The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Personal Reflections ...

Being a quintessential Baby Boomer, the 1980s were a pivotal time in my life. So much happened, so many memories that stick with me. I mostly enjoyed growing up in the 1960s, but the 1970s were kind of a drag; and as to the decades following the 1980s, I can’t say too much. They just didn’t stick in my head the way that the 80’s did. The 1980’s were in so many ways a fun time for me, and yet there was the sadness of my failed attempt at marriage (which at least came to an amicable enough-ending in a mutually agreed-upon divorce). But then again, there were so many good people around me who helped me to get through that time. And thus there was even some fun in that process. I really doubt that I’d have anything like that to help me thru another major trauma, which becomes more and more likely as I get older.

So I was saddened to hear about the deaths last week of actress Carrie Fisher and singer George Michael, both within a few days of Christmas. Those two figures played significant roles in my 1980’s memories. Ms. Fisher, of course, will always be known for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the first 3 Star Wars movies. Of course, the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, but its techno-pomposity and intoxicating entertainability helped to set the mood for the coming of the 80’s, a promise of an escape from the slow decay of the post-WW2 suburban order that the 1970’s represented. The next two were products of 1980 and 1983, and they really helped to cement the new mood for the times. To be honest, after the first 3 Star Wars films, I didn’t pay much attention to Ms. Fisher’s career. But she was a surprisingly prolific actress, with roles in the original Blues Brothers, Agnes of God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Wedding Singer and When Harry Met Sally.

For better or worse, however, Ms. Fisher also showed up in some rather forgettable films, including Hollywood Vice Squad, an Austin Powers episode, Drop Dead Fred, Charlies Angels Full Throttle, and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:57 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, December 26, 2016
Politics ...

Politically speaking, Minnesota is one of those Democratic blue-states that really should be red, but for a major metro area (Minneapolis-St. Paul). West of Minneapolis, Minnesota is mostly just South and North Dakota, which are both solidly GOP states. OK, there’s also Iowa and Wisconsin, but both of them turned red this past November (Iowa has been the classic swing state; from 1980 to 2016, Iowa has gone Republican in 4 of 10 Presidential elections). Historically, Minnesota has been considered a “progressive” Democratic state; a variety of left-wing groups such as the Anti-Monopolist party of the 1870s, the Populists in the 1890s, the Non-Partisan League in the 1910s, and the Farmer–Labor party in the 1930s set the stage for that.

However, the GOP has been making gains in Minnesota in the past decade or two; this past November, riding the Trump wave, they unexpectedly took control of both the Minnesota state Senate and House (although the mid-term governor is still a Democrat). They had controlled the State Senate in 2011 and 2012, but the Democrats have otherwise controlled it since the early 1970s.

Minnesota is also interesting because you can lump their most famous nationally known politicians into two categories: lively and bland. On the lively side: former Governor and wrestling entertainer Jesse Ventura; former Democratic Congressman Eugene McCarthy, who foreshadowed Bernie Sanders back in the 1968 with his quixotic challenge against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic establishment in the Democratic Presidential primary (p.s., Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Food / Drink ...

I made my bi-monthly trip to the Paterson Food Market over the weekend, despite the chills of mid-December. Being something of a vegetarian foodie, I’m always on the look-out for an unfamilar variety of produce to try (last time it was orange and purple cauliflower; this time, they only had regular white cauliflower, but it was selling at 2 heads for $1.00 — try to find a price like that in your suburban supermarket!). It turns out that they did have something new in store for me — i.e., left-over pumpkins from Halloween at 10 cents per pound.

Well that was interesting enough, but I’ve read on numerous occasions that the pumpkins that you carve into a jack-o-lantern in late October are not very edible (although not poisonous). I took a closer look at the pumpkin bin, and it turned out that these pumpkins were not the usual decorative variety that people place on their front steps and nasty kids smash on the sidewalk every autumn. They were smaller and rounder, and had stickers on them proclaiming them to be “pie pumpkins”. I was a bit dubious at first, but at 10 cents a pound, the round pumpkin seemed worth a shot. So I bought one, then checked out its bona fides on-line once I got home.

