Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blogging Topics

I had an interesting conversation today...  Remember what I said the other day about hostile work environment?  Well, today it happened again!  Someone commented on what I said on Facebook about coerced abortion and voluntary abortion both being abhorrent, apparently this person interpreted my comment as coerced abortion being the same as voluntary abortion (I responded on Facebook that I totally didn't mean it that way).  Well, just as my coworker said that, immediately, without provocation or explanation another coworker went off that I was just a horrible person and that was a horrible thing to say.  That's the kind of thing I was talking about the other day.

Anyways, after dealing with that, I was talking with a coworker about blogging and I kind of said that all this trouble wasn't worth dealing with deep philosophical questions if it was bringing about such contention.  My coworker's response was interesting, he said something to the effect of, these are the questions that matter most.  He likened it to treating injuries, you don't treat the broken nail if a person has a chest wound.  To some extent I agree, it's important to think about the important questions, like where do we come from, is there a God, or how to live a moral life.  All these important philosophical questions make other topics seem insignificant sometimes.  Even so, I think I'm going to start moving back to topics that are less controversial.  Not to try to avoid controversy per se but rather to get back to topics I find interesting and fun that don't get people up in arms (as much).

Plato's Socrates Part 2 Annoyance and Goodness

Last time I wrote about Socrates I focused on the socratic method and socratic ignorance, today I'd like to focus on his methods (again) of annoyance, and the "goodness" of men.

Before we delve into those topics it's interesting to me that all of what is written about Socrates is completely second-hand.  And according to most historical philosophers all these accounts are either full of bias and opinion or satirical.  Though even with all the "mud in the water" it is clear that Socrates was an amazingly brilliant person and influential (in a way) in his time and for hundreds of years later.

On Socrates being annoying, he's described as a fly buzzing around a horse, but helpful.  My interest in this isn't important to me that this part of the character of Socrates was one of the main reasons he was eventually put to death, rather as a distorted parallel to modern arguments with people who hold their philosophical views as unassailable and yet in the real world what they believe is constantly being argued.  I bring up this point fairly often but that's only because this happens a lot to me when dealing with "militant atheists."  Maybe it comes back to the whole idea that if one tells a lie loud enough and long enough it can become truth, and maybe people apply that concept to all beliefs.  If one believes hard enough that there is no God it will be so.  So go ahead, spin your web of (supposed) logic and argument, just because you believe it doesn't make it so.  I said this the other day to my friend and I still maintain it: one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God with science or logic.  I personally believe that there is more evidence in science and logic for God than otherwise, but like so many other areas arguments just serve as annoyance because no one will win the argument.

The second item for discussion of Plato's version of Socrates is his notion of men NEVER choosing to do bad.  First off, I'd like to define what is meant, in this context, by bad/good; specifically, bad is sin or disobedience to God; saying, doing or thinking something contrary to what God would want one to say, do or think, and good is the antonym, saying doing or thinking that which God would want one to say, do or think.  Why does this come up?  You ask...  Well, the question came up in the podcast I've been listening to about the history of philosophy.  Why would Socrates want to just know what virtue is?  Just knowing how to be virtuous doesn't mean one will actually be virtuous.  In response, the professor brought up this point: Socrates had this notion that men will ALWAYS choose to do what is good.  One of the problems in this concept is his (Socrates') definition of good.  Apparently, Socrates defines 'good' as that which should be chosen/done.  In that definition, yes, more or less everyone will always choose what is 'good,' but it's a doorway to relativism.  If good is whatever a person thinks is good at any one time, it can change with learning, but that's a flawed definition of good/virtue.  People aren't inherently good or virtuous, if they were then why would Socrates be on this search for virtue?  He links virtue with knowledge, i.e. people choose bad things because they don't know they are bad things.  This is nonsense when looking at virtue as an unchanging moral absolute that God has set forth.  Humankind is full of willful evil and debauchery.  "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good." Psalms 14:1 (NASB)

I don't really have a plan for the next topic, I'm just going to play it by ear and find something to talk about later.

