The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Monday, July 31, 2017
Photo ...

I haven’t gone hiking much lately — that’s become another casualty of old age for me. But I did get around to a short stroll not long ago up in one of the local “mini-forest” preserves nearby (Eagle Rock Park in Essex County, NJ). It certainly was nice to be surrounded by woods and sunshine once again.

Unfortunately, natural spots in urban areas are too often littered with human debris. So, the first shot shows a typical Eastern woodland scene on a typical summer morning. And despite the “typicality” of the scene, I think it’s quite easy to see the sacredness of nature in it, the preciousness of the living layer that envelops our planet. The next shot shows a soda can that someone felt they could discard at a spot like this, as though it was just another human garbage dumpster. How can people be so blind? This is hallowed ground!!

Sure, the world has much bigger problems today than litter in a park. E.g., nuclear missiles in North Korea, Donald Trump, access to health care, wage stagnation, climate change . . . where do you begin? Well, I think you begin with every individual’s mind and soul. And throwing garbage in a forest is a sign of a much deeper flaw in human character, a flaw that ultimately manifests itself as an increasingly troubled world. So start small and don’t trash the forest!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Unlike many people who live in my vicinity, I’ve never been through professional psychotherapy. This is not to say that I wouldn’t possibly benefit from it (and some people say that I probably need it!). But I’ve managed to get by and keep on progressing through most of my life without needing to sit down and hash things out over and over again with a shrink. I have my moods and my fears and anxieties, and I’m sure that I’ve missed some opportunities in life because of an unnecessarily negative attitude on my part. But overall, I’m just not all that unhappy (not yet, anyway).

Furthermore, therapy is rather expensive. Yes, I know that many people manage to use their health insurance to pay for at least some part of their shrink-fees, but I don’t want to get involved with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved with such a ploy unless I’m really in bad shape. Another turn off — just how to you find a shrink that you can relate to and who can relate to you? I’ve known a handful of therapists in my life, and there are perhaps one or two I could imagine working with. But as to the others, ughhhh.

Given that I don’t suffer from chronic depression and that I’m not harmfully bi-polar (hey, I have my moods, but . . .); and given that I’ve managed to hold a professional job with the same employer for the past 16 years; and further still, that I’m not abusing anything intoxicating or mind-blowing . . . given that I pay my taxes and stay out of trouble . . . well OK, all of that still doesn’t mean that I’m a totally sane and healthy individual. But as to whether any particular therapist could improve things for me . . . well,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:08 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, July 10, 2017
History ...

In my last post, I outlined why I got interested in the American Civil War. Today, as something of a johnny-come-lately Civil War buff, let me start out by saying some things about July 3, 1863, the date that is famous in Civil War annals for the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Not many people are aware that there was also a third major military and political thing going on in the Civil War at that time. Too bad that it is overshadowed by Gettysburg and Vicksburg, because it is really very interesting, and is just as relevant to the ultimate course of the War as those events were.

Basically, I am talking about the Union campaigns in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia, which stretched between June and November, 1863. Interestingly, the people of the Appalachian hill and mountain country in those states were generally pro-Union. They were clearly not slavery abolitionists, as they were just as racist as any plantation owner. But they couldn’t put big plantations in their narrow valleys, and thus didn’t depend on cotton, tobacco and slavery for their economic livelihood. They were small farmers and lumberers and miners who wanted access to the northern cities to sell their wares. So, a lot of people in those regions maintained their contacts with Washington after Tennessee joined the Confederacy, and they weren’t all that happy about being ruled by “the rebels”. They were anxious for Lincoln to send the Union army down to their region so as to get “Old Glory” flying over them again in lieu of the “Stars and Bars”.

However, through 1862 and early 1863, the Union army had a lot of other things to do. Finally, in mid-63, Lincoln and General Halleck decided to direct General William Rosencrans and his Army of the Cumberland towards middle Tennessee, with orders to push Braxton Bragg and his Confederate forces out of that state. Rosencrans took a long time to get started, but by June he was pushing Bragg’s troops southeastward out of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ...

The Fourth of July is one of the few American holidays that celebrates the history of the nation. Yes, Thanksgiving and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day certainly have strong historical roots; and yes, there is Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day. But Independence Day focuses squarely on a momentous historical event, i.e. the signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document that proclaimed the end of colonization and the beginning of a new nation upon the North American continent.

