The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, July 31, 2015
Religion ... Science ... Spirituality ...

The Atlantic published an article not too long ago about near death experiences, and the latest edition (July-August, 2015) published a few reader responses to it. The author of the article, Gideon Lichfield, replied to these letters, and said something very interesting here. To quote:

It’s worth noting that some religious NDErs move away from their religion after the experience, because it can lead them to develop spiritual beliefs that conflict with their credos.

Whoa, now there’s a twist. You believe in God and follow a religion in order to live in accordance with that belief. Then one day, you get a message from God — or at least you imagine that you do, I’m going to stay agnostic here as to whether NDE’s are real or not — and you decide that your old religion just doesn’t cut it anymore; that there’s more to spirituality than what you were used to.

But hey, why not? If there is anything “substantial” about near death experiences, if not empirically “real”, it should convey a deeper and more mature understanding of the holy. I did a quick search to find some stories about nominally religious people who have NDE’s and then learn to put their traditions into context and thus find bigger and more universal concepts of divinity. There ain’t much out there; however, it turns out that Kevin Williams, a born-again Christian and NDE enthusiast / author who runs what is acclaimed to be the most comprehensive web site about NDEs, has accumulated of few similar stories. Interestingly for someone who himself seems to be “very religious”, Mr. Williams  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Religion ...

If you are a private investor looking to get rich, or just an aging middle-class schlemiel like myself hoping to retire sometime in the next five years or so, you might know about the web site. It’s a pretty good place to get up-to-date stock and bond market information, and it publishes a fair number of articles that might be of interest to small-fish “investors” like me.

(Really, I never thought of myself as a capitalist financier. But any working person today who wants a half-way decent retirement is not going to be able to fully rely on Social Security and whatever few real pension arrangements are still out there. You’re going to have to save, and your employer, if they really like you, is contributing to your old-age savings. By the time you pass the big six-oh, if you’ve been diligent, you’ve got what might sound to many like a really big chunk of money; it looks like you’re rich!! But no, this chunk is all that stands between you and poverty over the next few decades of your life, as your body slowly weakens and mind slows, and you really just can’t stay up with the 9-to-5 working world anymore.)

So anyway, if you’re presently in the boat that I’m in, you may have heard of and have read some of their articles. One of the regular featured columnists on that site is Paul Farrell, who seems to be the “house pessimist”. In late 2008, as the US economy was hitting bottom  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:46 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Public Policy ... Science ... Society ...

The New York Times recently published an article about genetic crop modification (“GMO“, as popularly known) by financial experts Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Taleb. Spitznagel and Taleb (yes, the “black swan” Taleb) think that tinkering with agricultural products by intentionally altering their genes through now-common scientific techniques is a formula for trouble. They feel that “complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem” could lead to catastrophe (shortages, high prices, economic depressions, starvation) if important crops get unexpectedly wiped out or are no longer able to grow in a changing environment.

To give their argument some weight, Taleb and Spitznagel compare the current GMO situation with the growth in the late 90’s and early 2000’s of hybrid financial arrangements for sub-prime investments (e.g. credit default swaps, tranched mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, etc). These investments were designed based on detailed economic studies, statistical analyses and complex mathematical and computer techniques, and became very popular in the big-money world of high-finance. Unfortunately, they had some unforeseen flaws in them, such that changing conditions in the US housing market triggered a cascade of events that ultimately led to a financial crisis and a “Great Recession”.

Their logic was criticized in an article in Forbes by Henry I. Miller, a biomedical scientist and former FDA drug regulator. Miller first points out that Spitznagel and Taleb are  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:40 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, July 13, 2015
Photo ... Society ...

On my daily drive to work, I recently noticed that I pass an “auto wreckers” business every day. This is something that you don’t see much anymore, especially in the middle of a residential area (well, the area in question might be more of a “mixed use” situation, as they say in zoning law — but there are plenty of houses nearby). I remember places like this from when I was a kid; we called them “junkyards”. They pretty much disappeared from my home turf in the 80’s or 90’s or whenever. So I had to stop the other day and get some pics — here are two shots that give you the flavor of the place. Dig that true junk!!

     »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:57 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Public Policy ... Spirituality ...

