The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Religion ...

I finally got around to reading the fascinating article in the April 2018 Atlantic Monthly on the strange and seemingly paradoxical alliance that has evolved between Donald Trump (in his role over the past few years as national politician and President), and the evangelical Christian community. The article is by Michael Gerson, a Christian evangelist who worked for President George W. Bush. Gerson knows something about Republican politics, and also about evangelism — he was raised in an evangelical family in St. Louis, and graduated from Wheaton College, a place with a strong evangelical Protestant heritage.

Gerson is not the first person to point out the paradoxes involved with the strong support that evangelical Christians have given to Donald Trump over his recent political career. To put it mildly, Trump has not shown much concern throughout his life for the Bible. And yet, despite divorces and salacious words and alleged misconduct, despite the many who have had unsatisfactory business dealings with him, despite all those who claimed to be the victim of ruthless exploitation on Trump’s part, despite the fact that Donald Trump has lived his life by the mandate of eye-for-an-eye and has seldom turned the other cheek or granted Christ-like forgiveness — despite all of that, evangelicals see Mr. Trump as a champion of what they stand for.

How did modern American evangelism arrive at this? Gerson goes back to the early 1800s and traces how evangelism has responded to the challenges of slavery, the Civil War, Darwin and Evolution, industrialization and growing secularism over the past two centuries. Evangelicals have a strong tradition of political involvement, and in that respect, their latching on to a strong political figure like Trump is not all that surprising. And yet — one wonders with Gerson how current Christian evangelists can support a man who seems so immune to the ultimate message that they are trying to spread. Sure, when Trump entered his new career as GOP candidate back in 2016, he had to spend a lot of time in the heartland, and thus had to quickly learn Holy-speak  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Current Affairs ... History ... Photo ...

Out in front of the Essex County Courthouse, there is a bronze statute of Rosa Parks sitting on a bus seat. Rosa Parks, of course, was an American Civil Rights activist of the 1950’s and 60’s, and is famous for the December, 1955 incident in Birmingham, Alabama where she was riding in the “colored section” in the rear half of a segregated bus (there were many examples of such “Jim Crow” segregation throughout the nation). Ms. Parks refused to leave her seat after the bus driver ordered her to get up and move further to the rear of the bus, so that a white rider could sit down after the white section of the bus (just ahead of Ms. Parks’s seat) had become full. She was arrested for and convicted of disorderly conduct. While her case was on appeal, the local NAACP (in which Parks was active) and other churches and activists organized a boycott against the bus company by African Americans. About a year later, a federal court decision outlawed the segregated bus seating as unconstitutional.

I walk past this tribute to Ms. Parks just about every workday. Last week, I noticed that an overnight snow squall had left her face temporarily half white. It seems like an interesting photo, so I got a phone out of my pocket and took it. Rosa Parks, in black and white. It seemed like a good metaphor. Today, Rosa Parks and the many other brave Civil Rights activists who fought the crude and absolute segregation laws and practices that existed in the United States through the 1960s is not just a black hero; she is an American hero. Her story is woven into the fabric of what our nation is today. She belongs to white Americans of the 21st Century just as much as she does to blacks, and ditto for Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, whatever.

OK, I realize that what I just said does not fully and accurately reflect the reality of America today. I understand that blacks are still not fully free, not fully empowered to share the opportunities and advantages of living in the United States. I understand that even though the crude segregationist laws and practices of the 1950’s and early 60’s have largely been abolished, there still exist a wide range of more subtle social and economic barriers that prevent too many African Americans from being “just another American citizen, entitled to all the rights and participating in all the responsibilities that go with that”. I understand that Rosa still belongs much more to those women and men of color who struggle to flush out and overcome those barriers.

And yet, it was a good dream that I had there. In fact, it isn’t too different from the dream that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of in his famous August, 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. In fact, Dr. King’s dream specifically included Alabama, where Ms. Parks had made her stand while remaining seated:

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

Let’s hope — and act — so that one day, the entirety of Dr. King’s dream will be fulfilled.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:27 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida which occurred two weeks ago has gotten a lot of people talking about gun policy. It has also inspired the numbers geeks to take another look at the numbers regarding “mass shooting incidents” and regarding “assault rifle weapons”. Both of these phrases are easy to say, but quite difficult to define precisely.

However, given that I consider myself a hobbyist numbers-geek, I thought I would search around and see what kind of stats I could come up with from public internet sources. I wanted to see if there are any apparent correlations between shootings and social trends in public communication, such as the rise of 24 hour cable news, the world wide web, and smartphones and social media. I was wondering if the rising “sensitivity” of our society to sensational events like mass shootings because of instantaneous media sources, widely-available sources of information that did not exist before 1980, had anything to do with the rising number of shootings in our country.

