The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, January 30, 2015
History ... Religion ... Society ...

I came across two interesting articles recently about why you don’t see all that many Jewish farmers out there. A recent economic study points out that back in ancient times (say when Jesus lived or even before), most Jews were farmers just like in most every other human culture. But over the upcoming millennium, they largely left that way of life, mostly moved to the cities, and took up a wide variety of trades and enterprises.

According to these economists, this was not so much because of laws forbidding land ownership by Jews (although such laws did exist given that Jews were usually a minority group and often treated as outsiders by the powers that were). The main factor was the high degree of literacy promoted by the Jewish culture. I.e., smart people found better things to do in a world where trade was growing than raise crops and milk goats.

A similar conclusion was reached in a Slate article from 2003. Judaism has always emphasized the importance of reading, so as to keep the Torah alive (and thus preserve the Jewish identity). And so, Judaism early on developed a tradition  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:41 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 26, 2015
Photo ...

We are now getting a big, nasty snowstorm here in northern NJ. On the eve of the storm, some of my neighbors lifted up there windshield wipers in preparation. I never could figure out why people do this. Up or down, you’re still going to get a lot of snow on your car and will need to clear it off and clean the ice from your windshield. Today I noticed that these wipers look something like arms lifted up to the heavens, petitioning for mercy. Perhaps this is something of a modern talisman, pleading with the snow gods for clemency. I guess that putting your wipers up before a storm satisfies the urge to do SOMETHING, despite the fact that you can’t do a darn thing to stop or alter a snowstorm. I suppose it makes people feel better while waiting for the flakes to fall. As the Tom Petty song goes, the waiting is the hardest part . . .

(Or is it the actual shoveling and then putting up with all the ugly aftermath of a snowstorm in over-crowded suburban NJ?)

P.S. — AFTERMATH: The forecast when I took this shot was for 20 to 24 inches of snow. The final total here was about 4 to 5 inches. As said on the beer commercial: IT’S ONLY WEIRD IF IT DOESN’T WORK.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:22 am       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, January 22, 2015
◊  Night Bus
Photo ...

Just some people riding on the 28 bus in Montclair, NJ on a winter’s night.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 19, 2015
Religion ... Society ...

In my last entry, I discussed some questions regarding belief in God versus atheism; in it, I mentioned a young philosopher named David K. Johnson, who in his various works has concerned himself with similar questions. Interestingly, Dr. Johnson also weighed in not long ago on another cultural mythology, one perhaps a bit less momentous but still rather interesting. Johnson has addressed the question as to whether parents today should continue telling very young children about a semi-magical figure who delivers presents during the wee hours of Christmas morning, while they sleep. Yes, we’re talking here about Santa Claus.

If you read my impressions of Johnson (I am currently listening to a Teaching Company audio course on philosophical metaphysics taught by Professor Johnson) or otherwise know of him, you would not be surprised to learn that he is quite anti-Santa Claus. In a nutshell, he advises modern parents not to continue the practice of telling post-toddlers about Santa Claus and convincing them to believe in him.

In sum, Johnson feels that continuing the Santa Claus myth is harmful and even immoral because (1) it risks damaging parental trustworthiness (2) it encourages credulity and discourages  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:08 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, January 16, 2015
Philosophy ... Religion ...

I read an interesting article on the RealClearReligion web site entitled “The Decline of Philosophy“. Hmmm, so someone else thinks that philosophy today ain’t what it used to be. I am presently listening to a CD course from the Teaching Company on philosophical metaphysics, and I too have some reservations about what modern philosophy is concerning itself with. The course is taught by Dr. David K. Johnson, a young philosophy professor at Kings College in Pennsylvania. Professor Johnson goes out of his way to make ontology relevant to the masses, and specializes in integrating pop cultural into his lectures, especially movies (he also repeatedly mentions his love for the sweet potato fries at Johnny Rocket’s).

And yet, so much of Dr. Johnson’s discussion and argument just seem irrelevant to me (despite my penchant for “deeper meanings” to things). Johnson’s lectures mostly boil down to a word games and battles between philosophers as to how cleverly they can apply the rules of logic. I get the impression from Johnson that he and his fellow modern philosophers certainly are very clever, but they don’t convey much that gives a better understanding of our selves, our lives and the environment and universe around us. Johnson has a very excitable lecturing style, and his enthusiasm almost bubbles over whenever he leaves us in a tangle of contradictory propositions and unanswerable questions. Ummmm . . . whatever happened to the old Greek philosophical notion that philosophy is to help us understand deeper truths? If Johnson’s course is any indication, philosophers today seem to be saying “there is no truth”.

