The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

Some friends recently invited me to the movies; they were going to see a documentary about James Baldwin, i.e. “I Am Not Your Negro“. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join them, but their invitation got me interested in James Baldwin, the American writer and activist whose works were very much a part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (and who lived in France for much of his life). Not being familiar with his works, I looked Baldwin up on the web and watched some You Tube videos about him from the 60’s.

James Baldwin was certainly an interesting figure; one article said that he straddled the uncharted territory between MLK Jr and Malcolm X. He was a little too radical for MLK’s movement, given that some of his writings hinted at black violence against white society. And yet he never embraced separationism as with Malcolm or Bobby Seale or Stokely Carmichael (who coined the term “Black Power”). Baldwin most definitely rejected the “moral authority” of Euro-Western Civilization, saying that the white man has nothing the black man should want except power. And yet, Baldwin talked about the need for compassion and a broader perspective regarding collective truths, both on the part of whites and blacks. Baldwin did not totally write off the ability of white society to acknowledge its wrongs and change, even if he wasn’t terribly optimistic about it. In a nutshell, James Baldwin was a complex and compelling figure, well spoken and well written.

The video that most intrigued me was a 1965 debate at the Cambridge Univ Student Union (in England) between Baldwin and conservative writer William F. Buckley. The debate was very formal and proper, very British. The proposition being debated was “Has the American Dream Been Achieved At the Expense of the American Negro”. Spoiler alert, a ballot of the students who attended the debate was taken,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:10 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 20, 2017
Personal Reflections ...

I recently was called for jury duty in my county, which is Essex County in New Jersey. I take my civic duties fairly responsibly, so I filled out the form and showed up right on time on my assigned date. The jury management office in Essex was rebuilt just a few years ago, and relative to the other places where I’ve done jury duty in the past, it was quite luxurious. The seats in the waiting rooms were fairly comfortable, not the old molded plastic auditorium chairs. There was free wifi and a computer lounge with library-like carrels where you could sit in relative privacy with your laptop. The waiting rooms offered a choice between three TV channels, CNN for news and politics, ESPN for sports, and another one for the usual “lifestyle” shows. The public address system worked relatively well and you could hear the announcements, and there was a free coffee dispensary with 4 Keurig machines. Essex County is a relatively large urban county and the courts are busy, so there were a lot of people waiting to be called out to the courtrooms for possible selection. But the management area was spacious enough to keep things fairly comfortable. So I could not complain at all about the waiting and processing area.

And yet, I was pretty miserable from 8:15 am on Tuesday when I first reported right through 12:15 pm on Wednesday when I was released. I had been called to a courtroom for final evaluation each day, but both times I was excused for various reasons beyond my control. So I didn’t wind up sitting on a jury. And that’s probably for the best, because I just wasn’t in a good mood about the whole thing. Yea, I watched the video that they show you right after your report, where the Chief Justice of the NJ Supreme Court tells you what a great duty it is to a free society that ordinary citizens like you be used to judge their peers whenever the courts are called on to resolve a dispute. And I agree with that theory. But still . . . I don’t know, there was just something I found unpleasant about being a stranger in a crowd, being ordered and herded around by anonymous bureaucrats as if we were in a prison or in the military. Now I know a little better why most people don’t like prison or being in the military.

Funny thing is that I don’t remember ever feeling this way about jury duty in the past. Somehow, most of my past experiences were in places where the crowds were smaller and you were usually addressed directly by a human, you weren’t herded into a big room awaiting the next announcement from speakers mounted in the ceiling. And maybe I was spoiled by my past experiences. I was never selected to a jury in my life, despite 4 or 5 previous jury duty rounds. In every case, someone would  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, February 6, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I haven’t talked very much about President Trump since he was elected back in November. Just a few days before the election, I published a post entitled “America, You’re Not Really Going to Do This, Right?” In that post, I acknowledged the pre-election momentum towards Donald Trump, but I concluded that Ms. Clinton would still win. “I think that just enough will re-think the situation once faced with the true responsibility of being an American voter, and will give the system some more time to try to right itself.” Well, so much for my political clairvoyance. A whole lot of Americans in the right places (relative to the Electoral College) were not about to give the existing system more time, i.e. by voting for Hillary Clinton. The Trump Revolution was on.

And so, Donald Trump is now President, and thus far he is making good on his campaign promises to disrupt the current state of affairs in a “big league” kind of way. A whole lot of progressive Democrats (as well as independent moderates) are very downhearted by this. Over the past 3 months, many of them have engaged in a variety of wishful thinking exercises, including hoping that enough members of the Electoral College would take the initiative to vote counter to their state’s “winner take all” mandate, such that Clinton would become President. Some people thought that Trump would be different once he took the oath of office, but thus far, that has not panned out. And a variety of articles have been published (e.g. Salon, Huffington, and Michael Moore) speculating that Trump will not finish his first term but will either resign or be forced out by impeachment proceedings within two or three years. Will these predictions do any better than the other wishful thinking exercises to date?

Trump has started his Presidency with a lot of gusto and gung-ho, appointing a team of like-minded, wrecking-ball types with little or no experience or investment in the current state of government. He is having a lot of fun with his power of executive order. But what happens when he has to knuckle down and get Congress to legislate, and then get the bureaucracy to carry out  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:53 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, January 27, 2017
Psychology ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

Being an old guy with old-fashioned habits going well back into the previous century, I still like to have paper reading material at my dinner table, so as to peruse while I eat (or after I eat; more and more I like to linger at the dinner table for a while after I’ve finished my food and drink). I’ve been a subscriber to The Atlantic for over 25 years, and I still try to get thru the issues each month. The January/February issue had quite a few interesting article topics, including octopus consciousness, oil fracking, Glenn Beck, the health dangers of sugar, sleep difficulties (something I experience all too often these days), and not surprisingly, another screed against white America by Ta Nehisi Coates, renewing his call for reparations because of the sin of replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump.

(Sorry, Mr. Coates — despite all of the historical injustices inflicted upon African-Americans by whites which you accurately cite, African Americans must share some of the blame for Trump, given that too many qualified African American voters who helped Obama in 2008 and 2012 stayed home this past November 9; despite the racism and sexism that motivated some white voters, had blacks they turned out, Trump might not have carried Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Also, note that Mr. Coates mostly ignores the issue of voter misogyny against Clinton — which cuts across color lines).

All of that was quite good and interesting. But the article that I have given the most thought to lately is a short piece entitled “Awesomeness Is Everything“. Awesomeness? Does that have to do with “awe”? I never thought much about awe. I can’t say that I’ve experienced it very often in my life, or if I did, I didn’t immediately recognize myself being “awe struck”. To me, awe is more of an advertising term — this new IPhone is awesome! It has also had its political uses, e.g. the supposed “shock and awe”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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
 
 
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