrainians to escape their dominance and work more closely with the European community. Several years ago I wrote a post noting the Orange Revolution in Kiev. The same issues were in play back then, and 5 years later, they are still way up in the air. This one is not going to get resolved anytime soon.

The big question for the USA is just how to approach this situation. Should we channel our inner Winston Churchill (as the British themselves are no longer able to; Great Britain is now just another Euro nation, not the declining but still world-dominating force that it was in the late 1930’s . . . the USA of today has inherited this role, including the downward trend) and get tough with Putin? Well, unlike the days of Churchill and the rise of Hitler, the Russians still have enough nuclear weapons remaining to basically put an end to our civilization. So we need to approach this with much caution.

Another part of this big question is, just how dangerous is Putin and modern Russia? Is Putin another Hitler? Does he have plans for the world, plans that we and a lot of others may not like? And even if he does, can he do as much damage  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:13 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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