The RCR article was written by a Catholic priest named Robert Barron (who is President of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago). Fr. Barron hasn’t taken notice of David Johnson, but he does open up his article by zeroing in on Dr. Daniel Dennett, who is one of the more outspoken proponents of “the new Atheism“. Barron believes that Dennett  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ...

As 2014 came to an end, a variety of “year in review” articles cited French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” as perhaps the most important book in the business and economics field in quite some time. Piketty’s book has stirred up a lot of discussion and controversy about the problem of inequality in industrialized society. It’s well known that income inequality is inherent to any capitalistic economy; arguably, income inequality is needed in a system that progresses through competitive economic incentives. The apologist for capitalism basically argues that even though some people don’t do as well as others, and many remain poor, everyone is still better off because of the dynamic growth caused by capitalism. Even the lowest on the income ladder eventually do better than the poor in less dynamic economic systems.

Piketty changed the focus somewhat as to include wealth; it follows that if income is unequal, then wealth, what people manage to accumulate or save up over their lifetimes, is probably also going to be unequal. What Piketty has done, however, is to show (purportedly) that modern trends in wealth accumulation are reaching something of a “runaway” point, whereby the income and opportunities gap becomes so wide that hard work, good ideas and other talents (and also good luck, quite frankly) no longer rule the day. The situation is now reaching the point, according to Piketty, where economic elites have formed amidst the populace, elites that are increasingly restricted by parentage and location, such that if you’re not born with the right parents in the right place, your opportunities for a decent income and reasonable wealth (i.e., the good life of the “middle class”) aren’t very good. And they are getting worse with every new year.

So, Piketty has added fuel to the fire regarding the increasingly popular notion that the rich really are getting much richer, the poor much poorer, and the middle class  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Weather ...

In December, 2012, there was an article in Scientific American (called “Winters of Our Discontent” by Charles Greene) saying that global warming was causing the Arctic ice cap to melt, and that such melting would mess up the usual Arctic air oscillation patterns. As a result, the eastern half of the USA would allegedly experience very cold winters starting in 2012-13. So, SciAm was warning us to expect a cold winter in return for the sins of our carbon-based civilization. But it didn’t happen that year; the winter of 2012-13 was mostly normal here in the east, temperature-wise. However, we did get socked the next year (last winter); the polar vortex kept on dipping downward from Canada and everyone east of the Mississippi did a fair amount of shivering, especially in February and early March. (And yes, I acknowledge that the shivering is relative; we coastal people who are used to 25 degree winters were really suffering at 10; but you inland people had to get down below zero before you started noticing it).

So, does this prove that global warming is here, clear for everyone to see in the eastern USA to see? (Not to mention the far West, with its extended heat and drought). The experts are arguing both ways on that idea. Recall that since 2000, we’ve had a very active hurricane pattern in the Atlantic; according to Weather Underground, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were on the top 10 list of hurricane seasons since 1851. These years gave us famous storms like Katrina, Wilma and Sandy. Various articles appeared attributing this trend to global warming. However, some studies go the other way on this. Since 2012, the Atlantic basin seems to have quieted down; 2014 was one of the least active years for hurricanes on record. IMHO, it’s still too soon to conclude that bigger and more frequent hurricanes are going to become a way of life because of CO2.

But what about those cold waves here in the east? We are in one right now,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Photo ...

Just another early sunset in late December.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, January 2, 2015
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

There’s an interesting little debate going on in the “energy sector” these days about something called Enhanced Oil Recovery. It’s one of those boring things that could some day make a big difference in how our world works, but for now it’s mostly under the radar, save for a handful of researchers, energy industry planners, and environmentalists (including green energy developers who could be affected by it). The people who favor EOR (as they call it) are mostly Republicans; but with just a bit of political imagination, the Democrats could make a lot of good use of this idea. If only they had the wits to do so.

In its most boring, generic format, Enhanced Oil Recovery is the use of pressurized carbon dioxide gas to push petroleum out of oil wells that otherwise are considered “depleted”. Most depleted wells still have plenty of oil down in them, but getting to that oil and pumping it out costs more than the stuff is worth. If you could obtain reasonably priced carbon dioxide, you could pump this otherwise abandoned oil out cheaply enough to sell it and make some profit (well, perhaps not in today’s $50 a barrel oil market, but the current oil glut and price crash may be a temporary market over-shoot that will resolve itself, with oil eventually settling around $75 per barrel, about half-way between the current lows and the previous plateau of around $100 per barrel).

That’s the plain-vanilla version; there is now a maximum-strength EOR proposal, however, that environmentalists and green energy advocates will probably say comes right from the devil himself. In a recent article on the conservative Weekly Standard web site,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:39 am       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
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