The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

Here’s a quote from the diary of Dag Hammarskjold (“Markings”), one that may apply when deeply pondering Donald Trump — i.e., just who is this man? —

1951 — “Assenting to his possibility — why? Does he sacrifice himself for others, yet for his own sake – in megalomania? Or does he realize himself for the sake of others? The difference is that between a monster and a man. ‘A new commandment I give unto you: that ye love one another.'”

FINAL CONUNDRUM — if there is a “Monster”, what to do? The fastest way to dispose of a monster is to create a new monster. You may well vanquish the old monster. But then what to do with the new monster? How do you answer to that “new commandment” when dealing with a Donald J. Trump?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 14, 2018
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an “Observation” post on the Scientific American web site entitled “Why Smart People Are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth“. In sum, intelligent people are becoming more and more partisan, mostly on the “liberal-progressive” side although intelligent conservatives are still quite common (and just as biased). The article gives a good explanation of the driving forces behind this trend, and provides some empirical evidence from various studies to support this claim. Here’s the theory in a nutshell:

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it is perfectly rational to use one’s reason this way in a science communication environment polluted by tribalism . . . What an ordinary member of the public thinks about climate change, for example, has no impact on the climate. Nor does anything that she does as a consumer or a voter; her individual impact is too small to make a difference. Accordingly, when she is acting in one of these capacities, any mistake she makes about the best available scientific evidence will have zero impact on her or anyone she cares about . . . But given what positions on climate change have now come to signify about one’s group allegiances, adopting the “wrong” position in interactions with her peers could rupture bonds on which she depends heavily for emotional and material well-being. Under these pathological conditions, she will predictably use her reasoning not to discern the truth but to form and persist in beliefs characteristic of her group, a tendency known as “identity-protective cognition.”

Yea, it’s sad, isn’t it. For 99.9% of us, our views on things don’t make any difference  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:51 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 6, 2018
Food / Drink ... Personal Reflections ...

I am a bit of a “foodie”, albeit a vegetarian foodie. I’m also a health food nut. I don’t like all the salt and sugar and oils found in most processed food or restaurant take-out stuff (although once in a while, I do partake of a not-so-healthy meal while dining out, as a treat; the bad stuff definitely makes food very tasty!). In order to have a regular supply of healthy and enjoyable veggie food (not quite as delicious as the high-fat/sugar/salt stuff, but still pretty good), I do most of my own cooking. But that’s OK because I find cooking to be an opportunity for experimentation and creativity. So in addition to being a “foodie”, I’m also a “cook”.

Any cook who has done anything more than boil water knows that onions are essential to cooking. Onions show up in the cuisine of humans from around the planet. You can cook without onions, but it takes more work to come up with something tasty. Sure, some people just don’t like onions, and other people have medical conditions that require abstinence. Nonetheless, onions, along with garlic, are described as the “bedrock” and the “foundation” of cooking.

To be honest, I grew up in a mostly onion-less household. My father would get stomach problems from them, and so I was mostly unfamiliar with what onions do for soups, sauces, stews, salads, etc. When I did come across onions while in my childhood, I would avoid them, as they tasted too exotic. If I got a hamburger at a drive-in that had onions, I would open the bun and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

This was the first year that I tried to grow zinnia flowers from seed in the little garden patch that my landlord lets me tend during the spring and summer. I planted the seeds in a sunny, fertilized location in mid-April, and before long there were green zinnia shoots greeting me in the morning sun of early Spring. Unfortunately, within a month or two, the local insect population found out about these growing shoots, and just about devoured the whole crop within a few weeks. I tried spraying some stuff to stop them, but I didn’t want to use anything too poisonous, so I stuck with the more “organic” bug remedies. Unfortunately, these bugs were not impressed with my environmental concerns. They just wanted their zinnia leaves.

After a while, I realized that I just wasn’t going to grow zinnias in that spot, so I got out a little shovel and transplanted the handful of ragged stalks that still seemed potentially viable. Unfortunately, I had to put them in a more shady spot, although in an area where there seemed to be fewer insects. Some of the young plants floundered, but 4 or 5 managed to put out new leaves and carried on with their growth cycle — albeit at a slower rate.

The summer season here was not especially sunny, there were a lot of cloudy days, and so my mending zinnias were in no hurry to blossom. Finally, right around Labor Day, one plant managed  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 27, 2018
Health / Nutrition ... Science ...

I became interested recently in the biology and pathology of cancer, the detailed medical explanations of what cancer is and how it occurs, after reading a very thought-provoking article in Sci Am based on a Yale study done in 2016. The article discusses a new conception of how cancer emerges in the body and why it remains resistant to the therapies that we throw at it. This “new conception” is based on the biological theory of evolution. I followed up by checking out two other recent articles that relate to this “new view” of cancer, and I hope to read more in the near future.

I am not a scientist nor a medical professional, and my knowledge of biology and evolution and genetics are very limited. It appears to me however that applying the paradigms of bio-evolution to cancer, and to its ability to rapidly adapt to all that we confront it with, is extremely significant. If it can also extend this to the long-term process of how cancer evolves from healthy cells over time in response to repeated environmental and internal “insults” (including challenges from the body’s immune system), then I would call it “revolutionary”. Evolution leading to revolution!

