The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Monday, January 15, 2018
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

Did you ever make a mistake only to find out that the outcome of your mistake was actually quite valuable? That recently happened to me. I had bought a big supply of apples in late autumn at a big food market, where the apples were very fresh and quite cheap (50 cents a pound). And there were a wide variety available. Anyway, I couldn’t store all of the apples in my refrigerator, so I put a bag of them in my car trunk, given that it was late October and the falling temperatures outside would be just as good as any indoor refrigerator.

Well, turns out that the weather here got surprisingly cold right after Christmas, and stayed well below freezing for two weeks. Just a few days ago, I finally thought of those apples, and went to my trunk to bring them inside. It turned out that the freezing temps had frozen them solid, and when they melted, they were all mushy and shriveled and brownish. It looked like they would have to be thrown out.

But just for the heck of it, I put one in the microwave for a minute or two, just to see what would happen. I took out the now-hot shriveled apple and got a knife and spoon to cut the skin and taste the almost-liquified flesh. And turns out that it tasted fantastic!! A bit like a baked apple, but not exactly. The inside got very juicy and sweet, and was quite delightful. The only problem was that with all the juice, eating the apple could be messy; you need a plate or bowl if you try this. Also, you need to work to avoid the pits and hard spots in the core, as they easily get mixed in with the soft, warm flesh.

Still, I think that a frozen and re-heated apple makes a very nice and tasty snack, and I will try this little ‘frozen apple mistake’ recipe again in the future!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Photo ...

It’s early January and the holidays are over. The season to be jolly has passed. In offices across the country (such as this one, where I work), Christmas decorations are being taken down and put back into storage. Eleven months from now, hopefully some merry soul will find the decoration box and once again deck the halls of bureaucratic cubicles. For now, it’s time to get back to work amidst the dis-inspiration of a dark and brutally cold January (we have a snowstorm forecast for tomorrow). When the holidays end in early January, they end hard — almost like it never happened.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:24 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, January 1, 2018
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

Recently I read something about the “Burning Man” festival and movement, about which I knew very little. So I did a search and read up on Burning Man, interested in seeing what the hub-bub is all about. To be honest, Burning Man is not my cup of tea – you’d need a bit more testosterone in your blood than I have to spend two weeks in the Nevada desert asserting your masculinity with survival exercises, construction projects, mystical chanting, mega-artwork, nude body painting, and games and competitions. E.g., one exercise involves man-to-man combat within a “thunderdome”. I don’t think I’d do too well with that.

In one of the articles that I came across, I saw photo of a typical Burning Man exercise – it involved a whole bunch of guys pulling on long thick ropes, moving a huge wooden replica of a Trojan Horse across the desert floor.  (Of course, once night comes, they burn the thing in front of everyone – what else would you do with a Trojan Horse at a “Burning Man” convocation?) That photo got me thinking about the original “Trojan Horse” concept – i.e., a gift that seems totally legit up front, but turns out to be a subterfuge, a disguise for a secret invasion by a destructive force. 
 
The whole Trojan Horse concept then made me think of modern international politics, i.e. what has been going on between the US and China over the past half century (see Council on Foreign Relations timeline). I.e., we were once sworn enemies, but in 1970, Nixon and Kissinger arranged for some ping-pong team games, Nixon went to China, and over the next few decades, we started trading with and investing in each other, more and more as time passed. By 2000, Congress and President Bill Clinton granted permanent trade relations with China, and thus in 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization. Between 1980 and 2004, U.S.-China trade rose from $5 billion to $231 billion; by 2006, China surpassed Mexico as the United States’ second-biggest trade partner; in 2015, China edged out Canada to become the largest partner. The average American consumer today is quite aware  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Art & Entertainment ... Religion ...

I’m at a point in life where I have almost nothing to do with television anymore. That’s quite a journey for a kid whose life revolved around the 7:30 – 10 PM TV prime time period 7 nights a week. I don’t remember spending a whole lot of time on homework in those days, because I had to get in my TV! Obviously I wasn’t the best of students (until the last 2 years of high school, when TV started losing some of its charm). About the only time I see any TV these days is when I’m visiting my brother on Friday nights. We go out to dinner, and then we hang out at his house for a while, usually with the TV on. But most of the time, nothing much of interest is on, it’s just sort of a background noise generator.

