The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Monday, January 16, 2017
Photo ...

I haven’t gotten out to the woodlands for a hike in many months (old age is catching up with me). But today dawned sunny with temps bound for the upper 30s and maybe even low 40s, so I decided to finally give it a shot. I decided not to be too ambitious, given that it is wintertime and I’m not young anymore. So I picked the highland park closest to my home, which is Ramapo Mountain Park, just off I-287. Ramapo is not exactly deep in the woodlands, and by afternoon is generally loaded with people walking their dogs (versus serious hikers). But it’s still nice, and I managed to stay on my feet for two hours before getting back to the car for lunch and the drive homeward.

Here are four shots from my little “return to the woodlands” trip today. Despite the lack of color and activity, there’s something charming about the woods in winter (at least on a milder day like today).

 »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:09 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

If you really, really, really want to believe in God, I think that the best way is to make sure that you are part of a church and a religious tradition that strongly affirms the existence of God. It’s not so much that the church and the religion say that God is real. It’s more the fact that you will be surrounding yourself with a group of people who all say that God is real. When you are surrounded by a bunch of people who all strongly assert a particular proposition, it’s much easier to believe in that proposition, even when there is evidence that would otherwise cause you to question that proposition (or lack of evidence to support it). Religion is thus something of an “echo chamber“.

When you are involved in a church, it’s easy to feel good about believing in God, even if you are familiar with the long list of rational doubts expressed by atheists and agnostics. The logic goes some thing like this — I am person A and I feel OK about believing, because person B seems to believe. But if you ask Person B why she or he believes, they will tell you that it’s because person C seems to believe. Then go as Person C — and guess what he or she will say? Yes, it’s because person D believes. Sooner or later you come full circle. Someone points back to person A, and the chain goes round again. In reality, it’s probably a matter of 2-way networking between everyone from person A to person ZZZ. In other words, person A feels good about God because persons B thru ZZZ are God-fearing; person B feels good because of person A plus persons C thru ZZZ; etc. But it’s ultimately the same dynamic — ultimately it’s all a loop, like the proverbial snake that continually eats its tail.

Personally, I still want to believe in God. But I don’t want to base my faith on the comforts of a internal loop / “echo chamber” like this. So I’m not part of a regular church; I am active instead in a Zen community, where at least half of the members have declared themselves to be atheists. Maintaining one’s faith in God is certainly more of a challenge in this context. However, all of the time that we spend in quiet meditation gives me lots of time to search for “the small voice within”. I don’t often “hear” that voice, but  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:53 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Food / Drink ...

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a NY Times article about how to cook pasta like risotto rice. Instead of drowning the pasta in a quart of boiling water, the idea is to let the pasta continually simmer with just a small amount of water at the bottom of the pot, while frequently adding new liquid to replace what the pasta absorbs and what steams away.

This is also known as the absorption method of cooking pasta. The advantage of “absorption” is you can add and cook other stuff along with the pasta, such that when you’re done after 15 minutes or so, the whole thing reduces to a sauce (at least if you do it right). In other words, you don’t simply have plain cooked pasta, you have pasta and sauce right there in the pot, ready for the plate! The added stuff can include meat or broth, but being a veg-head, I add veggies and spices and a touch of olive oil.

So here is what it looks like in my kitchen. I’m cooking fusili with some fresh chopped tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper, shaved carrot, and a bit of basil, oregano and olive oil. The veggies boil down and mix with the starch from the pasta, making a rich sauce that nicely coats the pasta.

On my plate, then, is the coated fusilli with a dollop of veggie-marinara sauce at the center, along with some sauteed zucchini and mushrooms (top left) and kale, red cabbage, garlic and cranberry beans (bottom left). This all went down very nicely with a glass of red zinfandel. I’m looking forward to some interesting one-pot sauce experiments in the future, such as butternut squash (or even pie pumpkin) with pasta. Bon appetite!

PS, this way of preparing pasta works best with “chunky” pastas like penne, rigatoni, fusilli, shells, bow ties, etc. Long thin pasta like fettuccine and linguini (and good old spaghetti) tend to bind together into hard, thick strands when cooked this way.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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
 
 
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