The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Current Affairs ... History ... Politics ...

Another one of the “not entirely crazy” Republican leaders has bitten the dust. I’m talking about House Speaker John Boehner, who on Friday announced that he was giving up his Speakership position and resigning his seat as a Congressman from Ohio in about a month. Boehner is 65 years old (will be 66 in November), and was first elected to the House in 1990. He beat a Republican incumbent named Buz Lukens in a primary and then defeating the Democrat candidate by a 60-40 margin. (“Buz” . . . now there’s a real middle-American name! Although lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin hails from the same part of metropolitan New Jersey where I am based. I can’t say that I know of any other Buz[z]’s from this neck of the woods.)

Since then, Boehner has maintained a safe seat, beating his Democratic alternative by margins close to 70-30 every two years. Boehner’s biggest nightmare of course is from within his own party. He could well face a strong primary challenge in 2016; the defeat of seven-term Republican Congressman Eric Cantor last year to a Tea Party primary candidate casts a dark shadow on Boehner’s prospects (recall that Cantor was the House Majority Leader). So, Boehner is getting out while the getting is good.

I never thought much of Boehner. He appeared to dead set on blocking President Obama at every turn, with no regard for the merits. Whenever Obama took action, you could depend on seeing or hearing Boehner on the news that night criticizing whatever was ordered (sometimes in an annoying, whiny fashion). And yet . . . all of that just wasn’t good enough for the “conservative base” of the GOP. They expected that Boehner would get the House  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:56 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

I’m not feeling entirely optimistic about the Iran nuclear deal. Sure, there are a lot of good things to be said about it; avoiding a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East would be quite an accomplishment for civilization (the word “holocaust” itself has its ultimate origins in the ancient Middle-Eastern Hebrew language, i.e. “olah” meaning burnt offering). Still, I wish that Obama, Kerry and the Dems were totally honest about what the JCPOA agreement with Iran ultimately is: i.e., a huge bet that politics in Iran are going to fundamentally change over the next decade, such that the pro-western urban secularists will take charge as the mullahs and the Revolutionary Guard fade into a genteel irrelevance, sort of like the British monarchy. Unfortunately, we’ve been waiting for an Iranian regime change to happen since the last days of Jimmy Carter.

My heart really hopes that Obama is right and that an opening to the urban secularists by the USA will finally put them over the top in Tehran. But my head and my knowledge of history, however limited, is a bit more cynical — it’s a big crap shoot, a real “Hail Mary” pass. I guess that we shall find out how it goes.

The JCPOA has a lot of very optimistic supporters in the liberal big media, not surprisingly. A typical supporter is Tom Friedman of the NY Times, who focuses on the Middle East. I must give Friedman credit for hinting in one of his recent articles that he too realizes that Iranian regime change is a necessary condition for the agreement to really work as the Obama Administration hopes. Friedman was in a bit of a whimsical mood  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:04 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Religion ... Society ...

A recent book written by an anthropologist says that as humans transitioned from small hunting and gathering tribes (up to around 15,000 years ago) to bigger and more organized societies (based at first around agriculture, and later also on crafts and trade), they needed to develop “big gods”. Big gods who always keep an eye on us were supposedly needed to inspire people to cooperate with the social and governmental networks that started to develop around the year 8000 BCE. Eventually, one really big “God” was imagined, and monotheism was in business. As was the growth of earthly empires. Other researchers have been pondering this idea, but argue that perhaps societies only needed mini-gods (e.g., magic or nature spirits, or personal superstitions) to keep societies growing. The monotheistic God of Islam and Judeo-Christianity arguably came about by some other process.

The overall idea here is that growing social networks with increasing centralized power (i.e. led by kings and pharaohs) invents god and religion so that it can foster voluntary cooperation among the masses, an internal mental policing to build and maintain trust. The king and his men can’t keep an eye on you all the time, so they rely on a popularly-imagined “big power in the sky” to make sure you stay in line, by threatening you with a cursed life here on earth, or eternal damnation in the next life, if you don’t play nice.

Hmmmm. Interesting idea, one very popular in today’s academic climate where evolution is believed to have the power to explain every social and personal behavioral pattern and belief. THE PROBLEM WITH THE THEORY: unless “big god / big religion” is simply a social meme that was cleverly invented and intentionally promoted by those trying to start big government structures (kingdoms, Pharaohs, etc.) — possible, but were the ancient rulers really all that smart? — it goes against the principle in evolutionary genetics that individuals are NOT selected for traits that cause them to sacrifice for the group (i.e., the disfavored theory of “group selection“). This idea is expressly rejected  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, September 7, 2015
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

OK, so it’s still “way too early” to think about the 2016 Presidential election and the state primaries that will select the main candidates. Nov. 8, 2016 is still 15 months away, and the first state primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa will happen in a little less than 5 months. So if you’re not a political junkie like me, ignore the rest of this post and get back to whatever else you were doing.

But if you do like national politics, then we need to talk about what happened on the GOP side over the summer. According to compilations of average polling data from Real Clear Politics, on May 27 (just after Memorial Day), Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul help the top 4 slots in the race, in that order. It looked like the GOP “Establishment” was well in control. Jeb Bush is considered the candidate with the strongest ties to the establishment, but Walker and Rubio are both seen as acceptable. Rand Paul is a little bit different, a bit more of an “insurgent” with his libertarian stance; but like the other three, Paul is nonetheless an experienced national politician (currently a US Senator from Kentucky). Ever since going to Washington, he has been known to compromise and dilute the strict libertarian stances that his father (Rep. Ron Paul from Texas) took. And anyway, Paul didn’t seem like a real threat; he had captivated a tranche of devoted followers sympathetic to his ideological leanings, but he wasn’t expected to generate a broad appeal across the Republican faithful. The Establishment seemed to have the situation well in control.

Now it’s Labor Day and the top four in the nationwide polls are Donald Trump (27.8%), Dr. Ben Carson (13.5%), Jeb Bush (9.3%) and Marco Rubio (6.8%), with Ted Cruz (6.5%) and Carly Fiorina (5.5%) not far behind Rubio. So out of the top 6, we have three people who have never held public office, and a first-term US Senator (Cruz) who previously held appointed government jobs in the state and federal governments (Rubio has one year more experience in the US Senate, but was an elected Florida legislator since 2000). In other words, the will of the potential primary voters seems to have shifted away from  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:18 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, September 4, 2015
Religion ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

It’s time once again to think about the Big Question: what should you ultimately believe about YOURSELF (and about the world around you)? About where you are heading, why are you here . . .

In the Zen tradition, there is no self, no eternity, no personal transcendence of death (although through karma, something of one’s behavior does achieve transcendent manifestation). Time is a mental abstraction, a product of the mind. As such, it is discouraged from any use other than making sure that you get to the dentist on time, and other such quotidian things. The ultimate psychological emphasis should be on the present, on the now, on living in the moment. The future, the eternal . . . that is all just “mind stuff”.

In a lot of ways, the Bible’s Old Testament isn’t all that far removed from Zen; at least the early stages of it (i.e., the core “Torah” books). There is little philosophy in it, little struggling with the nature of God and the Universe and the meaning of one’s existence. There is a creation story along with some stories of tribal deliverance, but after that, the Torah has little worry for the future. With all its codes and social edicts, the Torah is mostly about getting by in the present — and about getting along with God. No promises of eternal paradise, just  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:53 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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