I love my family!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Divergence From the Plan

Well, I was planning on writing the part two of Plato's Socrates, but I feel the need to complain a little.  I know, nobody likes a whiner but I've been bothered by something for a while that I feel is worth talking about.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were (or at least felt you were) the only person who felt/believed a certain way?  It's like that for me, at work.  I've never felt so attacked and alone in my life.  I've been studying philosophy for a few weeks now, and a lot of what I've studied points to an important part of philosophy is questioning everything; looking around oneself and trying to understand how things are put together and why.  I think I've done a fair job and kept an open mind and I've enjoyed looking at some of the ancient history of western philosophy.  However, it seems like I'm surrounded by people that are what I call 'militant atheists.'

Now, don't get me wrong most of the people I'm referring to (they shall remain nameless) are friendly enough.  I don't interact with most of these people much outside this setting, but in general they're friendly enough.  But, whenever any topic (e.g. politics, morality, religion etc.) is brought up I am (seemingly) the ONLY conservative Christian voice in the group.  Sometimes the discussions are just that, discussions, but most of the time it seems like it's beat up on the stupid conservative time.  Well, that's enough...  No more complaining, it really got me down at first, then I came home and everything got better.  Of course my bad mood was contagious and my bad mood moved on to Michelle.  So now I'm in a better mood but Michelle has been sort of down since I came home.

Not sure what the next entry will be, I'm out of plans for now.  I'll think of something later.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guest Blogger #2 Will Haas

Part 2 of Socrates will have to wait.  My friend Will Haas has written a guest entry for my blog:

The advent of affordable, quality cameras has led to a world full of photographs. This has been multiplied exponentially when manufacturers began to include high-quality cameras in most mobile devices. It is safe to say that everything has been photographed. Since everyone has a camera, and is therefore taking pictures, we are exposed daily to the entire gamut of skill levels. Nearly every instructional booklet or text written about photographic criticism will begin with analyzing the technical qualities of the image---I believe this is exactly the opposite approach that should be used to analyze a photograph.

Instead we should start with the most fundamental attribute of any photographic image. The Subject - What is in the photograph?

The subject of the photograph is the most fundamental characteristic of an image. The subject exists without artistic vision, the subject exists regardless of post-processing, and most importantly the subject exists at any skill level. Since the 1800’s people have used a camera to photograph ‘something’, we do not photograph ‘nothing’. As photographers we have posed, we have hiked for a better view, and we have panned or zoomed to find a subject worth capturing. Capturing the subject is our true goal, the reason we photograph in the first place.

Simply put, any noun has the potential to become a subject. But when we analyze (or criticize) a photograph we subconsciously or consciously rank subject as the most important characteristic of a photograph. We “like” or “dislike” a photograph, regardless of artistic qualities or skill, based almost completely on the subject. I imagine that if we were teachers grading an exam, the Subject of the photograph would constitute 65% of the grade. Everything else that separates amateur photographers from top-ranked professionals exists in the remaining 35% of the grade.

Consider a soldier, entrenched in a foreign land months away from returning home. The soldier reaches into his pocket and pulls out a worn, faded photograph. Already in your mind you have pictured something on his photograph. The soldier does not concern himself with the kind of camera was used, how it was photoshopped, if the composition was strong or weak, or if the depth of field was shallow, it is the subject of the photograph that causes him to reach, with dusty hands, and take one last look at the picture.

Examine these 3 photos. Some were taken with advanced skill, while one was taken with no intentional skill whatsoever. However, it should be clear that what the skill-less photograph lacks in technique, it makes up for in subject.

I urge you, regardless of your skill level or familiarity with photography, to consider above all else what you are photographing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Plato's Socrates Methods Myth and Man

Plato's Socrates part 1: So, I just started reading Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar... and so far it has been quite entertaining.  It seems like Socrates is probably the most famous Greek philosopher, several different ancient authors wrote about stuff that he did/said, but unfortunately or fortunately he apparently never wrote anything.

