The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Food / Drink ...

My brother and I recently tried a relatively new restaurant here in our corner of northern NJ, and I thought it was pretty good. In many ways, it was rather unique (at least to New Jersey; maybe it’s just another dive in Manhattan). So I thought I’d give it a plug here on my blog. I’m not a Yelper, so I’ll use some real estate on my own site. As to Yelp — some years ago I put up two reviews of local places on Yelp, and subsequently got banished and had my reviews removed. In both cases I conveyed a positive perspective; but it’s actually no surprise that I got canned for that, as I’ve read that Yelp uses an automated algorithm to ferret out possible “shill” reviewers. That’s the way the on-line world is today; if you’re not at least a little bitchy from the get-go, then its presumed that you must be a shill.

Anyway, the restaurant is called Lan Sheng, and is located in Wallington, NJ, right along Paterson Avenue along the border with East Rutherford (Carlton Hill, to us old-timers). Lan Sheng is not another take-out storefront Chinese joint; it’s a small but tastefully furnished restaurant with a full bar. Some Yelpers complained that the service at Lan Sheng isn’t so good (guess that Yelp won’t be removing them!). But for us, the service was just fine. The staff was actually rather friendly and personable. My brother ordered a glass of wine after we sat down, and he found it to be quite adequate. Adequate enough to get 3 refills – the staff knew how to keep his wine glass full. I nursed my usual beer, then managed to fulfill my Friday night ritual of sipping down an after-dinner cordial. This involved a little bit of negotiation about the proper pronunciation of Grand Marnier; but admittedly, a part of that confusion was my own fault (I am a serial name butcherer).

Now, as to the food — take a look at the menu (it’s rather large), and you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. There appear to be some very authentic Chinese dishes here — including tripe, sea cucumber, duck tongue, black fungus, frog, rabbit, eel, pigs feet, ox tail, and catfish. But there are also a wide variety of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:46 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Economics/Business ... Politics ... Society ... Technology ...

I’m going to discuss three “big thoughts” from three different thinkers, as to see if there’s a common thread in them (or at least a common question that lies at the heart of all of their concerns). We can start with this: on the surface level, they all relate to “the state of human civilization, and where its going”. As to how they might relate to today, the American celebration of Thanksgiving — I will leave that to the reader.

The first big thought is from a Teaching Company audio lecture course that I recently finished. The course is presented by Professor David Christian, and is called “Big History” (appropriately enough). At the end of Professor Christian’s sweeping review of the highlights from the 13.7 billion years of our Universe’s existence, he presents a dilemma regarding the future. A rather large one. And that dilemma is this: according to the U.N., the world’s human population is to peak around 9.2 billion in 2075, then slowly decline. If between now and the, all of those people were to adopt a modern western lifestyle, we would need around 3 or 4 Earths to provide sufficient resources to support such a global living standard. Unless something comes along that makes “the good life” a whole lot less energy and resource intensive, it seems quite clear that not everyone is going to get to enjoy the conveniences and comforts that most Americans take for granted. Perhaps less than half of the world will ever be able to achieve it.

Therefore, there will continue to be a division between the haves and the have nots. Probably an increasingly wide division, as the educational requirements of a high-tech world raise the bar for getting in on the good life. And that, according to Christian, is going to fuel  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:23 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Medicine ... Politics ... Web Site/Blog ...

I guess that I’m just not a Twitter person. I don’t have an account, and I hardly ever look at anyone else’s tweets. It’s kind of like Buffalo wings — lots of skin, sauce, bone and grease, but no meat. (Yes, I am a vegetarian, but I had some wings in the years prior to my conversion back in the mid-80s).

But I thought I’d give it a try here, just for the heck of it. Let’s see what I might say in a tweet about Jeb Bush:

WSJ sez Jeb is hanging out on Wall Street looking for cash. And probably finding some, probably finding a LOT. Just viewed some videos on Jeb and his lovely Mexican wife Columba. Smart, calm dude, friendly, no twangy accent. Looks like the Bush family is going to pull off the first presidential hat trick.

OK, that’s 310 characters — about twice the Twitter limit. I gather that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comments (11) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Before I move on to “the real world”, let me offer one more ditty about the “opera buffa” that is the current political scene. As if writing an essay on recent political comedy is such a new and novel idea — wow, no one would ever have thought of that!

Anyway, let’s talk about the latest Tea Party-Republican dream come true. A man has stepped into the limelight almost as if ordered from Central Casting, to fill the role of the “Elitist Enemy of the People”. He’s an urbane, doctorate level, Harvard educated expert from the Northeast who designed a big-government program that President Obama and the Democrats rammed down the throats of a wary public. And now he’s been revealed to have clearly expressed his disdain for the unwashed masses that allegedly don’t know better, those who might not yet realize that he and Obama were chosen by destiny to pave the road to a better world. Yes, Jonathan Gruber, MIT Professor of Economics.

