The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, May 25, 2020
Current Affairs ... History ... Music ...

The COVID crisis has changed a lot of things, big and small. One of the smaller and more subtle changes that I’ve noticed involves the songs being played on the local radio stations. The playlist now seems a little more somber and serious than before. I guess that’s what fits the mood right now.

I was recently listening to an oldies station (I’m not a big fan of pop music from the 50s thru 80s, but I still like the station), and I heard a song by Elvis – which is not unusual, since oldies stations pretty much exist to play Elvis songs. But this was one of Elvis’s later songs, the ones that are not nearly as famous and don’t get played as much as “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, “Jailhouse Rock”, etc.

I was never a big fan of Elvis; to me, he was “before my time”. Although admittedly he still had a lot of hit tunes in the mid 60s and into the 70s, when I became a transistor radio kid. I came of age with the Beatles, Dave Clark Five, the Stones, Jerry and the Pacemakers — i.e. the “British Wave”.

But from 1968 thru 70, Elvis came out with some songs that seemed very different from his usual style. They seemed more introspective, more story-telling, more human-oriented. I still enjoy hearing “Kentucky Rain“. Elvis was no longer just a kid singing “All Shook Up” (and getting filthy rich and famous for it!).

But during this period,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:14 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, May 15, 2020
Photo ... Spirituality ...

It’s the end of another day, the sky is just about dark, and the moon or Venus might already be visible. You’re walking towards the west, along a road going over the top of a minor elevation. Hopefully you have a flashlight, because you’re not in the city. Everything around you is dark and murky and quiet. And yet, you notice something through the bare tree branches, far off in the distance. A faint red-orange glow outlining the silhouette of the western hills. The last bit of fading light from the day that just ended. Goodbye to another day. You’re reminded of the line from the poem “Today” by the Victorian English author Thomas Carlyle —

Out of Eternity this new Day is born;
Into Eternity, at night, will return.

When I was younger, I felt a “twinge” in my mind from sights and thoughts like that. It was some sort of a deep reverberation about the essence of life, something to do with the pure feeling of being. Your eyes might even start getting just a little moist. Whatever happened to that feeling? Where did it go?

The other night I was taking an early evening walk, and I happened upon such a scene. I stood there for a moment beholding it. And I almost felt the “existential twinge” once more. I wondered it if was OK to feel anything like that, surrounded as I was by a world in a pandemic. Despite all of the bad news coming at us almost constantly, I still felt something of a sentimentality for the passing of another day. Goodbye May 13th, or whatever it was that we called you. Thanks for letting me be a little part of your story, and thanks for becoming a little part of my own story.

Let’s take a look at the lines from Carlyle’s poem that follows the famous “Eternity” couplet —

Behold it aforetime, no eye ever did:
So soon it forever from all eyes is hid.

There’s something about the transition from day to night that evokes a sort of un-named emotion. Even the word “twilight” has an almost mystical air about it; it would sound profound even if you didn’t speak a word of English (I think).

Here’s a pic showing the purple twilight of a different day, taken from a different place. I hope that you too have had moments like this when you have felt “the twinge”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:24 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Current Affairs ... Spirituality ...

The 92nd St Y just put out a podcast with Adam Gopnik reading and discussing a quote from CS Lewis, regarding life after WW2. People in Europe and the US were coming to realize that they could be hit by a nuclear bomb with little warning; in a flash it would incinerate them and the world around them. Lewis, as the Christian writer and thinker that he was, tried to address the spiritual crisis that this created. His advice is a bit fatalistic; he accepts that nuclear weapons are part of the modern world, he doesn’t talk about changing that. However, Lewis has some advice about getting on with life despite the dark shadows. Mr. Gopnik found this advice relevant to us today, with our COVID 19 pandemic.

Here in paraphrase is Lewis’ advice:

Let us not exaggerate the novelty of our situation. Believe me, you and all that you love were already sentenced to death before the atom bomb was made. The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.

If we are all going to be destroyed by a bomb, let that bomb come when we are doing sensible and human things. Praying, working, teaching, reading, playing music, bathing our children, playing tennis with a friend or chatting with them over a game of darts. Never huddle together like frightened sheep, thinking only about bombs. A bomb can break our bodies, a microbe can do that too. But they need not dominate our minds.