Yes, it turns out that there is such a thing as a pie pumpkin. As you might guess, it’s the kind of pumpkin that you can use to make pumpkin pie. It has a thicker meat inside its skin, so if you bake a pie pumpkin so as to soften its interior, you can peel off the skin and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:09 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Outer Space ... Science ... Society ...

There are a lot of differing opinions today among astrobiologists and planetary specialists as to whether life is common in the universe, and how many intelligent and sentient life-forms (like humans) are out there in the heavens. On the one hand, paleontologists, biologists and geoscientists have found over the past twenty years or so that life forms can flourish in very harsh environments, places with little or no light or oxygen and very cold or very hot temperatures, even places with relatively high exposure to ultraviolet or radioactive radiation. Of course, most of these life forms aren’t much more than very simple one-celled germ-like things. But they are alive.

Furthermore, the accelerating pace of exoplanet research and discoveries have allowed the detection of a rapidly increasing number of planets whirling around far-distant stars. Our scientists have learned how to distinguish rocky Earth-like planets from “gas bags” like Jupiter and Saturn, and in a few years they might even be able to detect whether these planets have an atmosphere, and what kinds of gasses are in that atmosphere. The boffins are obviously very interested in finding out how many “second Earths” are out there, rocky planets of near-Earth size orbiting a bright but stable star at a distance where liquid water could exist and where a favorable atmosphere could form. Again, we are still some years away from being able to pinpoint such stars and planets, but thus far, a large number of candidates have emerged.

So, given that life can form even under very tough conditions, and given that “habitable zone” planets may relatively common in the cosmos, many scientists are coming to believe in a “cosmic life imperative” in the Universe. But recall that all of this was “on the one hand”. On that other hand is the increasing realization that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:49 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Politics ...

Way back in 2004, I posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog note about my infatuation with PBS newscaster Gwen Ifill. My note was a bit silly, but I really did admire Ms. Ifill and her highly-professional journalistic work, after watching her many times on PBS. She later showed up as a moderator at some of the big political debates, including the 2008 vice-presidential debate (Joe Biden versus Sarah Palin) and one of the 2016 Democratic candidate debates (Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders . . . ah, that was only a few months ago, but now it seems worlds away). And she seemed just fine this past summer covering the Democratic and GOP conventions, being fair and yet insightful as usual. So I was quite saddened to hear that Ms. Ifill passed away earlier this month (Nov. 14) after battling cancer since late 2015.

To be honest, I have not watched the PBS Newshour for several years years now, nor did I stay up with Ms. Ifill’s other show, “Washington Week”. But I did hear or see occasional references to her via radio or web-based news sources (my primary sources of news these days; I don’t look at print newspapers nor watch much TV anymore). And I did see her on PBS during the convention — same Gwen Ifill that I had so admired in the past. I now read that Ms. Ifill stayed “in the drivers seat” on these shows up thru the last full month of her life (October), despite going through chemotherapy and losing her strength. Looks like she was still Tweeting away thru October 28.

Gwen Ifill was one of the few that was given a chance at the big time in media, and she responded by putting her whole life into what she did. The quality of what Ms. Ifill gave to the public through her career was entirely apparent. Of course, David Brooks beat me to that idea  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Religion ...

I haven’t been posting much lately because of some personal stuff, including various on-going discussions with several thoughtful people regarding the surprise election victory earlier this month of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. I’ll no doubt have a lot to say about that before long, but for now, I’m going to avoid the amateur punditry and leave it to the professionals. Albeit, I think that every concerned American citizen ultimately has to become their own pundit and take a position on the major issues of the day.

But right now, I’m going to ponder a new rock song that I’ve been hearing lately on the local hard rock radio station (WDHA-FM). It’s called “Prayers for the Damned” by Sixx AM, from their recently released album “Prayers for the Damned”. Sixx AM did a bit of a double-play with regard to naming there, although not quite a triple play like Bad Company’s Bad Company, from the album Bad Company. Political footnote — “Prayers for the Damned” might not be a bad theme right now for those who dread the idea of a Trump Presidency!