At first, I didn’t think that what Dr. Gruber had to say about the unsavory process by which the Affordable Health Care Act was hammered into existence within the unsanitary workshop of national politics was all that surprising or damaging. But then again, I am viewing Gruber through my own fairly educated, somewhat urban and elitist  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:18 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
Monday, November 17, 2014
Politics ...

I haven’t yet said anything about the mid-term national elections two weeks ago, but I will now break my silence. I wanted to “let the dust settle”, see what the pundits had to say about it. Well, as usual, the pundits have said a whole lot of different things. Most everyone agreed that the results were not good for the Democratic Party as a whole, and for President Obama’s chances of accomplishing anything over the next two years that would enhance his legacy. There was, however, a lot of disagreement as to just how bad it all was and what the implications are for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. I’m now going to throw in my two cents on all of this.

First off, I don’t see the election results as the sign of a “new Republican wave”, the start of an era of GOP domination of national politics akin to what occurred between 1968 (end of LBJ, start of Richard Nixon) and 1992 (end of George HW Bush and start of Bill Clinton). I think that we are still in a ping-pong era where neither party has a decisive edge (although it does seem clear that the Democrats do better in Presidential elections and the GOP has an edge in mid-terms). The voting public right now is kind-of fickle and up-for-grabs. The Democrat’s supposed “demographic destiny” propounded by Ruy Teixeira and others still seems rather tenuous and theoretical. When voter turnout hardly every breaks 60%, it still matters a lot just who possesses the most inspiration to actually take the hour or less that is required for most people to cast a vote in November (hardly 15 minutes for me, door-to-door). Most elections are determined “at the margin”, i.e. a swing of perhaps 5% of voters or less usually determines who the victor will be.

So, what were the inspirations that swung the critical 5% or so of voters on the 4th against the Democratic senatorial candidates in the key states (i.e., North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Iowa and arguably Kansas with an independent-candidate footnote)? The best analysis I read was from  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:46 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

I was driving thru South Paterson, NJ on a recent Saturday morning, and saw something that took me back almost 50 years. I.e., clothes hanging outside to dry! My goodness, someone out there is still using clothes lines and clothes pins!!! That’s the way it was in the neighborhood where I grew up. By the 1980s and 90s, most everyone in town bought their own washing machines and dryers, or used a laundromat. I thought that the fine art of outdoor drying was gone forever. But it looks like it still survives in places!

Well, this neighborhood in Paterson is dominated by recent immigrants with just-getting-by working class jobs. So maybe this is just a part of survival for these families. Well hey, I admire that, and I appreciate the opportunity, however brief, to revisit the way things were back when I was growing up!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:18 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Web Site/Blog ...

I’m going to toot my own horn just a bit and put in a plug for my new, improved “Short Course on Consciousness“, found on my web site. I’ve spent the last 3 months doing some pretty intense reading to catch up on what’s been happening in the academic world and research community with regard to consciousness; i.e., the attempts to finally define the nature and functioning of our conscious awareness, i.e. the stuff that happens when we aren’t dead, asleep, under anesthesia, or otherwise out of it.

In some ways, consciousness seems pretty simple; and yet, when you really try to think about it and put it into context, it suddenly gets VERY complex. Around 1995, I got quite interested in the topic, given that a lot of new books and research papers were coming out on the subject. I read lots of stuff by philosophers, neuroscientists, computer experts, and psychologists about consciousness (none of that New Age “woo-woo” stuff for me, thank you), hoping to find a trenchant and powerfully incisive concept that would make it all fall in place.

Well, that concept never came along — or at least I didn’t stumble across it. So, after 2007, I moved on to other intellectual interests, mainly modern physics and cosmology. Not long ago, I looked at the web site pages on consciousness that I had put up back in 2006. They were very well  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:15 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Nature ... Society ...

It’s interesting how we humans can see something in nature that strikes our fancy for some odd reason, and give it an imaginary quality that has nothing at all to do with whatever it is. I think they call this “anthropomorphizing” or something. I.e., trying to humanize something that just ain’t human.

One example is polar bears. A lot of people seem delighted with the thought of polar bears. They’ve starred in movies and Coke commercials. Maybe it’s their fluffy white fur. Once upon a time, people shot the darn things, skinned them, and used the lovely fur as a rug. But that was back in the Teddy Roosevelt days. Today  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:00 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Photo ...

Holy Face Monastery, Clifton, NJ. Manhattan overlook at dawn.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:30 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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