The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
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
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Photo ...

This is just my friend Rick taking a break while at a local museum, surrounded by some nice Hudson River / pre-Impressionistic works from George Inness.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Economics/Business ... Society ... Technology ...

I sometimes expend some mental energy pondering where America seems to be going, from the perspective of a social and economic historian. (OK, I’m not a professional social and economic historian, but I find it interesting and I have previously shared some thoughts on this blog about that). Yes, I know that sounds awfully boring. But it does relate to how people will be living their lives in the future. It also helps us to see some things that are already happening to ourselves.

So, a recent article on the American Affairs Journal website (yes, sounds very boring) caught my eye. The article is entitled “America’s Drift toward Feudalism”, and was written by Joel Kotkin, a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University in California. So what the heck does it mean to “drift toward feudalism”?

Well, feudalism was a social and economic system that dominated Europe during much of the Middle Ages. In feudal Europe, the economy was basically agrarian, land was the most important asset, and the great majority of the land was owned by a small handful of rich people, sometimes known as the lords or barons. A fair amount of land was also owned by churches and monasteries in the Catholic fold. The great majority of the population was quite poor (the “peasant class”) and didn’t own any land, nor anything much else. They tried to stay alive (barely) by farming the land for the rich owners.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

A recent article on the SciAm web site examines the similarities between NDE experience reports and experiences on psychotropic drugs, e.g. LSD, mescaline, and especially ketamine. Recall that those drugs cause their vivid psychtropic experiences by attenuating or mostly shutting down the mind’s default mode network. I.e., normal self-identity is temporarily shut off; but somehow, vivid consciousness continues. Something like that may happen for some people in the dying process. Thus, NDEs are reported to be very profound and spiritual, as LSD trips often are.

According to SciAm, “NDEs reflect changes in how the brain functions as we approach death”. (Well yea – when the body is shutting down, the brain is going to be affected !!) “Many cultures employ drugs as part of religious practice to induce feelings of transcendence that have similarities to near-death experiences. If NDEs are based in brain biology, perhaps the action of those drugs that causes NDE-like experiences can teach us something about the NDE state . . . In a fascinating new study, NDE stories were compared linguistically with anecdotes of drug experience in order to identify a drug that causes an experience most like a near-death experience. What is remarkable is how precise a tool this turned out to be.”

The new study that SciAm refers to compared the stories of 625 individuals who reported NDEs with the stories of more than 15,000 individuals who had taken one of 165 different psychoactive drugs. The drug ketamine had the strongest similarity to NDE experiences. This may mean that the near-death experience may reflect changes in the same chemical system in the brain that is targeted by drugs like ketamine. Within the recollections of NDE survivors and ketamine users, the word most strongly represented in both NDE and ketamine experiences was “reality,” highlighting  »  continue reading …

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Saturday, October 12, 2019
Photo ... Science ...

More Pix From My Cosmic Tea Cup Follow!  »  continue reading …

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Personal Reflections ... Philosophy ...

Not long ago, the NY Times published an opinion piece in its “Stone” column, entitled “Should Work Be Passion, Or Duty?” The Stone is where the Times puts its deeper and more philosophic pieces about modern social issues. Since this article was written by a Professor of Philosophy, it seems to have landed in the right place. With regard to the meaning of work, Professor DeBrabander concludes in favor of duty over passion. In a nutshell, imagining that your career is your highest calling and the primary mission defining your life is highly over-rated, even though the notion remains quite popular amidst the better educated and more professional members of the American workforce.

DeBrabander notes the irony that people in this category usually do quite well financially, and thus should have more capacity for leisure relative to others in the workforce. And yet, many professionals work much longer hours than the average warehouse order picker or sewer pipe repair technician. Why might that be true? Because the American professional class sees their careers as the core source of meaning in their lives, perhaps the defining aspect of who they are and why they exist. And recent surveys show that young Millennial workers coming out of college have the same attitude, despite the old fogies who see them as slackers.

So let me admit – I once had the same feelings. I once dreamed of doing great and world-changing things, and I was ready to work tirelessly for it, sacrificing my leisure time and my relationships for the sake of the “cause”. Well, after college, I found out that I was not going to be employed in some great cause. I wasn’t even going to be admitted to the “American elite”, the group selected to help run the top  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:01 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Art & Entertainment ... Politics ...

