The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

We are coming up on another Presidental election, and just like last time (2016), the final outcome may be close. We could have another situation where the popular vote count differs from the results of the Electoral College, as happened in 2016 and 2000. There were two other elections where this happened, but they were a long time ago, namely 1876 and 1888. In 1876, Democrat Sam Tilden won the popular vote, but Republican Rutherford Hayes won the College. In ’88, President Grover Cleveland, a Democratic, ran for a second term and won the popular vote while losing the College to Benjamin Harrison. (PS, Cleveland was a Jersey boy, hailing from Caldwell. His home is an historic site, just a few miles from where I live).

In all 4 of these elections, the Democratic candidate has been the aggrieved party. So, it’s not surprising that the Dems are now raising a lot of dust about abolishing the Electoral College system that was put in place by the writers of the US Constitution back in 1788. A recent poll (March 2019) indicated that 60% of Democratic voters want the College eliminated in favor of a straight majority vote. Not surprisingly, 64% of Republican voters wish to keep it. Among people calling themselves independents, 46% wanted to abolish the College, while 32% want to keep it.

There are plenty of arguments both for and against the College, but what it comes down to is the old Constitutional doctrine of State sovereignty and the limitation of Federal powers. The writers of the US Constitution, aware of the many political and economic abuses by the monarchies of Europe that go all the way back to the Roman Empire, worried about a federal government that would become too powerful. Their default philosophy was that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Politics ... Society ...

Tonight, President Trump gives his fourth State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. There are plenty of issues and factors that enter into a nation’s “state”: economic, military, political, cultural, technological, sociological, etc. But I think that America’s “state” can be described right now as “mean”. A lot of people are angry and are no longer holding back about it.

Robert Reich recently had an article in The Guardian about Trump’s meteoric rise to political power, discussing how he recognized and tapped into the disgruntled state of the American working class. America remains an economic dynamo and has experienced strong growth over the past decade — really over the past generation (aside from the 3 year set-back of the Great Recession of 2008). But the benefits of all that growth have been claimed largely by the wealthy and almost-wealthy.

And thus, the not-so-wealthy working class, who have been stuck with roughly the same purchasing power that they had in the 1970s (and who experience a lot more uncertainty today about keeping what they have), are increasingly convinced that “the system is rigged”, as Mr. Reich says. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders have recognized that anger and have sought to exploit it politically.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:50 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 20, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I recently had a “change of heart” about how much voter sexism is out there amidst the voters, especially those most likely to vote in a Presidential election. A long-time friend of mine who happens to be female concluded shortly after the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton lost to Trump mainly because of an anti-female bias amidst the voting populace (mainly in men, but also in women to some degree). I disagreed with my friend regarding the word “mainly” or “primarily”. While I did not deny that there is an anti-female bias in some voters (perhaps too many voters), there were a wide variety of other, more significant factors that combined behind Donald Trump’s surprise victory.

But based on recent trends in the 2020 Democratic primary race, I am ready to move a bit closer to my friend’s position. I am now ready to admit that voter sexism, at least in some groups, is stronger than I thought. And I am also willing to admit that the groups where an anti-female bias might be significant are positioned in areas that have a greater say in the outcome of a Presidential election, due to the quirks of our Constitutional system for electing a President, i.e. the Electoral College system. Looking back to 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote — so on that level, sexist bias is not an impossible hurdle. But in those key “swing states” that the Electoral College system was and still is biased towards (especially Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin), the fact that Hillary was a woman probably created just enough of a negative bias so as to tip the popular vote totals in those states narrowly against her, causing the Electoral College to give the Presidency to Trump.

As a footnote at this point, remember that in 2004, John Kerry didn’t do too well in those states either. But he did win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Had Hillary repeated Kerry’s performance in those states, she would be President right now. Still, it is difficult to say based on that alone that sexism was the key cause for the difference. One would need to add in the fact that Hillary made mistakes  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:07 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Photo ... Technology ...

One more pic before we start the 2020’s. Actually, this looks more like a tribute to the 1920’s! It looks pretty industrial, maybe even a nuclear power plant! But no, it’s just a mechanical room in a government office building. I used the word “just”, but this is the equipment that keeps several hundred people warm in the winter and cool in summer, and gives them electricity and running water. Without this stuff, the whole office wouldn’t be possible. Maybe someday, technology will eliminate the need for offices, and we can all work and communicate from home or where ever else we are. But until then, or as long as people like the idea of working together under the same roof, we’re gonna depend on relatively low-tech stuff like this to keep our society going.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:47 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Many political observers today talk regretfully the growing polarization occurring amidst the American populace. A lot of people are still rather apathetic about politics, but for those who do take an interest, they often become quite vehement about the leaders, candidates and political party that they support. There is evidence that more and more families have cut holiday dinners and family get-togethers short in recent years so as to avoid political arguments from breaking out.

