The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, April 30, 2015
History ... Photo ...

If you are under the age of 30, maybe even 35, you probably don’t know why the telephone poles in this picture have red and white painted bands around them. Unless you are a real local trivia fan (or maybe when you were around 7 or 8, you were very curious about your neighborhood), you probably wouldn’t even notice them as you drive down the road (in this case, Grove Street in Montclair, NJ). And even if you did, you probably wouldn’t ask yourself, hmmm, why are there poles with red and white paint on them every quarter mile or so?

But now that I’ve made you think about it . . . here’s the answer. Once upon a time, most urban and suburban town of any appreciable population density had fire alarm boxes spread throughout the town. Every box had an individual number, and was electrically wired into a central location at the town’s main fire station. So, if a fire were to break out and a citizen walking down the street happened to see it, they could run to the corner and push or pull on a little button in the firebox that would send an electrical signal alerting the police and fire department that they should get out to the vicinity of the fire box, on the double.

Now you might ask, with all the telephones out there, even if you go back a decade or so when pocket phones weren’t yet universal, why were these street fireboxes needed? Wouldn’t it be better to wait for someone to call and explain the situation? And wouldn’t it be tempting for wrong-doers to push the alarm button as a false alarm, given that probably no one could see or trace it back to you? That’s all true. But once upon a time, telephones were NOT all over the place. Before 1950, not every household had one. Up to the end of World War 2, telephones were an expensive luxury, mostly used by the bigger businesses and affluent families.

Obviously then, these fireboxes go way back to the early part of the 20th Century, when you couldn’t count on a telephone being available if a building suddenly caught fire. The thing that got most cities to invest in public firebox systems was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:09 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Nature ... Photo ...

A mourning dove recently decided that the window air conditioner outside my mother’s former bedroom at my brother’s house would be a good place to nest her progeny for the season. My mother passed away about 5 years ago, but the soon-to-be mother bird perhaps sensed some metaphysical traces of Mom’s former presence, and decided that the spot had good feng shui and positive chi. Here we see the bird trying to catch up on some zzz’s in mid-afternoon. If all goes well, she will soon be very busy flying in worms or seeds or other tid-bits for the hungry chicks. I’ll try to post some further pix once that happens.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:09 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, April 20, 2015
History ... Personal Reflections ... Society ...

A few days ago I was looking for a book in my apartment, and I just happened to brush across an interesting collection of spiritual writings from the late Dag Hammarskjold. This book, called “Markings”, was NOT the book that I was looking for; but in another sense, perhaps it was. Markings is Dr. Hammarskjold’s life-long spiritual diary, a collection of reflections on his inner struggle for truth, meaning and transcendence. I.e., a place where you write stuff like:

Courage and love: equivalent and related expressions for your bargain with Life. You are willing to pay what your heart commands you to give.


Night is drawing nigh – How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes by.

Deep thoughts, indeed. So I moved the book from a bottom shelf in a remote storage area to my bedside nightstand, where I can take in some of Dag’s reflections before retiring. The book itself brings back memories for me. It’s a 1977 printing and is now turning brown and brittle around the edges. I received it in 1978, when I was a young man who himself was not yet turning brown and brittle. It was given to me as a going-away present by some nice people at a social services agency that I volunteered with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:07 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 16, 2015
History ... Zen ...

My Zen group recently held a “zazen-kai”, which is basically a long day of meditation and other Zen ceremonial accoutrements. Our normal weekly zazen service lasts 2 hours; zazen-kai goes about 6 and 1/2. Most of the extra time goes to sitting quietly in meditation. And that’s a good thing, as far as I am concerned. But some of it goes into more chanting, more walking around (i.e. “kinhin”), breaking for refreshments (in silence, thank goodness), and listening to the wise teacher ruminate on the contrarian glories of the Zen / Buddhist traditions. During our zazen-kai, our sensei talked about the traditional December sesshin commemorating the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The last day of this week-long ceremony marks the morning when Buddha awoke before dawn, saw the morning star (the planet Venus) shining brightly over the horizon, and decided that he was finally seeing the big picture. I.e., the Buddha realized enlightenment.

Enlightenment is the holy grail of the whole Buddhist enterprise, so the date on which this happened is treated as a holiday in many parts of the East. During his talk, sensei named the date on which the big man supposedly had his great celestial insight — i.e., December 8th. Being a supposedly anti-intellectual tradition, it’s a no-no in Zen to stimulate the mind (or let it be stimulated). But my mind was nonetheless stimulated by this little factoid. December 8th — pretty close to December 7th, the day of infamy, Pearl Harbor Day.