OK, so how to define “mass shootings”? There does not seem to be any one agreed-upon standard; one fairly common definition is taken from a July 2015 Congressional Research Service report. This report defined a mass shooting as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity.” An even stricter definition starts with this requirement, and further removes gang-related,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Current Affairs ... Science ... Society ...

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, and even in the early 1970’s during my college years, the American space exploration program and its lead agency, NASA, was a really formidable institution. After all the exploding military rockets of the 1950’s, NASA managed to safely get men into orbit, and then on to the moon. They shot up plenty of orbiting satellites doing all sorts of cool things, along with interplanetary exploration probes out to Mars and Venus, even Jupiter and Saturn. And they were coming up with uses for space that had more immediate benefits, such as communication satellites providing instant phone, radio and TV signals across the globe, along with improved weather observation. And of course, there was the critical national security need to spy on our enemies with a celestial eye-in-the-sky, so that we could end our risky surveillance flights (remember the Cold War hub-bub over the Gary Powers U-2 shoot-down over Russia in 1960). NASA back then was something for Americans to be really proud of.

And yet, as the 70’s became the 80’s and 90’s, and then a new Century was born, NASA lost its luster. The Space Shuttle seemed like an interesting step, but it didn’t really go anywhere; it couldn’t get out of low earth orbit and head for the moon or points beyond. In 1970, you would have expected that by 1988 and 1998, the Shuttle would be a bit-part actor in a bigger play involving long-range missions to the nearest planets and asteroids. But that just didn’t happen. The Shuttle helped give us the International Space Station, which has done a lot of good stuff; but ISS Freedom was not the staging base for missions (manned and unmanned) to far-off destinations, as we were promised when we were children. And then of course there were the two lost Shuttles. NASA had clearly fallen from grace.

And today, NASA doesn’t even have the Shuttle. It still has a fairly robust planetary exploration portfolio, including several soft-landing robotic missions to Mars, and a recent probe that made a close pass to Pluto. Its biggest public success over the past generation was probably the Hubble telescope satellite. The Hubble returned all kinds of deep-space images of galaxies, space clouds and clusters, which amazed and intrigued so many people.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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
 
 
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
 
 
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m glad to hear that the Democrats had a good night last Tuesday (Election Day 2017), when they easily reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey and comfortably won what was expected to be a close governor’s race in Virginia. There were other local State and local elections where the Dems picked up seats in areas where the GOP had held sway for some time now, e.g. picking up legislative seats in Georgia and Virginia (including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature). There were also mayoral race victories in St. Petersburg, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina (and even Fayetteville, NC, where ever that is!!). Democratic leaders seem jubilant; the Democratic leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) “smell[s] a wave coming”.

But this is still the minor leagues of national politics, and a lot of this “new blue wave” might be a short-term frustration response against Trump — I think that a lot of non-ideologue, middle-of-the-road Americans had hoped that Trump, who is quite different than your usual politico, could get a lot more done than the regular party hacks have been able to do in the past 5 or 10 years (which is not much). Trump got a lot of people’s hopes up with his bold rhetoric and unconventional manners, but 10 months into his Presidency, he doesn’t have a whole lot to show. And the more that you promise, the more quickly people notice that you aren’t delivering, and thus start getting antsy and frustrated.

And yet, the Democrats need to temper their celebrations with the realty that frustration can drive an election or two, but it is usually a short-term emotion. The bigger question is whether immediate disappointment with Trump will translate into longer term disillusionment that could tip undecideds into the Democratic column in the 2018 battle for control of the House, and the 2020 fight for the White House. The GOP hopes to regain its mojo through  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 27, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

Every now and then I get interested in an obscure historical question, something that is only important to a handful of scholars and die-hard history buffs. My most recent point of interest regards the Hasmonean dynasty, which flourished in Judea and Israel during the second and first centuries BCE. Actually, the Hasmoneans do get some attention from Jewish people and from Bible readers, given that it is the subject of the two Books of the Maccabees. Albeit, those books are not officially recognized as a part of Hebrew Scripture, nor are they contained within the Protestant Bible. Only the Catholic Church includes “the Macs” in its Bible, where it goes almost entirely ignored and unread by most Catholics. “Maccabee” is Jewish for “the hammer”, which became a popular nickname for the original Hasmonean family leaders, especially Judah Maccabee. Judah was the son of Mattathias, who was the instigator of a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid empire in Syria; the Seleucids had controlled the land of Israel for several centuries.