Some pundits encourage those of us with political opinions and interests to engage people with opposite views, so as to maintain the ability to exchange views respectfully even though everyone retains their own opinions. The Aspen Institute even has a “Better Arguments Project” to encourage such conversations.

At my place of work, I regularly discuss politics with one of the attorneys. My workmate is an intelligent Republican conservative. He was not particularly thrilled by Donald Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries. However, since Trump’s election, he got on board the Trump train and has been an ardent supporter of the President, and a vehement critic of the Democrats. For most of my life I considered myself a Democrat, although in recent years I find myself taking a more centrist and independent position on many issues. However, I still sympathize with much of what the Democratic Party supports, even if I often disagree with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:35 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Photo ...

This is just my friend Rick taking a break while at a local museum, surrounded by some nice Hudson River / pre-Impressionistic works from George Inness.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:40 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Economics/Business ... Society ... Technology ...

I sometimes expend some mental energy pondering where America seems to be going, from the perspective of a social and economic historian. (OK, I’m not a professional social and economic historian, but I find it interesting and I have previously shared some thoughts on this blog about that). Yes, I know that sounds awfully boring. But it does relate to how people will be living their lives in the future. It also helps us to see some things that are already happening to ourselves.

So, a recent article on the American Affairs Journal website (yes, sounds very boring) caught my eye. The article is entitled “America’s Drift toward Feudalism”, and was written by Joel Kotkin, a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University in California. So what the heck does it mean to “drift toward feudalism”?

Well, feudalism was a social and economic system that dominated Europe during much of the Middle Ages. In feudal Europe, the economy was basically agrarian, land was the most important asset, and the great majority of the land was owned by a small handful of rich people, sometimes known as the lords or barons. A fair amount of land was also owned by churches and monasteries in the Catholic fold. The great majority of the population was quite poor (the “peasant class”) and didn’t own any land, nor anything much else. They tried to stay alive (barely) by farming the land for the rich owners.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

A recent article on the SciAm web site examines the similarities between NDE experience reports and experiences on psychotropic drugs, e.g. LSD, mescaline, and especially ketamine. Recall that those drugs cause their vivid psychtropic experiences by attenuating or mostly shutting down the mind’s default mode network. I.e., normal self-identity is temporarily shut off; but somehow, vivid consciousness continues. Something like that may happen for some people in the dying process. Thus, NDEs are reported to be very profound and spiritual, as LSD trips often are.

According to SciAm, “NDEs reflect changes in how the brain functions as we approach death”. (Well yea – when the body is shutting down, the brain is going to be affected !!) “Many cultures employ drugs as part of religious practice to induce feelings of transcendence that have similarities to near-death experiences. If NDEs are based in brain biology, perhaps the action of those drugs that causes NDE-like experiences can teach us something about the NDE state . . . In a fascinating new study, NDE stories were compared linguistically with anecdotes of drug experience in order to identify a drug that causes an experience most like a near-death experience. What is remarkable is how precise a tool this turned out to be.”

The new study that SciAm refers to compared the stories of 625 individuals who reported NDEs with the stories of more than 15,000 individuals who had taken one of 165 different psychoactive drugs. The drug ketamine had the strongest similarity to NDE experiences. This may mean that the near-death experience may reflect changes in the same chemical system in the brain that is targeted by drugs like ketamine. Within the recollections of NDE survivors and ketamine users, the word most strongly represented in both NDE and ketamine experiences was “reality,” highlighting  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:10 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Photo ... Science ...

More Pix From My Cosmic Tea Cup Follow!  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:15 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Personal Reflections ... Philosophy ...

Not long ago, the NY Times published an opinion piece in its “Stone” column, entitled “Should Work Be Passion, Or Duty?” The Stone is where the Times puts its deeper and more philosophic pieces about modern social issues. Since this article was written by a Professor of Philosophy, it seems to have landed in the right place. With regard to the meaning of work, Professor DeBrabander concludes in favor of duty over passion. In a nutshell, imagining that your career is your highest calling and the primary mission defining your life is highly over-rated, even though the notion remains quite popular amidst the better educated and more professional members of the American workforce.

DeBrabander notes the irony that people in this category usually do quite well financially, and thus should have more capacity for leisure relative to others in the workforce. And yet, many professionals work much longer hours than the average warehouse order picker or sewer pipe repair technician. Why might that be true? Because the American professional class sees their careers as the core source of meaning in their lives, perhaps the defining aspect of who they are and why they exist. And recent surveys show that young Millennial workers coming out of college have the same attitude, despite the old fogies who see them as slackers.

So let me admit – I once had the same feelings. I once dreamed of doing great and world-changing things, and I was ready to work tirelessly for it, sacrificing my leisure time and my relationships for the sake of the “cause”. Well, after college, I found out that I was not going to be employed in some great cause. I wasn’t even going to be admitted to the “American elite”, the group selected to help run the top  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:01 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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