The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, June 29, 2015
Photo ... Zen ...

I’ve been involved in American Zen for more than 5 years now. I’ve listened to and talked with a handful of “teachers”, and I’ve read various books and internet sites about Zen; what I’ve experienced seems pretty typical of Zen in the USA.

But what is Zen really about? I can’t say that I’ve grasped it. Some teachers say that such befuddlement is a good thing. Sure, but is befuddlement helpful to my life? I’m not getting the sense that Zen is really making me a better person in any particular way. Just what is the point of Zen, of its rituals, of its teachings, but especially of its meditation, given that zazen seems to be the core of it? Most of the teachers I’m familiar with are psychotherapists, so it’s no surprise that they couch Zen in terms of achieving psychological health.

But that seems just so “American”. Psychological health — was that what the ancient masters in Japan and China were after? Is that why the  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:34 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Art & Entertainment ... History ...

I read a short article in the NY Times the other day about an auction of various artwork painted by Adolph Hitler, from his earlier years. Turns out that there are quite a few extant paintings from Hitler (he might have created over 2,000 drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings), and there is an active market for them. You’d think that no one outside of a government archival office or an historical institution would have any interest in artwork by Hitler. But to the contrary, art investors from around the globe shell out upwards of $100,000 or more per painting.

At first this seems like nothing more than a morbid fascination on the part of certain people who have more money on their hands then they know what to do with. But given my own historical and semi-morbid interests, I decided to take a look at some of Hitler’s artistic expressions. Here is a site, and another site, and another, where you too can see what I’m talking about.

OK, first impression: this is actually credible artwork; certainly not genius level, but better than what the average amateur could do. It reminded me of two American styles — first off, much of Hitler’s subject matter and painting techniques have a lot in common with the works of the “painter of light”, the late Thomas Kinnade. There is a certain sentimentality that both Hitler and Kinnade try to capture, a dream-like quality, an emphasis on  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, June 19, 2015
Politics ...

I’m not a “Tweeter”, but nonetheless I have a short thought about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run for the White House (following my two very long thoughts published a few days ago). My thought is actually a bit of a question. And the question it this: is Hillary in 2016 akin somewhat to McCain 2008? Certainly not in terms of campaign issues, but more in terms of historical trends. When McCain ran in 2008, it seemed like his time had past. In 2000, when he ran in the GOP primaries against George W. Bush, McCain had obtained a reputation with the press for being something of a “maverick”. I.e., he had the guts (or appeared to have the guts) to take positions that did not hew to “GOP establishment” doctrine regarding health care reform, tax cuts, campaign finance reform, immigration, climate change, gays in the military, etc.

McCain finally got his chance to be the standard-bearer in 2008, and quickly got in line with the establishment. The maverick was gone; McCain became a generic Republican. And that was no match for the wave of excitement that Barack Obama was building. Edward McClelland in Salon called McCain the “right man at the wrong time”.

Is Hillary’s “right time” also behind her? I can’t help but wonder. In 2007, she at first seemed  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:30 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Current Affairs ... Society ...

I haven’t said anything here yet about the current hubbub over Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal, because both cases are very tricky situations. Some conservative pundits try to paint the liberal acceptance (and even celebration) of Jenner’s new female identity as hypocritical in light of their disdain for Dolezal’s claim to African-American identity. These writers make some good points. But IMHO, the situation is not that simple; the Jenner and Dolezal situations have significant differences (I mean, Jenner cannot even try to coverup her past as a him, whereas Dolezal seemed to need a few fibs or, excuse the term, “white lies”, to get where she was).

I believe or at least hope that both situations are doing America some good by making us think about and discuss the deep but seldom-questioned issues regarding who we think we are and what makes us whatever that is. Philosophers and sociologists will have a field day dissecting these cases with their classes. Hopefully some rational thoughts and enlightened attitudes will filter their way through all the static and hucksterism that our non-stop media circus has created over Caitlyn and Rachel.

About the only thing that I can add is that in the end, society will decide what a man or a woman is, and what white or black identity involves. The lead-off agents in that social determination process should be those  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, June 15, 2015
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’n not a big fan of the mildly conservative NY Times pundit David Brooks, although every now and then “good old Brooksie” shines a lightbeam thru the word-fog. I think that Brooksie caught some lightening once again in his recent column about Hillary’s “mobilization error”. I could try to sum up what Brooks says, but he says it himself so brilliantly that I’m going to do a fair usage quote here, to wit:

Every serious presidential candidate has to answer a fundamental strategic question: Do I think I can win by expanding my party’s reach, or do I think I can win by mobilizing my party’s base . . . Two of the leading Republicans have staked out opposing sides on this issue. Scott Walker is trying to mobilize existing conservative voters. Jeb Bush is trying to expand his party’s reach . . . The Democratic Party has no debate on this issue. Hillary Clinton has apparently decided to run as the Democratic Scott Walker. As The Times’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman reported this week, Clinton strategists have decided that, even in the general election, firing up certain Democratic supporters is easier than persuading moderates.

