The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
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 …

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Photo ...

Another weekday morning in Newark (NJ).

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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       Read Comment (1) / 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       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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