The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Current Affairs ... History ... Politics ...

The NY Times recently posted a video entitled “Is There Something Wrong With Democracy?“, and its worth a look. Throughout the 20th Century, it seemed as if more and more nations were casting aside their autocratic forms of governance and assuming the path of western enlightenment by adopting the institutions of representative democracy (e.g., free elections open to all adults, written constitutions and codes of laws, independent courts, limited executive powers directed by the will of legislative bodies, etc.). The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the new freedoms granted to its many constituent nations seemed to mark the final chapter of democracy’s victory.

Recall the attention that Francis Fukyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and The Last Man” gained, based on his claim that western democracy was the logical endpoint of humankind’s historical struggle to find the best way to govern nations and peoples. History was now over, the end had been reached (or was clearly in sight); liberal democracy turned out to be what sociocultural evolution had been working towards since the dawn of civilization 10,000 years ago. And yet, today, with populism on the rise throughout the world and right here at home in the USA, and with more and more developing nations affiliating themselves with an unrepentingly autocratic China, we see more and more think-pieces like the Times video and a recent article in Foreign Affairs entitled “How Democracies Fall Apart“.

What makes me scratch my head about all of this is that the usual suspected cause of strong-arm governments, i.e. declining economic and living conditions, isn’t really happening. For example, in 1981, 44% of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Today that figure is about 10%. The world economic picture in 2018 is better than it has been for quite some time. Growth is expected in almost every region. So why are so many people in the world today  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Personal Reflections ... Photo ... Spirituality ...

At my office desk, I have a little “altar” hidden away on a shelf behind my computer monitor. This little altar reflects my own spiritual philosophy that God and reality are much bigger and difficult to grasp than any human system of understanding and belief can adequately deal with. And by “system of understanding and belief”, I include all religions, modern science, philosophy, art, literature, and “the voice of nature”. I think that the best that a “seeker” like myself can do is to listen to what all of them have to say, or at least as many as you have time for.

My little altar here is a tribute to the dynamic duo of world spirituality, Jesus and the Buddha. Obviously those two figures cannot represent all of the various “systems of understanding” out there, but they are two world-class heavyweights who saw things from very different perspectives. Jesus put his faith and emphasis in love and relationship, relationship between humans themselves and between humans and God. Jesus felt that humans could, with proper effort and with God’s help, achieve fulfillment and meaning in relationship and love. His vision of a “Kingdom of God” reflected his faith that humans were up to it, with God’s countenance. But the Kingdom that Jesus saw coming would require a lot of love, the kind of love that is a lot more than a Hallmark card sentiment. Jesus was not talking about sentimental niceness, but radical justice for the poor and oppressed.

The Buddha, by contrast,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:25 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, January 15, 2018
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

Did you ever make a mistake only to find out that the outcome of your mistake was actually quite valuable? That recently happened to me. I had bought a big supply of apples in late autumn at a big food market, where the apples were very fresh and quite cheap (50 cents a pound). And there were a wide variety available. Anyway, I couldn’t store all of the apples in my refrigerator, so I put a bag of them in my car trunk, given that it was late October and the falling temperatures outside would be just as good as any indoor refrigerator.

Well, turns out that the weather here got surprisingly cold right after Christmas, and stayed well below freezing for two weeks. Just a few days ago, I finally thought of those apples, and went to my trunk to bring them inside. It turned out that the freezing temps had frozen them solid, and when they melted, they were all mushy and shriveled and brownish. It looked like they would have to be thrown out.

But just for the heck of it, I put one in the microwave for a minute or two, just to see what would happen. I took out the now-hot shriveled apple and got a knife and spoon to cut the skin and taste the almost-liquified flesh. And turns out that it tasted fantastic!! A bit like a baked apple, but not exactly. The inside got very juicy and sweet, and was quite delightful. The only problem was that with all the juice, eating the apple could be messy; you need a plate or bowl if you try this. Also, you need to work to avoid the pits and hard spots in the core, as they easily get mixed in with the soft, warm flesh.

Still, I think that a frozen and re-heated apple makes a very nice and tasty snack, and I will try this little ‘frozen apple mistake’ recipe again in the future!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Photo ...

It’s early January and the holidays are over. The season to be jolly has passed. In offices across the country (such as this one, where I work), Christmas decorations are being taken down and put back into storage. Eleven months from now, hopefully some merry soul will find the decoration box and once again deck the halls of bureaucratic cubicles. For now, it’s time to get back to work amidst the dis-inspiration of a dark and brutally cold January (we have a snowstorm forecast for tomorrow). When the holidays end in early January, they end hard — almost like it never happened.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:24 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, January 1, 2018
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

Recently I read something about the “Burning Man” festival and movement, about which I knew very little. So I did a search and read up on Burning Man, interested in seeing what the hub-bub is all about. To be honest, Burning Man is not my cup of tea – you’d need a bit more testosterone in your blood than I have to spend two weeks in the Nevada desert asserting your masculinity with survival exercises, construction projects, mystical chanting, mega-artwork, nude body painting, and games and competitions. E.g., one exercise involves man-to-man combat within a “thunderdome”. I don’t think I’d do too well with that.

In one of the articles that I came across, I saw photo of a typical Burning Man exercise – it involved a whole bunch of guys pulling on long thick ropes, moving a huge wooden replica of a Trojan Horse across the desert floor.  (Of course, once night comes, they burn the thing in front of everyone – what else would you do with a Trojan Horse at a “Burning Man” convocation?) That photo got me thinking about the original “Trojan Horse” concept – i.e., a gift that seems totally legit up front, but turns out to be a subterfuge, a disguise for a secret invasion by a destructive force. 
 
The whole Trojan Horse concept then made me think of modern international politics, i.e. what has been going on between the US and China over the past half century (see Council on Foreign Relations timeline). I.e., we were once sworn enemies, but in 1970, Nixon and Kissinger arranged for some ping-pong team games, Nixon went to China, and over the next few decades, we started trading with and investing in each other, more and more as time passed. By 2000, Congress and President Bill Clinton granted permanent trade relations with China, and thus in 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization. Between 1980 and 2004, U.S.-China trade rose from $5 billion to $231 billion; by 2006, China surpassed Mexico as the United States’ second-biggest trade partner; in 2015, China edged out Canada to become the largest partner. The average American consumer today is quite aware  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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