Hold on a minute — Zen is largely a Japanese tradition; it has ancient historical roots in China and India, but Japan is where it all came together during the Middle Ages, where the legendary Zen masters such as Dogen and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:34 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Being a vegetarian, I am also something of a health food nut . . . well, I don’t get too exotic about it, but I try to keep salt and fats and sugary carbs under control. I’ve also been getting more strict on starchy carbs now too, despite the fact that I love to eat them; they’re the last available ‘comfort food’ for people like me who avoid meat, eggs and dairy products. And yes, despite all the anti-vitamin and anti-supplement backlash that has been published of late, I still regularly pop a handful of OTC pills (and liquid drops) every day. I take varying levels of Vitamins B, C, D and E (mixed tocopheral, of course), algae oil (in lieu of fish oil), ginko, alpha lipolic acid, acetyl-carnatine, and MitoQ. But again, all in moderation; no “mega-doses” (except for the B vitamins – can’t get enough of them — and maybe a little bit over the “recommended daily allowance” for D).

As such, I’m something of an alternative-medicine sympathizer. But one area that I never got very involved with was homeopathic medicine. It seems so weird to me, despite the fact that it has a lot of followers; you can find plenty of web sites devoted to it. The problem is that when you go on these web sites and try to find out just what’s in the various potions that are recommended and why they might be effective, you see a lot of hocus-pocus. These remedies always come with a list of what is in the mix, but just what those ingredients are remains rather mysterious. E.g., Calcarea Iodata, which is recommended for “enlarged glands, tonsils . . . thyroid enlargements about time of puberty . . . flabby children subject to colds . . . adenoids . . . uterine fibroids”

Or how about Grindelia Robusta, said to be useful for “asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Science ...

The other day I was listening to a lecture how philosophy and science relate to each other, and it make me think about string theory. String theory, even though far from being proven and adopted as an established scientific teaching, is nonetheless quite a successful paradigm. It accomplishes a lot (or at least has the potential to, should enough empirical evidence accrue that ensures its widespread acceptance). One of the biggest things that it does involves the unification of gravity with the Standard Particle Model and quantum physics; i.e. the quantization of gravity. This is currently a long-sought holy grail in modern physics, i.e. quantum gravity.

If a solid theory of quantum gravity were developed, the confounding infinities of Einstein’s relativity equations describing gravity would finally be banished; there would be no more worries about singularities and infinite-density black holes. There is a cost, however — the acceptance of super-symmetry (requiring the discovery of a whole family of new and presently never seen sub-atomic particles, although the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is busy looking); and of many extra spatial dimensions (which we don’t see in our daily lives because they are somehow rolled up in ways that are too small to affect us).

The charm of string theory is that one single mathematical paradigm can potentially relate and explain electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the Higgs field, and gravity. It would provide a ‘theory of everything’, or almost anyway. Aside from the need for supersymmetrical particle discovery and lots of extra dimensions, however, the big problem  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:38 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, April 3, 2015
Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

It’s a Friday night, and I did tonight what I often do on a Friday night — i.e., drive over to my brother’s house to do my wash. But it’s also Good Friday, and as a practicing Roman Catholic, my brother left around 7 for a church service commemorating the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. As someone who is not a practicing Catholic, I stayed to get my washing and drying done.

I left for home at around 8:30pm, an hour after sunset, and took my usual route up Brook Avenue in Passaic, NJ. This street runs through a suburban neighborhood that is unremarkable except for its increasing concentration in recent years of Hassidic Jewish families. On most Friday nights, even in the cold of mid-winter, I see those families in their black coats and hats  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:56 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Photo ... Weather ...

It’s finally April here, and a long winter is just about over. For a while there in February, we had to go almost a week just to get a day where the high was above freezing. Now finally, we’ve probably seen the last day for the season where the low gets below 32. So, one more memory of this memorable winter. This was the last real snowfall in my town, which happened on March 20 (the day before Spring started). It was just barely cold enough to snow, as you can see on the thermometer. This was a winter of old, one that didn’t give in too easily. I’m not sure that I want to see one like this again anytime soon, but it’s nice to look back on and feel good about having survived.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:12 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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