For those interested in Civil War history, the Fourth is also a momentous time. On July 3, 1863, two big battlefield events marked a turning point in the War, and heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s division. On that day in 1863, the Confederate Army suffered a punishing defeat during its second attempt to invade the North, i.e. the bloodbath at Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, PA popularly known as “Pickett’s Charge” (even though Pickett was only one of the three generals leading the charge). Also, after a long Union campaign to re-gain control of the Mississippi River, General U.S. Grant successfully concluded a long and costly assault on the strategic river city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Civil War would go on for another year and ten months after this day, and would yet impose a great amount of death and destruction. But from this point on, the Union pretty much gained the initiative; it no longer spent most of its resources reacting to Confederate military thrusts (in ways that were often bungled and ineffective). In 1864, the War was pretty much a matter of attrition for the Union. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign in Virginia and Sherman’s destructive “March to the Sea”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, June 26, 2017
Photo ...

A group of nuns from the Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa) are on a stroll through Newark, NJ on a sunny morning. The Missionaries have a small residence on Jay Street in Newark where they run a soup kitchen and provide other services to the poor.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:08 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

I see that the Democrats lost the special House election in Georgia’s Sixth District is suburban Atlanta. Jon Ossoff, the rookie Democratic candidate, made a spirited bid against Karen Handel, his GOP opponent, and the polls were very tight right up to the last few days. But in the final day they started breaking for Handel, and she wound up winning by a comfortable 4 point margin (recall that Trump only won this district by 1.5 percentage points). Handel’s victory came despite the fact that a whole lot of money had poured into Ossoff’s campaign coffers from pro-Democrat groups nationwide. The Democrats had hoped that this race was going to foreshadow the end of GOP control of the House of Representatives, and the breaking of Trump’s popularity in the heartlands.

I’m not going to offer a detailed, well-thought out analysis here. I’m just gonna shoot from the hip, like so much of what you see on social media (especially Twitter — what else is on Twitter but a lot of shooting from the hip?). OK, here’s my shot — the Democrats are just NOT LIKED anymore by too many people. For the most part, it’s not a matter of a particular candidate’s qualities. It’s not that a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might do better with “working class” voters than Hillary Clinton did. And hey, Jon Ossoff himself talked about economic development and financial restraint in a way that conservatives in his district could appreciate. The problem is that a lot of people believe that the Democrats — all Democrats, not just a particular Democrat — are selling a general world view, a general philosophy that just turns these people off.

Do you need a link to a thoughtful analysis that backs up my point? OK then, how about Thomas Edsall’s recent article in the NY Times “The Democratic Part Is In Worse Shape Than You Thought” ? Edsall cites a whole lot of data and expert opinion in this article.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:44 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, June 19, 2017
Food / Drink ...

One of my reasons for starting this blog (way, way back in 2002) was to share my impressions of the various craft beers that I had come across and have generally enjoyed. Over the years, however, I’ve found a bunch of other things to talk about, so I’ve only posted a handful of beer reviews. My last one was in September, 2014, with some thought on Duclaw’s “Sweet Baby Jesus”, an interesting porter style flavored with chocolate and peanut butter.

As to the flavor and overall “experience” from drinking Sweet Baby, I had reported my generally positive impressions about this concoction (it is indeed much more sweet than your usual brew, yet the hops keep it from becoming cloying). This is a nice drink to have once, but you might not want a second one right away. Anyway, it’s been almost two years now, but I finally have another interesting beer experience to report. This one is quite the opposite of Baby Jesus, though — instead of sweetness playing against the bitterness imposed by hops, i.e. the classic beer formula, I got rushed with with a flood of sour and astringent flavors. The beer in question is quite a bit different from your usual pour.

The beer in question is called “Cranberry Gose”, put out recently by Long Trail, an honorable craft brewer from Vermont. I came across a six-pack of Gose not long ago at a local high-end liquor store (shout out to Scott at Rutherford Wine Shoppe, who usually keeps a nice craft brew selection). To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the “gose” style; I actually thought this would be just another Long Trail flavored ale. And let me admit, I misread the label; I thought that the name was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:25 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Outer Space ... Science ... Society ...

