The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Personal Reflections ...

Mother’s Day was about three weeks ago, and Father’s Day is about three weeks to come. So we’re in that late spring season of the year when our secular American culture memorializes parenthood. I think that’s a good thing; in fact, the older I get, the better an idea it seems to become. I’m now in my 60s, I don’t have kids, and I’m pretty darn sure that I never will. (I realize that it might still be physically possible, but I believe that it’s morally wrong for an old man to want his wife or girlfriend to have a child for him, given the highly increased chances of genetic defects, not to mention that an old man is less likely as time passes to be able to put up with the rigors of giving a child the parental care that such child needs and deserves.) But as I experience what it’s like to be an aging working adult, I better appreciate what my parents went through, and all the sacrifices that they made to give my brother and me a good childhood and a shot at a good life.

When you are young, of course you see the world thru young eyes. So you have no idea of what the world looks like thru older eyes. But now that I have older eyes, I can better see what they went thru. They were devoted parents, and hardly ever took time off for themselves (I could probably count on my fingers the total number of times when they left us with an uncle or an aunt for a night to themselves). Other than my father’s work hours, our school hours, and an occasional afternoon or evening when my mother was out taking care of her mother, they constantly lived in “kidland”. Well once we were over 10 and spent increasing amounts of time away with our friends on our bikes or just hanging out doing the usual teenage stuff, they didn’t have us underfoot all the time. But only at the price of their constantly worrying about  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Nature ... Philosophy ... Photo ...

Here is some trailside philosophy that I came across yesterday (Memorial Day) during a hike along the Long Path in Harriman State Park (NY). If I had a marker or a paintbrush, I would have put an addendum below this thought. One word . . . “yet”. Actually, ZXZ’s thought is rather profound . . . i.e., the reality of ourselves is in our stories, in our journeys, in movement. We do not exist as something still, something static, as say a glass of water or a rock can. Without movement, without life, we are just carbon-based flesh with a few other chemicals thrown in. If we really “are”, then we’re here, not there . . . not yet. But like that caterpillar on the tree, we’re moving towards “there”, and in that movement, in that journey, we take on our identities and our reality.

The second pic shows some guys beating the heat yesterday at Lake Skannatati. We do stuff like jumping into lakes on hot afternoons. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we are.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:56 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Economics/Business ... Society ...

My brother has been living in hell lately. At least some of the time. His old Chevy S-10 pickup is on its last legs, and he has to get some new wheels soon. His finances might allow him to get a new pickup or SUV (he’s not a Honda Civic or Ford Focus kind of guy, given that he is a drummer in a local band and has to lug drum kits around); so, he’s been doing his homework on-line, and is now ready to enter the dealers showroom.

Actually, he already had his first encounter, with a Nissan dealership here in northern NJ. His experience was not good. He got all of the usual dealer tactics and was pressured to buy something different from what he wanted (more expensive, of course). He had the good sense to walk out, but not before experiencing a lot of macho angst and being made to wait and then having the “wizard of oz” (i.e. the manager or someone pretending to be the manager) come over and try to smooth the situation out. He definitely needed a glass of wine – or three – after that encounter. But he’s gearing up for his next battle in the upcoming week.

He and I have been talking about this, wondering what percentage of car salesmen are decent people who work to balance the interests of both the customer and the dealership, who try to be helpful to the potential buyer (and not set out to confuse and wear you down, so that in your exhaustion and despair you finally  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:32 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

It’s hard to get interested in, never mind emotionally connected with, all of the tragedies that you hear or read about in the media these days. The world is probably not more tragic than it ever was, but given how interconnected we are these days, we hear about most everything unfortunate thing that happens anywhere on the planet. Even the big ones like the recent earthquake(s) in Nepal often don’t get more than a minute or two of my attention on any given day.

So, I pick my tragedies based on personal connection. The recent train crash in Philadelphia made it to my personal interest list, because I was once a railroad buff like 32-year old Brandon Bostian, the Amtrak engineer who last Tuesday night drove his passenger train into a 50 mph curve while moving at about 106 mph. This caused a violent derailment that killed eight passengers and took the important Northeast Corridor line between New York and Philadelphia out of service for about a week. I also rode trains over that track quite a few times in my life, especially in the late 1970s when I lived in Arlington, Virginia and often took the train to visit my family in Jersey.

When I heard that a train using the same kind of passenger cars that I used to ride in had crashed, I immediately read up about it on the media web sites (I don’t get much of my news from radio or TV, as they seldom take the time to drill-down into the details). But being a train guy, I wanted more than the media could offer, and I knew where I could get to it. There are a variety of railfan discussion sites on the web, where both train buffs and actual railroad employees  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Current Affairs ... Society ...

The title of this essay comes from Randy Newman’s 1977 song “Baltimore“.

As something of a wanna-be pundit, I find the recent “civil disturbances” in Baltimore (triggered by a fatal police incident) very frustrating because it is so difficult to digest and say anything useful about. Ditto for Ferguson, New York, Berkeley, Cleveland, and the other sites of current unrest over police shootings. The 1960’s (especially 1967) were a time of many civil disturbances in major cities (Detroit, Newark, Watts, Roxbury, etc.), where African American communities vented similar anger about aggressive police actions. It was fairly clear back then that the triggering police acts were just a spark that ignited a volatile underlying anger, which stemmed from a multitude of unjust social and economic conditions faced by black communities. And it seems reasonable enough to conclude that the same applies to the angst and frustration expressed by African-American leaders and communities responding to more recent police shootings involving unarmed victims such as Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Kimani Gray, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, et al. Police bias is certainly a part of it, but is far from the extent of it.

