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
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
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Photo ...

Here’s a shot that I took back in the summer of 1969. It was taken with a crummy instamatic camera in a setting with not-so-good lighting, but the subject is perhaps interesting (to urbanologists anyway). It’s a shot of the Myrtle Avenue “L” train somewhere in Brooklyn (near Myrtle Avenue, no doubt; L here means “elevated”; the actual subway route for this line was the “MJ” line). I’m a boy from the Jersey suburbs, but as a kid I would sometimes make an urban venture across the Hudson River, often with my cousin Mike. On this day, Mike and I were exploring the Myrtle Avenue subway line, which the New York MTA was about to abandon. You can see why, it was kind-of old and creaky, and there were other subway lines and bus routes in that neighborhood.

Since my teen years, I have learned a little bit about fine art, and I came to appreciate the works of the “Ash Can School“, especially painter John Sloan. The Ash Can School was active and prominent in the decades leading up to World War 2, and focused on every-day urban scenes using something of an impressionist style. I thought it might be interesting to take my Myrtle Avenue L shot and run it through the Photoshop “artistic” conversions, to see what a Sloan or a Glackens might have made of the Myrtle Avenue L. Here’s what I came up with, for better or for worse:

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:52 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Spirituality ...

Being something of a Zen practitioner (i.e., I’ve been sitting weekly with a sangha in Montclair), I’ve heard a bit about bodhisattavas. I’m not an expert, but my basic understanding is that a bodhisattava is someone who really takes all the Buddhist stuff seriously and has gone through many re-incarnations and is now living a life that could be the last . . . i.e., they have realized full enlightenment and Buddahood, and are now ready to pass on into the realm of nirvana, whatever that is. Basically it means that you ain’t coming back again, you’re involvement with this world and universe are done, you have transcended suffering and have no need to come back for additional doses of it.

This is what the Tibetan Book of the Dead is all about, a set of rituals and prayers for those who have just died, that they won’t be re-incarnated (or if they are, they will be ready to go the next time). I.e., that they will be taken up from the bardo (which is something like a holding pattern, a temporary place to wait where your post-death fate is determined) directly to nirvana. Roughly speaking, nirvana is a mysterious, undefined state of non-being, that “beyond, beyond, totally beyond” situation. (You really can’t define nirvana, the whole thing is just a Buddhist word game — actually, just about everything in Buddhism is a word game; if you enjoy having your head spin, try to logically nail down most any Buddhist teaching or written / verbal expression; it must be fun being a “teacher”, as you can always escape the bounds of logic by telling a challenging skeptic that “you don’t fully understand”).

However, there are some people who don’t have to come back, but do so anyway! Over the centuries, some Buddhists realized that their whole tradition came across as being a bit cold and me-focused, and thus had to do some verbal / conceptual backfilling so as to integrate a bit of compassion into the situation. And thus the myth of the bodhisattava evolved, the story of those who had gained enlightenment but wanted to share it  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:45 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, April 8, 2016
Art & Entertainment ... Spirituality ...

I’ve been a reader of The Atlantic Magazine for many years now. The Atlantic provides a nice overview of current social and political trends, and offers a lot of interesting “backgrounder” articles on a wide variety of people, places and happenings. But it’s also a “culture” magazine. As such, it has a required amount of material regarding literature and the fine arts. I am not at all a literature and arts aficionado, so I often skip or just skim through the material on fiction, poetry, performing art, etc. (Although, the Atlantic also keeps up on popular culture, which I sometimes find useful given that in my old age I don’t stay up with every hot new actress or hip new singer breaking onto the scene).

Despite my disinterest in fine culture, the past two issues of the Atlantic have had book reviews regarding two modern American writers (one an author of prose, the other a poet) who captured my interest after a quick perusal. One is Annie Dillard, a writer of prose, who was featured in the March 2016 issue. The other is the poet Wallace Stevens, subject of a book review in the April issue.

What interested me about both artists was their attitude about God. Let’s start with Stevens first. Wallace Stevens was born in 1879, and did most of his writing work between 1923 and his death in 1955. His poetry is considered “modernist”, rather cutting-edge and avant garde for the time. Not being much of a poetry reader, I can’t say much about it, other than  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:33 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
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Art & Entertainment ... History ... Religion ...

Despite my aversion to television shows, I’m trying to catch up with NBC‘s “A.D., The Bible Continues“, a weekly 12-part series that began this past Easter Sunday (of course). There have been plenty of video renditions of the life of Jesus, but not a heck of a lot has been done regarding what happened after his death on the Roman cross. For almost 30 years (not counting infancy) I was a practicing Catholic, and was subject to a lot of this Jesus material, in Sunday school classes, adult education series, or via popular entertainment channels (TV shows, movies, etc.). I thus suspect that for most Catholics and other Christians, the matter of how the long story of world-wide Christianity unfolded from a small band of 1st Century Jews in Palestine reflects a huge gap in popular understanding of religious faith.

A.D. will no doubt serve to fill in some of this gap. But from what I’ve seen of the series thus far (I will admit that I haven’t seen every minute of each of the 5 episodes that have aired to date; but I have done some supplementary reading about the series, and I think I get the general flavor of it), I would say that the writers and producers of A.D. did not necessarily intend it to reinforce the official teachings of the various Christian churches. It does not directly contradict anything said in the Bible (the series is based on the first 10 chapters of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles); but it adds a whole lot of speculative material about what could have happened in-between the events of the early Christ-followers that are discussed in Scripture.

And it’s the flavor of this “added narrative” that points A.D. in an interesting direction. The faith-and-miracles stuff is all there, such that believing Christians can still bask in the glow of the Resurrection and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Art & Entertainment ... Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

Here’s a quick “current affairs” P.S. to my reflections on Interstellar (posted 10 minutes ago). Speaking of movies, North Korea has turned a “middling” political comedy film into a potential blockbuster for Sony, its producer. Yes, I’m taking about “The Interview“. As you know, the film plot involves a fictional US CIA attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by recruiting two unwitting journalists who arranged an interview with him. The film was supposed to be released on Christmas Day in theaters nationwide, but got pulled after government or military agents from North Korea hacked Sony’s computer system in retaliation for the movie’s “insult to the dignity of the great leader”.

I have no sympathy for Kim or his stooges. However, what does bother me about all this is that Sony and the theater industry picked Christmas as the release date. According one of the mini-reviews, this film “follows the hysterically violent misadventures of idiotic talk-show host Dave Skylark and his underachieving producer, Aaron”. Another review notes that the film contains “crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence”. Is that where our nation is right now? A violent film about a political assassination is considered to be a “Christmas film”? I mean, couldn’t they have waited until New Years in order to respect a major religion’s celebration of the birth of its “prince of peace”? Would Sony be so insensitive as to release a comedy about political violence in Saudi Arabia or Egypt at the start of Ramadan?

So, thanks Kim Jong-un and his hacking squad. I darn well know that they weren’t defending the sanctity of the Christ-child’s birth by taking down part of the Sony network, but you never know when an evil force might remind us that we are not entirely free from evil either.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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