Nor will any vicious beast go up on it;
These will not be found there.
Isa 35:9 (NASB)

There’s an interesting article in the May 2017 edition of Scientific American that might interest those of you who are “dog people”. The title of the article is “How to Build a Dog“. No, it’s not that scientists are now so far advanced with DNA manipulation and life incubation techniques that they can custom-design a dog, and then use CRISPR, stem cell activation and artificial incubation technology to grow that customized dog in a lab. No, we haven’t gotten to the point where you can custom order your next dog, mixing and matching features as if selecting from a Chinese restaurant menu, Say, for example a miniature German Shepard with long, fold-over ears, a fuzzy tail, and shaggy white fur with brown patches.

The SciAm article is really about foxes. A number of biologists and naturalists over the years have tried to take foxes from the wild and teach them how to live with human beings. These attempts have generally failed; foxes just have too much “wildness” inside of them. However, one long-term scientific experiment based in Siberia actually has been quite successful in creating a different kind of fox, one that is similar to your average run-of-the-mill pet dog. This experiment was begun in the 1950s at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at Novosibirsk by a Russian geneticist named Dmitry K. Belyaev. The SciAm article was written by Lydmila Trut, who started working for Dr. Belyaev in 1958 as an intern, and took over the project following Belyaev’s death in 1985. Dr. Trut gained her doctorate in evolutionary genetics and now at age 83, continues to direct the domesticated fox program in Novosibirsk.

The program was quite successful. The SciAm article describes the looks and behavior of their current generations of foxes (and provides pictures), and the parallels with dogs are quite amazing. These foxes like being around people, they want to be petted and have their bellies rubbed; they wag their tails and follow  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:06 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

If you were to survey Americans today by asking “what is the most unfortunate effect of Donald Trump’s decision to enter politics, run for President, and win the White House?”, I’m sure that you would get a wide variety of answers. People with a liberal political bias would focus on the regressive steps are being taking in terms of protecting and promoting justice for minorities and women, along with the harsh treatment that immigrants (especially Latin and Moslem immigrants or wanna-be immigrants) are now experiencing and the reversal of progress in facing the impending crisis of global climate change.

Others, including many doctrinal conservatives, would regret Trump’s populist political commitments and his general incompetence in the politics of governing. Others still will object to his generally boorish character, his lack of diplomatic finesse, and the bad name that Trump is generally causing for our nation throughout the world. Obviously, his supporters would reject the premise that Trump’s Presidency has ANY unfortunate effects, or would provide a snide remark saying how the most unfortunate thing is that the media, the intellectuals and the “deep state” still cannot appreciate the need for the shake-up and clean-out that Trump is accomplishing.

There are a handful, including myself, who indeed find many unfortunate aspects to Donald Trump’s ascendancy to national leadership. However, our biggest concern would be the deep political divisions that Trump is causing between people who identify as Democrat / liberals and those who feel closer to the Republican / conservative point of view. It seems as though every Trump story develops into a “dueling narrative”.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, May 22, 2017
Religion ... Zen ...

I’ve been involved with a Zen sangha for seven years now, and so I’ve pretty much seen the “lay of the land” of Buddhism, at least the modern American version of Buddhism. Buddhism says a lot of good and interesting things about life, the universe and everything. But there are some good things that it does not say. One of those things is the value of humility. For whatever reason, I have not read or hear much about the virtue of humility from the various Zen and Buddhist teachers I’ve run across. Humility doesn’t seem to get mentioned in the Buddha’s various “lists”, e.g. the three refuges, the four noble truths, the five faculties / strengths, the eight-fold path, the ten essential precepts, etc.

Even among the thirty seven “Practices of Bodhisattvas”, only one, #31, might relate to humility — “the practice of all the bodhisattvas is to scrutinize oneself continually and to rid oneself of faults whenever they appear”. Even this isn’t exactly very humble — it assumes that we can rid ourselves of our faults with a bit of Buddhist-style self-reflection. Yes, if you do some Googling, you can find articles on the role of humility within Buddhism. You can even find a blog post with the same title that I’m using here, sans the question mark — where the writer claims that Zen is a humble tradition because one of its “koan” stories admits that Zen is not really needed (in the sense that “we seek what we already have”). Given that there are allegedly about 1,700 koans, one line about “selling water by the river” does not a trend make.

There are also the various Buddhist rituals that seem to reflect personal humility, such as the frequent bowing that we Zen-folk do when trying to imitate our Japanese predecessors. But there is also some Japanese hubris that has filtered its way into modern Zen centers (including my own), such as the perceived need by teachers to be condescending and sometimes even rude with their students. Some groups even maintain the old Japanese tradition of having a priest walk with a stick  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:16 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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