As such, many Jews have at least heard about the Maccabees / Hasmoneans, given that they are the main characters behind the story of Hanukkah, the miracle that occurred after the Hasmonean Jewish forces re-took the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucid Empire. The Temple needed to be ritually purified and re-dedicated, as the Seleucids had previously outlawed the Jewish Temple rituals (focused around animal sacrifice) and dedicated it instead to the Greek god Zeus. This occurred during the forced Hellenization of the Jews by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which started around BCE 175.

During the Jewish re-dedication process, a candelabra was to be kept burning day and night, but a problem arose – the Jews were low on fuel (the candles burned olive oil). There was only enough oil to keep the lights on for one day, but somehow, the candelabra managed to keep shining for eight days, until the Jews could scrounge up enough new oil. Since this all happened in late November and early December (relative to our Western calendar), modern Jews have adopted this previously minor historical commemoration as their alternative  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

There was some public debate recently as to whether America could continue its military presence in Afghanistan. President Trump decided to consult with his generals and then decided to keep us there and even add a few thousand troops. The idea is to shift away towards nation-building and re-focus on defeating terrorist threats to the West.

Various people are rather unhappy about US troops still being there after first being sent in late 2001 (following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack); they call it the “never ending war“. It made a fair amount of sense for US forces to root Al Qaeda out of its secure hiding spots in the Afghan mountains, right after we lost almost 3,000 lives from an Al Qaeda plot. However, a second phase of the Afghanistan mission eventually developed, focusing upon the pro-radical Islamic Taliban political / military movement in Afghanistan. This second phase focused both on degrading the Taliban’s military strength, and in denying its political strength by building an alternative nation-state more in keeping with western democratic traditions.

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Taliban, which had gained control of the Afghan national government, was and remains a home-grown movement focusing mostly on Afghanistan, versus international Islamic conquest as with radical group like Al Qaeda. The US under President Bush (the second) and then President Obama tried with some success to keep the Taliban from ruling Afghanistan. Doing so would help keep Al Qaeda or a similar radical Islamist movement (such as ISIS)  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

I’ve been pondering the terrible incident that took place earlier this month in Charlottesville, VA, when radical white nationalist groups (including neo-Nazis and the KKK) gathered to protest the planned removal of the monument statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. There are plenty of terrible things to say about the radical right (or “alt-right” in modern terms) and the violence that it fomented, violence which led to the death by automotive terrorism of a young woman who was part of the crowds that came to Charlottesville to counter-protest the radical right. And since there have been plenty of writers and commentators who have already expressed those things in ways that are much more cogent and eloquent than I can, I will pretty much leave untouched the tragic events that transpired in the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and in more recent times, writer William Faulkner and pop-singer Dave Matthews.

What I would like to ponder a bit further is the issue of removing statues, monuments and other symbols relating to the Civil War and the Confederate movement of the 1860s. In quite a few towns in the South and also further north, local community activism has led to the removal of Confederate flags along with a wide variety of statues and monuments relating to the Confederacy. The City Council of Charlottesville had recently approved the removal of Robert E. Lee and Traveler (his horse) from the downtown pedestal where they stood since 1924, although the actual removal has been delayed by a lawsuit. There doesn’t seem to be any set plan as to where the Charlottesville statue will wind up, but other cities have moved similar statues to museums.

Although I completely agree that General Lee and other tributes to the Confederacy need to be removed from pedestalled places of honor on public grounds, I do hope that these artifacts will be preserved and made available to the public, although in a context where the great sufferings that were at the heart of the conflict (i.e., the institution of slavery) can be balanced with the “southern pride” aspects of the rebellion. The terrible nature of slavery must remain at the forefront  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
FOR MORE OF MY THOUGHTS, CHECK OUT THE SIDEBAR / ARCHIVES
To blog is human, to read someone's blog, divine
NEED TO WRITE ME? eternalstudent404 (thing above the 2) gmail (thing under the >) com

www.eternalstudent.com - THE SIDEBAR - ABOUT ME - PHOTOS - RSS FEED - Atom
 
OTHER THOUGHTFUL BLOGS:
 
Church of the Churchless
Clear Mountain Zendo, Montclair
Fr. James S. Behrens, Monastery Photoblog
Of Particular Significance, Dr. Strassler's Physics Blog
My Cousin's 'Third Generation Family'
Weather Willy, NY Metro Area Weather Analysis
Spunkykitty's new Bunny Hopscotch; an indefatigable Aspie artist and now scolar!

Powered by WordPress