Here’s a quick summary of what I think this revolution is about. Once upon a time, it was thought that cancer was mainly about rapid cell division and undesirable fast multiplication of mutant body cells. The role of DNA mutation was to trigger the division / multiplication process, to “light the fuse”. The mutation was generally seen as caused or triggered by some external poison, e.g. smoke or chemicals or air pollution, or maybe a virus.

Later on it was realized that it takes a string of successive mutations to trigger cancer; but the mutation process was still the tail, not the dog. It was just that the state of rapid uncontrolled growth needed 4 or 5 “switches” to be flipped by a series of DNA modifications, not just one. Some of these mutations  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:52 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 14, 2018
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

Here’s a little look inside of a craft distillery at night. The location is the Silk City Distillery in Clifton, NJ. They make and sell small batches of bourbon, rum, rye whiskey and vodka. On weekends they often invite the public onto the premises, where there is a small lounge and bar selling cocktails made with their liquors.

This is the view on a Friday night; the production facilities are closed for the day, but the bar is open (over the right, out of sight of the camera), and is serving libations. Some of the customers have reported in on Yelp, and they generally like this place! So, if you live in or near Clifton, this might be a nice spot to spend an hour if you are old enough to drink, and can hold your liquor — they only have hard alcohol, remember. And also remember not to drink and drive — Uber and Lyft can get you into and out of here with minimal fuss.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:07 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Spirituality ... Zen ...

My Zen sangha meets every Sunday morning for Zazen, and we usually chant the Heart Sutra at the end of our sitting. One famous line from the Sutra goes as follows:

No Old Age and Death,
And No End to Old Age and Death

Whatever that means. Still, I am now in my “old age”, and death has taken on a personal meaning in my life, for obvious reasons — i.e., if I’m lucky, I have left maybe 1/3 of time that has already passed since I graduated from college. It goes quick! You can tell that I’ve led a fairly sheltered life, that I was never in the military, am not a medical professional, and am not a homicide detective, all of whom become very familiar with death at a much earlier age.

However, I did work for a law enforcement agency that has a homicide unit, and I always respected the people that work in it. There is a recent article in the local newspaper about a former homicide detective and supervisor from our agency who recently retired, who now looks back on the estimated 1,000 dead bodies that he came across in his years on the streets. Worth a read — this is a guy who had no time for stuff like Zen and the Heart Sutra, but could now perhaps use a bit of it. (I actually knew this fellow a little, he was very well respected; like most people in law enforcement, he’s a lot more real than most of the “snowflakey” types in my sangha, myself included!)

But OK, back to to the navel-gazing into my own approaching mortality. At this age, a person needs to come to grips with death — no more ignoring it (although I suppose that you can, if you’re really healthy and have a lot going in your life — both of which categories I don’t fit into anymore). So how to feel about it? I suppose that depends to a large degree on how you feel about life, about being alive, and about being alive with other people. If you like being alive, if you’ve enjoyed the experience of living a conscious, sentient life, if you’ve generally enjoyed relating to other people (despite the occasional negative human interactions and experiences that are unavoidable in any social context), then perhaps  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:15 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Technology ...

We hear that many in the Democratic Party today are warming up to the idea of socialism; and that many young adults now favor socialism over capitalism.

One of the strongest criticisms of socialism, in academic terms anyway, came from the 20th Century philosopher and economist Fredrich Hayek. In a nutshell, Hayek said that the problem with socialism, relative to free market capitalism, regards information. According to Hayek, free markets make good and efficient use of economic information, automatically – no one oversees the information flow, but it works out in a very good way. Whereby, in a socialistic economy controlled by a centralized government, human intervention gets in the way of information flow, and makes the overall economy very inefficient.

A New York Times article put it this way —

[Hayek] argued that most of the knowledge in a modern economy was local in nature, and hence unavailable to central planners. The brilliance of a market economy was that it allocated resources through the decentralized decisions of a myriad of buyers and sellers who interacted on the basis of their own particular knowledge. The market was a form of “spontaneous order,” which was far superior to planned societies based on the hubris of Cartesian rationalism.

A web site dedicated to this “knowledge problem” includes this summary of Hayek:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:11 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, September 17, 2018
Current Affairs ... Society ... Sports ...

It appears to me that Nike has taken over the role once played by the Catholic Church, in that it can decide who is to be honored within the temple of progressivism with secular sainthood. Obviously, the latest one to be canonized is Colin Kaepernick. In the Nike liturgy of the saints, Kaepernick will be remembered for sacrificing his unfolding career as a highly talented NFL quarterback by publicly protesting police violence against African Americans and other forms of racism in our nation, thorough his practice of “taking a knee” during the playing of the national anthem at the start of a game.

This practice was started by Kaepernick, but soon spread to players in almost every team in the league. In general, it was not received well by the NFL’s white game viewers. One source indicates that about 70% of NFL players are black, whereas about 70% of NFL game viewers are white (by comparison, the US population is 61% white; as to blacks, they make up 16% of NFL viewership but 12% of the population; Hispanic and Asian-Americans together make up 24% of the population, but only 13% of NFL viewership).

By 2017, it was clear that a lot fewer whites were tuning in on NFL games; TV rating trends were clearly on the decline, and big money was being lost. The first two weeks of the 2018 NFL season are showing mixed viewing results, however.

Therefore, according to the Nike litany, NFL officials and team owners banded together to make sure that Kaepernick is forever barred  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

 »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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