So, CS Lewis tells us that the prospect of instant death once nuclear powers go to war is not really all that unique, not all that new. The possibility of unexpected death was always a part of human life (ironically, the current pandemic is causing us to experience what so much of humankind constantly lived with before the age of modern medicine – they didn’t have hypersonic thermonuclear warheads to deal with, but they did have the Black Plague).

We should do what we can to ready ourselves for the threat and perhaps lessen the danger. But we cannot eliminate it (not in a short period of time, anyway). At some point, we either  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:06 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Current Affairs ... Society ...

I’ve pretty much ignored my blog for the past month. And yes, it has everything to do with the COVID epidemic. Not that I got sick — not so far anyway, thank goodness! Nonetheless, I’ve joined the ranks of the homebound. I’m not an essential employee (it’s times like this when you find out where you really stand!), so on March 20 my employer ordered me to work from home until further notice. They seem to be paying me for that, even though I’m not doing a whole lot from home. I send in an e-mail every day to let them know that I’m monitoring my work e-mail and will answer the phone for whoever calls. But not many people have been calling or writing. So I’m left with some free time (although there are still official things I do from home, given that I can link into my office’s computer system – they gave me a computer with a VPN drive). But I’m not making the best use of it, admittedly.

To be honest, I’m finding the COVID lockdown experience very disorienting, rather confusing. But, so are millions of others, or so I hear. Life is always changing and uncertain, but this situation has kicked the change and uncertainty levels up a few notches. Admittedly, I’ve got it a whole lot better than so many others, who don’t know how they are going to pay their next electric bill. My own financial situation does not seem immediately threatened, thank goodness. As to my health and my chances of catching the virus and having serious respiratory symptoms — well, I’m hoping that the further we get into this epidemic, the lower my chances are of getting it. But who really knows – that’s what uncertainty is all about.

For now, I’m just going to share a few not-so-profound thoughts or observations that I’ve had about what the virus is doing to the world around me. There are thousands of writers and commentators who are writing and speaking thousands of observations, about what has been happening and where things are going with regard to the many different aspects of our society — e.g. the economy, politics, government, international affairs, sports, art, religion, entertainment, travel . . . it’s amazing just how broadly a pandemic affects human society. Too much to talk about! But I’m gonna talk about a few inconsequential things anyway.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:59 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Current Affairs ... Photo ...

Spring has arrived here in the suburbs, and the flowers and green leaves are returning. Daffodils are usually the first big wave of the tide that brings the return of daylight, color and comfortable weather, a tide that heralds the end of winter. And yet, this particular spring equinox seems very muted and even a bit melancholy, quite uncharacteristically.

We now have to deal with the recent arrival of COVID-19 and a lot of unanticipated changes to our lives because of it. This disease is a real threat to the survival of many people; unfortunately, our national leadership did not do enough up front to contain its spread (as the South Koreans appear to have done), despite at least 6 weeks of warning. We now need to change our lives and our means of survival in order to limit the possible loss of life.

I myself intend to fully comply with the various directives and restrictions and practical changes that the COVID-19 contagion now requires. But like so many of us, I regret the prospect of so much economic shutdown and social isolation. So many things have been cancelled, hopefully only temporarily — although it will be many weeks and possibly even months before life as we know it can return. It almost seems as if the Spring season itself has been cancelled (or greatly delayed).

It almost seems as if these newly sprung daffodils know what is happening amidst their human admirers, and share the somber mood, despite their usual sunny disposition.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ... Society ...

I believe that there is currently a wide-spread desire amidst younger people to do more in life than fight for their own welfare; they also want to help change the world for the better. And yet, not a whole lot of young or middle-aged people from affluent urban or suburban regions want to take jobs working in low-income, under-priviledged urban neighborhoods and providing human services to people and families in need. But there are some people like that, and in many cases, such people train to become social workers or counselors, or maybe nurses or other medical trades. This morning, while I was at the service station where I have my old Corolla repaired and maintained, it occurred to me that a gas station owner could also be an urban social service provider.

The gas station that I go to is in East Orange, NJ. The owner’s father emigrated from the Middle-East and started the station many years ago, when the neighborhood was largely working class, and when there were many manufacturing plants in the area. Over the past 50 years, during which time the current owner inherited it from his father and kept it in business, the nature of the neighborhood has changed quite a bit. Employment and income levels dropped, crime levels increased, buildings and homes and streetscapes are not cared for very well. There are now gangs and drugs and murders happening quite regularly in the vicinity. And yet the owner keeps on opening the place every morning, providing vehicle repairs and servicing on weekdays, gasoline all week into the late night.

