The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

One of my brother’s favorite local hang-out places bit the dust and closed for good on Wednesday. I liked it too, even though I was more the quiet guy who mostly sat and observed while my brother did all of the talking and socializing. I pretty much kept to my beer or occasional meal (they did serve good food, even had a number of dishes quite acceptable to a vegetarian like myself). Still, the Riverside Bar and Grill in Clifton, NJ was always a comfortable place to spend an hour or two on a weekend.

Unfortunately, bar-restaurants in northern NJ come and go quite quickly, especially in a bad economy. The Riverside made a good run at it, lasting for about 9 years. But business never totally recovered from the 2008-2010 recession slump, and a falling-out between the partners a few years back basically sealed the Riversides’ fate. The marketing guy was the odd man out, and the remaining partner, Joe, made a valiant attempt to keep things going. But the losses never went away, and Joe finally had to cut his losses. I think that everyone who regularly patronized the Riverside owes Joe a big vote of gratitude for hanging in as long as he did. And Tara too, the “team captain” who made sure that the customers were treated right no matter what.

So here are a few going-away memories from the final night, Wednesday July 30.

The staff was kept busy all evening, and no one went away hungry or thirsty.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, July 28, 2014
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Public Policy ...

Unless you are a doctrinaire liberal or conservative, the unaccompanied child crisis at the Mexican border is a real quandary. On the one hand, you want to sympathize with a humanitarian crisis involving perhaps a hundred-thousand unaccompanied teens and pre-teens showing up each year at the US border seeking a better life. They are coming primarily from nations with high rates of drug trade and gang activity, and thus high rates of violence (primarily Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador).

On the other hand, perhaps the conservatives do have a point when they attribute the crisis to President Obama’s non-enforcement amnesty policies towards illegal aliens, especially illegal children. These policies were publicly announced in 2012 (certainly with political motivation – i.e., to minimize Republican inroads into the Hispanic voting block by figures such as Suzanna Martinez, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and thus preserve the large Hispanic electoral margins which Democrats increasingly depend upon). Therefore, most Hispanic populations north of Cape Horn have become aware of them. It certainly seems plausible (but not yet fully proven) that many Central Americans believe that if someone can get across the border, they will likely be allowed to stay, especially a child from one of the nations south of Mexico (who are subject to legal judicial process before being sent back, unlike Mexican children, who can be deported immediately; and interestingly, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children crossing the border has actually decreased in recent years).

An alleged USDHS report indicates that about half of the new wave of children at the border are males 13 to 17, with the balance a mix of teen females (many pregnant) and toddlers of both sexes down to 2 or less. The liberal / progressive press keeps emphasizing the terrible, violent conditions in the places where this new wave  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

I’m not always the most politically correct guy on the block, admittedly. I don’t go around calling people names, and I do generally believe in the principal of human equality. But I don’t instantly buy into every particular complaint regarding prejudice, injury or unfair treatment to alleged victims who are gay, female, persons of color, or members of a certain religious heritage. (E.g. I didn’t automatically jump on the liberal bandwagon for Treyvon Martin; I felt that Martin’s tragic death was a rather nuanced situation, one not entirely free from prejudice, but not entirely driven by it either.)

I’m even more wary when such claims are based on the alleged “subconscious intent” of the alleged oppressor (who is usually a white male, just like me — or sometimes ALL privileged white men are cast as the “oppressor class”). I.e., that I’m a racist or anti-feminist or gay-basher or anti-Semitic without even knowing it. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and some humans are known to take historical wrongs and use them to drum up exaggerated or distorted tales of personal exploitation, so as to claim attention and perhaps money from their accused oppressors.

On the other hand, I will admit that I did grow up and developed my present ways of thinking under social circumstances that contained many misunderstandings and unhealthy or fearful presumptions regarding minorities, women and gays. Even though I  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:02 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

There’s an interesting article on the Nautilus web site (one of many) about how the inner electro-chemical dynamics of the brain are seen as operating on a thin boundary between stability and chaos. The science of chaotic system dynamics has identified various patterns called “strange attractors” in which a system exhibits something of a repetitive, quasi-orderly pattern while at the same time varying randomly in timing and pathway from cycle to cycle. Such a system may sometimes flip to a different pattern with a different cycle direction and space, and then flip back again to the original; but in both patterns, there appears to be an approximate center or a “strange attractor” around which the system characteristics revolve. So, you can have a one-attractor cycle, or a two-attractor cycle, or even more. And no particular cycle around an attractor is quite the same as the last one. The changes from cycle to cycle are unpredictable, but the cycle, or the meta-cycle involving multiple “attractor cores”, does have stability.

Such systems are seen to be on the ledge between either setting back into a fully-ordered and predictable path round and round some attractor point, or pushing into full-blown chaos where the attractors however strange just fall away and the system’s motions just go wild. Researchers are finding that a healthy functioning brain lives on this knife-edge. Why did nature and evolution select such an arrangement? One clue can be found in the design of high-performance aircraft, especially modern fighter jets. Once upon a time, airplanes were designed for maximum stability against changing wind currents. Pilots manually controlled the aircraft flaps, which steer the plane and also allow the plane to respond to changing winds and turbulent air flows. Recall, however, that humans can only react to things so quickly (typical human reaction times between start of perception and recognition / mental reaction are between 0.15 and 0.3 seconds; then add even more time to carry out the responsive muscle motions); our brains and bodies need processing time. So it takes a while for the hand controlling the airplane flaps to react to what the pilot sees and feels from buffeting air currents. This is not a long time; but when a jet is barreling along at 900 mph, even a few tenths of a second might be too late to put the plane back on an even keel.