A friend with somewhat conservative political leanings recently sent me a link to an interesting political video critical of liberal Democrats (specifically Bernie Sanders), specifically their proposals to make college education free, forgive the college loan debts of recent graduates, and otherwise shower the public with a variety of free government benefits. What’s interesting and rather entertaining about this particular commentary is that its message is conveyed by song; specifically the rewording of an old Beatles classic (i.e., “All My Loving”). And on top of that, the song is performed by a mock-Beatles combo staged to imitate the Fab Four’s big American TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, way back on Feb. 9, 1964.

The video’s maker is a fellow named “Remy”, who has a series of conservative and libertarian-twinged commentary videos on You Tube. Many of his works have a twinge of humor to them despite their sharp acerbic edge. In “Bob’s Money” it appears that Mr. Remy himself plays all of the characters – John, Paul, George, Ringo — AND Bob. Only Bernie Sanders and Ed Sullivan get to make cameo appearances. In this rendition, the pseudo-Beatles are been renamed “The Candidates”, and “All My Loving” has become “All Bob’s Money”.

As a Beatles trivia footnote, “All My Loving” was the band’s opening song on the Ed Sullivan performance.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Outer Space ... Science ... Society ...

Unidentified Flying Objects – UFO’s – have been a popular topic with the American public for the past 60 years, even if mainstream astronomers and scientists don’t take them seriously (except as a human psychological phenomenon). There has arguably been a resurgence of public interest in UFO’s within the past 2 or 3 years, even though UFO sightings have dropped precipitously since 2015. In 2017, the NY Times, CNN, and other mainstream media reported on a US Defense Dept study (the 2007-2012 Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) on UFO’s. And within the past few months, a new story appeared in the NY Times about a series of interesting UFO sightings by US Navy pilots flying FA-18 jet fighters off the coast of Virginia in 2014, while on training exercises.

The Navy incident wasn’t just one guy seeing a brief flash in the corner of his eye while in a 3G turn; there were multiple sightings over several months and several pilots saw the objects. In some cases two pilots would be looking at the same thing and talking with each other about it on the radio, and the objects were also detected by radar and infra-red detectors. Also, the jets returned with video footage of the flying objects (which you can view on the NY Times website; albeit, you don’t see much more than some sort of bright spot zipping around over the ocean).

Interestingly, there were somewhat similar sightings by Navy pilots flying the same type of jets off the coast of California in 2004. There were significant differences in what the objects looked like to the 2004 pilots (the Pacific UFO’s were fairly large and looked something like a flying pill, whereas the Atlantic objects were smaller and looked something like little boxes inside of a sphere). However, in both cases, the objects accelerated and moved around in ways unlike  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:21 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, August 23, 2019
Photo ...

Just some downtown renovation going on here. I’m sure that some new office space will soon be available.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:17 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Current Affairs ... Science ... Society ...

My Zen meditation group often uses a portion of its weekly sitting period to discuss a selected passage from a book that relates to Zen practice. I’ve been attending these weekly sittings now for almost 10 years, and at first I would diligently read the assigned piece and arrive ready to discuss it. But after a while, the book chapters seemed to blur together and the discussions become more and more anodyne. Most of the time, the discussions become something of a psychotherapy group session, and I usually find myself tuning out.

However, this past Sunday morning, one of the long-time sangha members said something that caught my attention. This person confessed that he sometimes wonders whether the human race is on its way to extinction due to its failure to adequately address climate change. His comment really didn’t have anything to do with the reading; it was just a feeling that this fellow wanted to share with the group, a feeling of bewilderment and regret and disappointment. Well, that’s the kind of stuff that gets shared during therapy group sessions!

But it struck me that he was enumerating an idea that has gained popularity of late amidst the liberal educated elite. Not long ago, a think tank report from an Australian policy group called “Breakthrough Center for Climate Restoration” suggested that climate change “threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life”. “David Spratt and Ian Dunlop have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way”.

Not surprisingly, this report “went viral” on Facebook and regular media, because it uses 2050 as a benchmark for much of its analysis. As a result, a currently trending “meme” is that climate change will wipe out human-kind by 2050.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:11 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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