SO, it looks like Hillary is starting out by doing exactly the opposite of what her husband did in the early 1990s; i.e., Bill Clinton’s famous “triangulation” and move towards the center, which allowed the Democrats to revitalize themselves being critically weakened by the “Reagan Revolution”. The first thing that I thought after reading Brooks’ column is that Bill must be rolling in his grave — and he’s not even dead!!! Is the Democratic Left really that strong today? Would Hillary really face a credible challenge from  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:18 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Politics ...

Regarding the upcoming 2016 Presidential election, the situation of the Democrats is unique and paradoxical, a real head-scratcher. The Democratic Party presently holds the White House (and little else across the country), but President Obama’s second term is coming to an end. In previous situations like this, the Vice President usually became the next candidate — recall Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore, and perhaps we can also count Walter Mondale (Jimmy Carter’s VP), who ran against Reagan in 1984 after Reagan beat Carter four years earlier. The only modern exception to this rule was in 1952, when the Dems picked Senator Adali Stevenson in lieu of Harry Truman’s VP, Alban Barkley, who supposedly was too old to run at age 75. (By comparison, Obama VP Joe Biden will be 73 next year, and Hillary Clinton will be 68; Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected).

It looks like this rule will also be broken in 2016, as Hillary Clinton is the Democratic heir apparent. Joe Biden has been disqualified more because of his political clumsiness than because of his age. But more importantly, he’s just not Hillary. Hillary seems like destiny … the first female Presidential candidate, a successful US Senator and Secretary of State, and yes, also a former First Lady herself. And yet, I wonder if Hillary’s moment has already passed. Sure, despite all the “baggage” that she has, Mrs. Clinton still seems like a shoe-in for the nomination. There’s no Barack Obama rising on the horizon, as in 2007 (when Hillary also seemed like a shoe-in). But as to winning the general election . . . and even if that were to happen, would she make a good president . . . I’m starting to have my doubts.

In 2007 and 2008, I didn’t have such doubts. I was convinced that Hillary was exactly what the country needed at that point, and to be honest, I still think that’s true. Had Hillary’s 2008 primary campaign been managed a bit more skillfully, and had Obama and his managers been just a tad less masterful and a bit more focused on the long-term, Hillary would now be in the White House instead of Barack Obama; and I think that the country would also be in a better place. Right now we’d be talking about an older and more seasoned Barack Obama  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:02 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, June 8, 2015
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ...

There’s a new study of the Millenial generation on the PLOS web site which says that Millenials are significantly less religious (much less likely to participate in religious services or identify themselves with a major religious tradition) than Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers did when they were the same young age. Well, I guess that’s not a big surprise. Millenials were mostly raised by Baby Boomers, whose parenting style avoided confrontation and directives and tried to emphasize reasoning in the young mind (i.e., the mind that’s not yet fully set up for reasoning). My parents basically told me at some point (maybe around age 7) that I was going to church on Sunday and that was that, no further discussion. I really didn’t want to go to church, there were plenty of other fun things to do with a Sunday morning.

If my parents had tried to reason with me at age 8 about how going to church would make me a better person, I would have reasoned right back at them that the weekend was short, and come Monday morning I’d be back spending the week doing things that I don’t want to do (namely, going to school). Eating up even more of one’s precious play time just to watch a bunch of adults pray and sing would not seem reasonable to a 7 or 9 year old. I suspect that many Baby Boomer parents just accepted this and moved on to other more immediate issues (such as putting clothes away or taking out the garbage or putting away the smartphone at the dinner table).

So now we have a young generation for which church and its moral teachings are unfamiliar. Of course, many Baby Boomers and Generation X people gave up on regular church attendance in their adult years, but they still largely retained an interest in prayer and “spirituality”. The new study indicates that the Millenials aren’t  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:21 am       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Science ...

Here’s something from the science desk. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been rooting for the axion. I’ve posted three different blogs about this hypothetical sub-atomic particle, and why a good number of physicists are interested in it. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the axion from the public’s point of view is that it is a dark horse candidate to explain “dark matter”, the spooky, nearly invisible stuff floating throughout the voids of space which help to shape and guide the galaxies and their mega-families (i.e., galaxies made of galaxies).

The main contended for the dark matter crown remains the super-symmetrical “light stable particle”, one of a new family of particles that is predicted by string theory (and a variety of other high-level cosmic formulas). Unfortunately, the search for the supersymmetry family has gone into overtime at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. It was supposed to be found in the first big run of the collider (which did find the Higgs particle), but surprised everyone by its absence. The LHC is now back and running at souped-up energy levels, seeking to blast those tricky supersymmetrical thingies out of their etherial lairds. It could take at least a year, perhaps several years, for the LHC to make a thorough scan across the energy levels that it now accesses. But if the lightest supersymmetrical particle still doesn’t show up, then a whole ‘nuther idea is needed.

The axion is one of the strongest candidates for such an alternative approach to dark matter. It was originally conceived as a way to resolve a problem with the sub-atomic strong force, i.e. the Charge / Parity symmetry problem in the interaction between neutrons and protons in the atom’s nucleus. An alternative explanation to resolve that problem has still not yet been found, so the axion might still  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:11 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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