I stop by for an oil change every 6 months (and if something in my car isn’t working right, I will be there during the interim). They usually get the oil change done within an hour, so I bring something to read and just sit in the front office. I usually chat with the owner for a few minutes, then let him get on with running his business. People come in dropping off their cars, and my friend usually gets into detailed discussions with them to determine what their problem is and what their options are. They sometimes mention the bad consequences that a breakdown will have  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Photo ...

Another weekday morning in Newark (NJ).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:44 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 8, 2020
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ...

In modern America, the question of why a particular person belongs to a particular religious tradition (if they belong at all), and to what degree are they involved, is a complicated matter. It includes but goes well beyond the person’s agreement with what a particular religion holds to be true (and thus teaches its members). Beyond mere agreement of belief, it is also important that the religion inspire you — do you “feel” it?

There is also the matter of practice, of ritual and traditions – do you like the services? Do you want to live the way that the religion advises you to? Do you approve of the way that the religion is managed, who makes the decisions, who has more status and who has less? Are you impressed and maybe even inspired by the leaders of the faith, and also by other people who hold this religion and practice it? Was your family involved in this religion? Do you have friends who are involved? The main doctrines and teachings and philosophies that are central to a religion’s identity are very important; but there are also plenty of cultural and personal and relational factors that enter.

Nonetheless, at the core of most major religions, there are a group of very important stories that sum up what that religion is about. Joseph Campbell uses the term “myth” to refer to these stories. He is not using that term in the negative; he is not concerned with whether the story is literally true (although most religious stories are ancient and do not concern themselves with historically provable events – although they might sometimes be a hyped-up version of some smaller event that actually happened). He is after the core meaning  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:08 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 5, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Back on March 26, 2019, just about 1 year ago, I posted a blog discussing the upcoming Democratic Presidential primary season, which we are now in the middle of. Although my essay was long winded and rambling as usual, it was based around a prediction. I predicted that despite all of the candidates who entered the field, the Democratic primaries would come down to a choice between two main themes represented by two main candidates. Here’s a quote:

On the Democratic side, there is a plethora of potential candidates at this point . . . However, it all really sums up to a digital choice: Bernie (or younger reasonable facsimile) or Joe (or younger reasonable facsimile).

Well, not bad, if I do say so myself! The only thing I got wrong was to leave open the possibility that some of the younger and fresher faces would break through and push the old geezers like Sanders and Biden aside. For whatever reason, the progressive Democratic Party decided that for 2020, old white male Baby Boomers still rule!

I also had some new thoughts on Joe Biden today — let me share them here:

I’m an old man, gonna be 67 in a few weeks, so I feel for Joe and all of his old-man bumbling. (Although, even when he was middle aged, he still bumbled more than his share). From a personal perspective, I’d like to think that some of his frequent bumbling and forgetting names and places over the past few months has been from old-man depression. Ya know, you’re older now, maybe you’re not taken so seriously anymore. You feel like you’re not really needed anymore, you can no longer play in the big leagues. So, go down to Florida and play in the retiree’s league  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Politics ...

As of tonight, Bernie Sanders has won the first three Democratic primary / caucuses – Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. OK, well, Pete Buddigeig got 1 more delegate than Sanders from Iowa, even though Bernie got the most actual votes in the caucuses (all subject to a recount). Sanders narrowly beat Buttigeig in New Hampshire, but won convincingly in Nevada, with Joe Biden and Buttigeig in distant 2nd and 3rd place. The chances that Sanders will be the Democratic candidate in November are rising. The betting markets have Sanders in first place, and the probability model gives Sanders a 39% probability of getting more than half of the elected delegates, with only “no one” ahead of him at 41%. Former Mayor Bloomberg follows at 9%, with Joe Biden at 8%. All else are at 1% or less.

So, Donald Trump and his re-election staff are no doubt focusing their attention on defeating Sanders this November. A lot of pundits seem to feel that this should be doable for Trump; all that Trump has to do is to call Sanders a socialist and point to Sander’s one-time sympathies for Soviet Communism in order to beat him.

Personally, I don’t think that it will be all that easy for Trump. Sanders is doing pretty well thus far in the head-to-head polls against Trump. Furthermore, the general agreement that Trump will beat Sanders reminds me that the pundits were also quite sure at this point in 2016  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:52 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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