Unlike the 1960’s, however, it is more difficult for the nation as a whole to grasp the overarching social and economic injustices involved, and to see what can be done to fix them. The starting point for those who decry these injustices is racism, of course. The many fatal police incidents in and of themselves allegedly prove that racism is alive and well in the American criminal justice system, and thus by implication is rampant throughout all of our social institutions, large and small.

Unfortunately, however, when you look at the details of at least some of these police incidents, the alleged racist inspirations become more and more difficult  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 9, 2015
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

In my last post, I discussed the Stamping Out Hunger food drive being held by the postal workers union. It was scheduled for today, and I said in that post that I’d give it a go, I’d put out a bag or two of non-perishable food items for the mail carrier to pick up. I also said that I had some doubts as to whether the pick-up would actually occur, given that the union’s website itself said that some carriers “don’t participate”, since it isn’t a mandatory thing. My friend Mary thereafter wrote in about her past experiences with Stamping Out Hunger, where her own food donations never left her premises. And then last night, my brother told me that he too had heard about this and put out a bag, only to find that it was never touched.

So my doubt level was pretty high. Nonetheless, I put out two bags this morning, then left for a morning drive to upstate New Jersey for a 3-hour nature hike (near Monksville Reservoir). The hike went fairly well (the weather was cloudy, but no bears, no snakes, hopefully no ticks), although I did get a little too close for comfort to some hunters firing off their guns — good thing that I was wearing my orange hat. I got back to my car around 1 pm and had some lunch, then drove home. And guess what? The food bag was gone! Since I’ve never heard of anything being pilfered from the porch here, I’m going to assume that the local mail carrier actually did “participate”, and that my donation is on the way to a local food panty for the needy. It’s a miracle!!

Hmmm, let’s see, what dead persons are up for “beatification” (sainthood) in the Catholic Church these days? The church often attributes miracles to a beatification candidate, as a  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I got a card in my mailbox a few days ago telling me about an upcoming food drive being held by the postal carrier’s union. It’s called “Stamp Out Hunger” (mail delivery people, stamps . . . get it?), and its taking place this coming Saturday, May 9 (in 2015, for anyone tripping across this post some years from now). The idea is that you, the American citizen, can buy some non-perishable foods and put them in a bag, as to be left by your residential mailbox this Saturday. During the day, the merry mail-person will come by on her or his usual rounds, but in addition to delivering your mail, they will pick up that food bag and take it somewhere such that it eventually winds up available to people in need. The National Association of Letter Carriers web site suggests that all food contributed will be donated to a local food bank or pantry program, where it will be distributed.

OK, sounds like a nice idea. It’s probably not the most efficient way to provide food for the needy, but it allows local participation and engenders the “community spirit”. So I’m going to give it a go. I went to the supermarket today and picked up some basics like cereal, rice, pasta, sauce, beans and juice, and filled three bags. On Saturday AM I will set them out on the porch in front of my apartment building, right under the mailboxes. Just to make my intentions crystal clear to the local carrier-person, I will staple the “Stamp Out Hunger” announcement card to one of the bags. And from there, I will just wait and see.

Obviously, I’m just a tad skeptical about this. Postal carriers are government employees, and let’s face it, government employees are not looked at as kindly as they once were by the public. Especially unionized government employees, which the postal carriers are (again, their union is sponsoring this event). Most of the postal carriers we’ve had here  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:47 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Art & Entertainment ... History ... Religion ...

Despite my aversion to television shows, I’m trying to catch up with NBC‘s “A.D., The Bible Continues“, a weekly 12-part series that began this past Easter Sunday (of course). There have been plenty of video renditions of the life of Jesus, but not a heck of a lot has been done regarding what happened after his death on the Roman cross. For almost 30 years (not counting infancy) I was a practicing Catholic, and was subject to a lot of this Jesus material, in Sunday school classes, adult education series, or via popular entertainment channels (TV shows, movies, etc.). I thus suspect that for most Catholics and other Christians, the matter of how the long story of world-wide Christianity unfolded from a small band of 1st Century Jews in Palestine reflects a huge gap in popular understanding of religious faith.

A.D. will no doubt serve to fill in some of this gap. But from what I’ve seen of the series thus far (I will admit that I haven’t seen every minute of each of the 5 episodes that have aired to date; but I have done some supplementary reading about the series, and I think I get the general flavor of it), I would say that the writers and producers of A.D. did not necessarily intend it to reinforce the official teachings of the various Christian churches. It does not directly contradict anything said in the Bible (the series is based on the first 10 chapters of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles); but it adds a whole lot of speculative material about what could have happened in-between the events of the early Christ-followers that are discussed in Scripture.

And it’s the flavor of this “added narrative” that points A.D. in an interesting direction. The faith-and-miracles stuff is all there, such that believing Christians can still bask in the glow of the Resurrection and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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