So, aircraft had to be designed to be as naturally stable as possible. However, such design also made them more like battleships in the ocean, in that they took a relatively long time to change course when needed (such as when an enemy plane or missile is suddenly spotted). Thus, in modern jet fighters, the airframes are designed to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ...

There’s a recent article on the Science20 web site about atheists. The basic premise of the article is that pure atheists may not exist — because deep down in the subconscious, there exists a pre-programmed bias towards the notion that something in the universe is looking over us, something more than what we know thru our normal senses and our logical minds. The author summarized the article quite well up front, saying that “Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.”

Atheism is generally a product of the thinking, rational part of the mind. Yes, the part that gave us science and the Enlightenment, mathematics and the French Revolution, antibiotics and the atom bomb, etc. This is strong stuff, and many people really go head over heels for the atheistic / positivist-rationalist point of view. Still, this point of view may never completely overcome something deep inside the mind and brain. According to the article, an atheist scientist, Graham Lawton, was quoted in New Scientist as saying “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think . . . even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.

So, given that scientists themselves have found atheism to ultimately be psychologically impossible, are they about to give up on it?  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Food / Drink ... Photo ... Society ...

Here in the affluent suburbs of the United States, we live in a world of social trends — and not all of them wise or useful. Some of these trends are just trends for the sake of . . . well, for the sake of being trends. I.e., for giving people something to read about and then join in on and talk about with others.

One trend from the past 5 years or so has been the renewed popularity of the cupcake. Cupcakes are nice treats for kids, given their cravings for sweet stuff; you get a lot of icing and other sugary stuff (like multi-colored sprinkles) relative to the somewhat less sweet (but still VERY sugary) cake within the peel-off paper lining. Thus a cupcake usually packs more of a sugar-blast than a regular slice of chocolate cake on a plate (unless you get a side piece with plenty of icing). And you don’t need the plate, so you can run around with it and eat it where ever you wish. A very good feature for restless kids. So yeah, cupcakes were the perfect kid’s snack (at least from the perspective of kids themselves and their dentists).

Adults generally don’t crave cupcakes as much, being more reasonable and sedentary. But we reasonable adults are also subject to occasional bouts of nostalgia for the days of our youth, back when  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:52 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... Society ...

I just went to see Jersey Boys at the movies, i.e. the film follow-up to the popular Broadway play about the career of The Four Seasons. For the younger folk out there, the Four Seasons were a popular “hit parade” foursome from New Jersey who spanned the 1960’s, and who had a few more hit tunes in the 70’s and 80’s. They “broke out” in 1963 with a trio of do-wop style hits (Sherrie, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man); but somehow they kept their finger on the pop-tune pulse for the rest of the decade, even as the “British Invasion” (Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Kinks) and the Woodstock generation (The Who, Jimi Hendrix, CSN&Y) revolutionized the radio waves and conquered the record racks.

The Four Seasons hit pipeline finally went dry after 1968, although they managed a few comeback hits after 1975 by banking towards a more showy “Las Vegas” style, and with slower emotional ballads. Actually, after 1965 the Four Seasons were less of a foursome and increasingly were a changeable back-up act for lead singer Frankie Valli. Valli has to be given a lot credit for being flexible and figuring out how to stay relevant in the big-music world in rapidly changing times.

(And of course, there’s always a quiet man behind someone like Valli. I never knew that much about the Four Seasons, as it was the Beatles that we kids memorized and idolized. So, it was only when I finally saw Jersey Boys that I learned about  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:51 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Psychology ... Society ... Spirituality ...

I recently finished reading Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward”. I’m not exactly within the Roman Catholic fold these days, not even at heart. I still see Jesus in a different way than even the most liberal Catholics try to see him. But nonetheless, having grown up in the Roman tradition and recognizing that is has been a force for much good in the world despite all the bad that it is also responsible for, I still feel some affinity to “groovy Catholic writers” like Rohr. His book tries to cheer up those of us who know that we are “over the hill” and are approaching the final phases of our life here on earth. He tries to say that if we can let go of the things that obsessed us in the early days of youth and young adulthood, and learn about the deeper things, our final years might be the best of all, despite all the decay and inevitable discouragement as we see our bodies fall apart.

But to be honest, much of what Rohr writes doesn’t stick with me. It’s sort of like cotton candy writing. Still, here and there Rohr makes a point that hits home with me. One of those points was about the idea of what “home” means to us. Turns out that “home” means a lot more than the particular place where we usually take shelter for the night. Home is a much bigger idea, and it has inspired various social bromides such as “a house is not a home” and “home is where the heart is”.

So Rohr includes a chapter on home and homesickness in Falling Upward. He claims that the “home idea” is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:59 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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