Nonetheless, for those of you who still follow hard rock, Sixx AM is a side-project band formed in 2007 by Nikki Sixx, the former base guitarist and songwriter for Motley Crue. Ah yes, “the Crue”. Now there was a rough-edged band, all about all the excesses and depravity of the rock-n-roll scene back when rock was still the king of the music scene. They were kind-of a Neanderthal version of Kiss. Sixx provided or contributed to some of the Crue’s more memorable tunes, including “Girls Girls Girls”,”Doctor Feelgood”, “Wild Side”, and “Slice of Your Pie”.

Like a fair number of rock stars, Nikki Sixx got hooked on heroin but somehow kept going via raw ego, youthful energy, and luck. But now Motley Crue is gone and Sixx is 58 years old, and rock life from the “big-hair” 1980’s just doesn’t work anymore. A lot of old rockers clean up, slow down, fade away from the public eye, do some occasional music projects mostly for fun, maybe write a book or buy a winery, and make an occasional appearance before a small audience of aging people who remember a band from its glory years. Well, give Sixx credit — his current work is still  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Economics/Business ... Society ...

Today is the big day for American politics, the Presidential Election. There will be thousands if not millions of articles written over the next 48 hours about it. I will probably chip in my 2 cents at some point. But for now, in the early afternoon calm before the evening storm when the results start coming in, I’m going to zoom back a week or two and think about the World Series.

As you probably know, the 2016 World Series was quite dramatic, pitting two Cinderella teams that haven’t won a World Series for a long time; since 1948 for the American League Cleveland Indians, and since 1908 for the National League Chicago Cubs. Cleveland jumped off to a 3 win / 1 loss start, and it looked like the Series could finish up in game 5, surely by game 6. But no, the Cubs clawed their way back to an exciting extra-inning win in game 7.

After the fourth game, my friend Mary wrote to me with her theory that the Cubs would come back and the Series would go thru to a game 7. This no doubt reflected her faith in the Cubs, given that Mary is a life-long Chicago-lander. But Mary also thought that the financial powers behind Big Baseball would encourage teams to play as many World Series games as possible, to avoid 4 or 5 game routs so as to maximize the profits from tickets, media revenues, and memorabilia sales. Well, obviously her forecast that the Cubs would force a 7th game was on the money. But what about the overall theory that the World Series games are rigged  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:28 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Politics ... Society ...

Being a nobody political junkie, I’ve been following the presidential polls and campaigns, and as we get down to the last few days I’ve been totally devoting my attention to this. After the Oct 8 release by the Washington Post of the Access Hollywood Trump conversation with Billy Bush regarding Trump’s ongoing sexual exploitation of women, Ms. Clinton’s lead in the polls rapidly climbed, reaching a peak of 7 points over Trump on Oct. 19 according to Real Clear Politics. The equally prestigious FiveThirtyEight web site poll averages gave Clinton a 6.6% advantage on October 20. After that, however, the race started to tighten (even before the infamous October 29 letter to Congress from FBI Director James Comey about continuing investigations of e-mails related to Ms. Clinton’s use of a personal server for all of her State Department business while Secretary of State). This tightening trend indicates that support levels for Ms. Clinton have leveled off, while Trump has picked up uncommitted and third-party voters to increase his voting base (as support for the most significant 3rd party candidate, Gary Johnson of the Liberation Party, slips away). As of tonight, Clinton still maintains a 2.0% lead at Real Clear Politics, and a 2.9% advantage on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site. (The Huffington Post poll analysis blithely reports a 5.5% lead for Clinton, although that’s down a bit from 7.5% on October 9 . . . talk about seeing what you want to see!).