However, a few months ago, we decided to explore an interesting looking program icon for an HBO series entitled “The Young Pope”. The little blurb that popped up from the icon indicated that this was a fictional story about an American being elected Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. Given that my brother is still a fairly devout practicing Catholic and given that I am still a God-centric spiritualist who takes Jesus and his heritage (both Christian and Jewish) very seriously, we both gave the TV a lot more attention than usual on Friday nights.

Neither of us had done any research on The Young Pope, so we really didn’t know what to expect. Being an HBO show that was produced and released within the past year or so, we did not expect TYP to be another “Going My Way” (a sentimental 1944 movie about a Catholic priest played by Bing Crosby, with a follow up 1962 TV series with Gene Kelly). Actually though we were both probably hoping for something like  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:31 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, December 9, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

It’s just about time for the Winter Solstice. From now thru Dec. 12, the sun sets at 4:28 pm in my neck of the woods. The darkest day of the year is still two weeks away (Dec. 21), due to the fact that sunset and sunrise cycles are naturally out of synch. I.e., we reach the earliest sunset time this week, but the latest sunrise time doesn’t happen until the first week of January. Still, it’s the sunset time that affects me most, in terms of mood. These are the “darkest days” for me, the days that weigh most heavily upon the soul.

In keeping with that mood, let me quote a passage from Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN Secretary General from the 1950’s and early 1960s’s. Mr. Hammarskjold was a public figure, but he also had a deep spiritual life. So I am taking an entity from his book “Markings“, a collection of entries from of his own spiritual journal. Here is his entry for Oct. 12, 1958:

Day slowly bleeds to death
Through the wound made
When the sharp horizon’s edge
Ripped through the sky
Into its now empty veins
Seeps the darkness.
The corpse stiffens,
Embraced by the chill of night.

Over the dead one are lit
Some silent stars.

Ah yes, the silent stars twinkling throughout the long, cold night. Tiny sparks of hope in the long, vast, undefeatable blackness. It hurts all the more as I grow older. In the context of winter darkness and the fading light of the body (recall Dylan Thomas raging against the dying of the light), one can appreciate Christmas from a very different perspective in their later years. The usual childhood and young adult response to the holiday is the joy of getting and giving gifts, a time of gathering and celebration. But for an aging man at the start of winter,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:34 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Science ...

I haven’t said much lately on one of my favorite topics, i.e. the nature of human consciousness. That’s because lately, there hasn’t been much new to say. I try to keep up with new developments in thinking about consciousness (thinking on the academic level, not the “woo-woo” stuff), but to be honest, most of what I see in the science press these days is just a rehash of arguments and positions that were available 10 years ago. It seems to me as though the understanding of consciousness by scientists and philosophers is in a holding pattern, like airplanes circling around above a fogged-in airport.

The neuroscientists keep trying to chip away at the problem with their experiments and empirical findings. I recently saw an article about a recent empirical study that seemed to support the theory that consciousness is “epi-phenomenal”, i.e. it doesn’t affect human behavior. It’s sort of a side-show, because the sub-conscious is where the real decisions are made, outside the light of awareness, in a computer-like fashion. The article is called What If Consciousness Doesn’t Drive the Mind?, by UCL Psychology Professor David A Oakley and Cardiff Neuropsychology Professor Peter Halligan. The study in question involves detailed brain activity scans comparing volitional movements of the arm with non-volitional and hypnotically induced movements.

What I found most interesting about the article was the following section title and paragraph:

What’s the point?

If the experience of consciousness does not confer any particular advantage, it’s not clear what its purpose is. But as a passive accompaniment to non-conscious processes, we don’t think that the phenomena of personal awareness has a purpose, in much the same way that rainbows do not. Rainbows simply result from the reflection, refraction and dispersion of sunlight through water droplets – none of which serves any particular purpose.

I found this to be an ironic example of where scientific reductionism can lead us. I.e., both consciousness and rainbows don’t have any purpose. But wait – most anyone with feelings who has viewed a rainbow can tell you  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:15 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, November 24, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ...

This one is mostly for the guys, because it’s mostly about razors.  Once in a while I do a little product review here (unpaid, unsolicited), and today looks like a good day to talk about the cheaper variants of the high-end 5+ blade cartridge razors.