Back in November, 2014, I was discussion Obamacare, and I cited a then-recent poll indicating that public support for Obamacare was improving, closing the excess of disapprovals over approvals down to 6%. Shortly thereafter, new polls came in showing that this poll was a fluke, and the overall disapproval margin was hovering around 10%. Well, don’t look now, but it appears that some better results are finally coming in for the Affordable Care Act of 2010. A recent Gallup Poll showed the disapproval margin down to 1 measly percentage point, and a CBS / NY Times poll actually showed a 3 point favorability margin — the first positive poll since early 2013. This is a very recent trend — two polls in May showed disapproval margins of 12 and 15 percentage points.

If the recent trend continues, however, then perhaps Obamacare is here with us to stay, no matter how the big 2016 election goes. I personally wish that the GOP would just stop being so pigheaded in its opposition to the ACA, and get down to proposing ways to implement more market-driven mechanisms and fewer government-managed aspects of a national health insurance system. That probably won’t happen, however, unless they win the White House in 2016. They will then propose to replace Obamacare, but in the end, when the dust settles, it will be Obamacare with a few more market-based features and a few less government control mechanisms and oversight boards. That is, if the public popularity trend continues. Stay tuned.

Oh, while I’m here — one more odd topic, having nothing to do with health care. I was reading an article on the Atlantic website about one of those recent neuroscience studies regarding the brains of Buddhist meditators, and all the wondrous things that lots of mediation  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:01 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, July 10, 2015
Politics ...

Here’s why I don’t think that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the November, 2016 Presidential election. I’m going to leave aside all of the contingencies that can arise over the next 16 months. Sure, the election is still a long way out and a lot can happen simply because of the dice-throws of fate; there are plenty of “black swans” out there. But let’s just put that aside for the moment, and think about Hillary’s core game plan; let’s ponder whether Hillary’s basic strategy is sound. From what I understand, Hillary and her people are counting on re-creating the coalition of young, minority and female voters that easily put Barack Obama over the goal line in 2008 and 2012. Sure, the national demographic trends continue to evolve in favor of this idea.

However . . . recall that in the Democratic primary season of early to mid 2008, Obama used the same coalition to push Hillary aside; recall further that Hillary seemed like the pre-ordained candidate in late 2007. In 2016, Hillary can certainly count on a good female turnout. But as to minorities, it seems doubtful that she will get the same turnout from black voters that Obama did. And as to Hispanics, the most rapidly growing part of the “new demographic”, some of the GOP candidates (Bush, Rubio, Cruz) would probably be able to steal a significant chunk of this vote from the Dems.

It’s the young voters, however, who I think will disappoint Hillary the most. Obama came on the national scene from almost nowhere (Hawaii? Indonesia? Chicago?), and thus carried little baggage. Right from the get-go and almost all the way through, Obama was able to focus his speeches and positions in an idealistic fashion. He could and did  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:36 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 4, 2015
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

One of the biggest world-news items over the past few weeks has been a new flare-up of the whole Greece-versus-the-rest-of-Europe (but mostly Germany) thing. As with most big issues, this thing is all about money. Lot’s of money. In a nutshell, Greece borrowed too much of it from the European Union, and now can’t pay it back. So what happens next? Greece is part of the EU. Should it be kicked out? If allowed to stay, should it be punished, or sympathetically helped to resolve its underlying problems?

You’d think that sympathy and addressing underlying problems would be the right way to go. But a lot of people think that Greece hasn’t been such a good member of the Euro Union, that it has built up a lot of bad habits and has been lying and otherwise acting in bad faith, and now needs to suffer a bit so as to discourage other members of the Union from ever trying anything like this (and dissuade the Greeks from ever thinking about it again). This is approximately the same rationale that underlies all criminal law. I.e., people don’t always act nicely, and nations don’t either. So they sometimes need to be roughed up for a while; once they’ve shown that they’ve learned their lesson, the Union can get more lenient about getting them back on their feet (i.e, give them significant debt forgiveness).

I’ve read a number of articles on the situation over the past few days, and I’m going to cite some that I’ve found interesting. First off, Bloomberg has a good overview of the whole situation, not surprisingly; if you want to understand something about big money, Bloomberg is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:00 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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