[SIDENOTE: I find it a bit ironic that Clinton thought that her attacking a man for his sexual crudities could end his Presidential prospects . . . I mean, her husband Bill lowered the bar with his shenanigans before and while President, and Ms Clinton then helped to defend him and keep him from being disqualified from national leadership. And now Ms. Clinton has to live the consequences.]

Unfortunately, some of the recent polls from Ms. Clinton’s Electoral College “firewall” states have also shown movement towards Trump also, especially in Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Nevada. The latest polls in the critical states of North Carolina and Colorado seem all over the place, but two recent polls from New Hampshire are a bit disheartening for Clinton supporters, showing Trump with a small lead (up to this point, New Hampshire seemed fairly secure for Clinton). Michigan and Wisconsin polls still mostly favor Clinton, but some Trump outliers are now being seen. And the early voting reports hinting that African American turnout may significantly decline from 2008 and 2012 levels weaken Clinton’s prospects in those two states, especially Michigan. Just two weeks ago, the betting odds and the odds shown on the FiveThirtyEight site gave Clinton an 80+ percent chance of winning. As of tonight, that’s back to about 66%. Not too much better than 50-50. Is this Trump’s last hurrah, or are a lot of angry or otherwise unsatisfied American voters really going to pull the lever or push the button for Trump?

I’ve always had faith in the American electorate. It seemed to me that the great majority of people who take the time and trouble to vote do it very responsibly. They diligently think through the choice and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:35 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Politics ... Science ...

It looks like America will not wake up this November 9th to the prospect that Donald J. Trump will be its next President. [Nov 9, 2016: OUCH!!] But Trump is not the kind who will just fade as the political sun sets over them, as with Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and Al Gore. So a lot of pundits have been discussing where Trump goes next. Most seem to agree that if Trump can’t be President of the US, he will then try to become the President of a Trump TV Network.

Joe Klein just posted a good article in Time Magazine which outlines the rationale for a post-election Trump TV network, and what it will look like. It will probably be a combination of politics, reality TV and extreme fighting. Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingram will no doubt be a big part of it. I’ve been listening to Hannity’s radio talk show on my way home from work for the past year or so, and it became clear to me by the third or fourth month that Hannity is more of an an entertainer than a legitimate news reporter or a political analyst, despite his current pretensions with Fox News.

As Klein cogently observes

Trump’s campaign orbit–a ridiculous political operation–looks far more plausible as a communications company: Steve Bannon of Breitbart, Roger Ailes and Roger Stone . . . We’ve been heading this way for a long time: a fusion of politics and entertainment, a political party that’s also a network that’s also a reality-TV show.

Well Joe, remember that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:56 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Food / Drink ...

Not long ago I took a liking to cinnamon tea. I had purchased a bag of cinnamon sticks on eBay and when you take a handful and soak them in a cup of boiling hot water, they make a really spicy and comforting brew that goes down really easy. I don’t put any sugar in this tea, but it still tastes very sweet. I gather that the sweet sensation is some kind of trick that cinnamon oils play on your mouth, given that there isn’t supposed to be much real sugar in cinnamon sticks (which are dried tree bark).

Over the past 6 months I had gotten into the habit of drinking a small cup of cold-brewed black coffee right after dinner, sometimes with a few cookies (I drank the coffee cold, but would warm up the cookies a little in the stove or microwave — a nice little dessert). I am really sensitive to caffeine and coffee in the evening definitely keeps me up well into the small hours. But I was using decaf, and so I seemed to get to sleep OK after I finally hit the pillow (but as to sometimes waking up too early, that remained and still remains an issue with me).

Nevertheless, I had a doctors checkup coming, so I started taking my blood pressure to see if there were any issues with that. If things are ok, my pressure will dip down quite a bit after dinner, even after my stomach finishes digesting things at around 8:30 (surprisingly, blood pressure goes down for most people while digesting food; even though the heart is working to help the stomach do its thing, enough water is absorbed out of the blood and into the stomach and intestines during this time so as to lower overall blood pressure). My blood pressure crawls down throughout the evening, and by bedtime it often is only a few points higher  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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