So let’s go to shaving world.  There are still a lot of options out there for guys who don’t use electric razors, guys like me who get out their hand-held razors and apply shave foam or gel or “shave butter” and then start scraping away.   (There seems to be something almost spiritual and craftsman-like about shaving by hand, something that you lose in the constant buzz of an electric razor.)  There don’t seem to be any “official statistics” on this, but a popular estimate is that about 25% of shaving men in the US use electrics, meaning that about 3 quarters of us non-bearded guys still use hand-held hedge clippers. 

There are various options for us manual shavers. You can still buy the old fashioned 2-edge “safety razor”; the blades are cheap and you get a close shave, but it’s also very easy to nick your face.  If you’re even more old-fashioned and are not squeamish about blood, you can still buy a “straight razor”, like the ones that some barbers still use (recall the strap on the side of the barber’s chair where the razor is stroked, so as to put a sharp edge on it). But unless you have the skills of a barber, it’s probably best not to mess with a straight. And then there are also disposable hand-held razors, but the handles are cheaply made and not all that comfortable and easy to control. From my perspective,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m glad to hear that the Democrats had a good night last Tuesday (Election Day 2017), when they easily reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey and comfortably won what was expected to be a close governor’s race in Virginia. There were other local State and local elections where the Dems picked up seats in areas where the GOP had held sway for some time now, e.g. picking up legislative seats in Georgia and Virginia (including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature). There were also mayoral race victories in St. Petersburg, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina (and even Fayetteville, NC, where ever that is!!). Democratic leaders seem jubilant; the Democratic leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) “smell[s] a wave coming”.

But this is still the minor leagues of national politics, and a lot of this “new blue wave” might be a short-term frustration response against Trump — I think that a lot of non-ideologue, middle-of-the-road Americans had hoped that Trump, who is quite different than your usual politico, could get a lot more done than the regular party hacks have been able to do in the past 5 or 10 years (which is not much). Trump got a lot of people’s hopes up with his bold rhetoric and unconventional manners, but 10 months into his Presidency, he doesn’t have a whole lot to show. And the more that you promise, the more quickly people notice that you aren’t delivering, and thus start getting antsy and frustrated.

And yet, the Democrats need to temper their celebrations with the realty that frustration can drive an election or two, but it is usually a short-term emotion. The bigger question is whether immediate disappointment with Trump will translate into longer term disillusionment that could tip undecideds into the Democratic column in the 2018 battle for control of the House, and the 2020 fight for the White House. The GOP hopes to regain its mojo through  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Photo ...

Autumn is definitely presenting itself outside my kitchen window.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:03 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, October 27, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

Every now and then I get interested in an obscure historical question, something that is only important to a handful of scholars and die-hard history buffs. My most recent point of interest regards the Hasmonean dynasty, which flourished in Judea and Israel during the second and first centuries BCE. Actually, the Hasmoneans do get some attention from Jewish people and from Bible readers, given that it is the subject of the two Books of the Maccabees. Albeit, those books are not officially recognized as a part of Hebrew Scripture, nor are they contained within the Protestant Bible. Only the Catholic Church includes “the Macs” in its Bible, where it goes almost entirely ignored and unread by most Catholics. “Maccabee” is Jewish for “the hammer”, which became a popular nickname for the original Hasmonean family leaders, especially Judah Maccabee. Judah was the son of Mattathias, who was the instigator of a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid empire in Syria; the Seleucids had controlled the land of Israel for several centuries.

As such, many Jews have at least heard about the Maccabees / Hasmoneans, given that they are the main characters behind the story of Hanukkah, the miracle that occurred after the Hasmonean Jewish forces re-took the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucid Empire. The Temple needed to be ritually purified and re-dedicated, as the Seleucids had previously outlawed the Jewish Temple rituals (focused around animal sacrifice) and dedicated it instead to the Greek god Zeus. This occurred during the forced Hellenization of the Jews by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which started around BCE 175.

During the Jewish re-dedication process, a candelabra was to be kept burning day and night, but a problem arose – the Jews were low on fuel (the candles burned olive oil). There was only enough oil to keep the lights on for one day, but somehow, the candelabra managed to keep shining for eight days, until the Jews could scrounge up enough new oil. Since this all happened in late November and early December (relative to our Western calendar), modern Jews have adopted this previously minor historical commemoration as their alternative  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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