One thing all this study of ancient philosophers brings to mind is something I learned many years ago (high school) about ancient texts.  It was in a video about the trustworthiness of the biblical text.  I don't remember all the exact figures, but basically it went something like this: there are only a couple copies ancient texts and yet they are considered trustworthy (at least in the point of who wrote them and when) and there are ten times as many copies of the New Testament but people don't consider it trustworthy.  Seems a bit inconsistent doesn't it?  Anyways, I digress...  There are two initial points I would like to draw from Plato's version of Socrates, the socratic method, and socratic ignorance.

First, and arguably the most widespread lesson learned from Socrates is the Socratic method for learning/teaching.  Simply put, we as educators should answer students' questions with questions to get them to think through their assumptions.  This can be used incorrectly e.g. certain facts should be questioned/answered directly.  However, there are lots of times when we should use questions to seek out the roots of our questions and gain a deeper understanding of whatever we're studying.

Second, and I personally think that more people should adopt this self-image in order to drive themselves to continually pursue learning.  The idea of socratic ignorance is the conundrum that one much know that he/she doesn't know anything.  So, once you realize that you don't know anything you'll continue to seek out knowledge.

I love fireworks

Monday, July 23, 2012

Online Learning

As promised, or as threatened, today's topic is online learning.  The next topic, if I can tackle it (presumably it'll take more than one entry) is going to be (drum roll) Plato's version of Socrates.

So, first off...  Have you ever taken online courses?  Did you like them?  Did you learn as much as you did in "regular" classes?  Did you learn as much as you wanted or as much as was expected of you?  It's both a little sad and a little scary that so many schools are moving towards this new style of learning.  I've had the (dis)advantage of taking a few online courses since I joined the military.  But, before I get too deep into this topic a disclaimer: this is not a reflection on any particular university, education program, or professor etc.  This is about online learning in general.

The article that really started me thinking about this topic mentioned an interesting notion that I've heard  talked about before, "Ah, you're a [teacher]. You must learn so much from your students."  His reaction was kind of humorous to me... do doctors learn from their patients, or lawyers from their clients?  Obviously that's rhetorical but still a thought provoking idea.  I also really like the author's analogy of teaching and music, specifically jazz.  Interesting enough, I never have been good at improv musically, though I've always enjoyed the idea and attempting it.  Good teachers are like jazz musicians... they are creative and adapt well.  On the language learning podcast I listened to the other day (which often digressed from the topic of language learning to general education issues) they (it was an interview podcast) discussed how it's good for teachers to study acting.  Specifically, they mentioned improv acting.

Think about it, what were your favorite teachers like?  Don't say the lazy teacher that showed videos everyday.  I mean your favorite teacher from whom you actually learned a lot.  He/she was probably a great performer, improvisor, and he/she could feel the educational climate/mood of the room/class.  I want to be that kind of teacher someday!  As I said I've not been all that good at musical improv and I feel like sometimes when I'm teaching I "wax eloquent" (read: BORING) and sound authoritative on whatever I'm teaching.  Don't get me wrong, a teacher needs to be very knowledgeable about whatever topic they're teaching.  But, I think one of my problems is that I've seen education as receptive (on the student's end).  I still feel like that's a good method, though we should be careful to avoid the stereotypically east Asian education mindset that sets the teacher on too high of a pedestal and doesn't allow for free thinking or discourse in the classroom.  Now, we have online learning that doesn't really have either option.

Oddly enough even while reading this article that's critical of online learning, I'm currently working through my individual online learning (philosophy, Korean, Japanese, Bible etc.) also while reading the article I went to the link in the article about Coursera and I signed up for a few of their classes on things that I find interesting.  So, as critical as I am of online learning, I'm constantly participating in it and promoting it.  I think maybe the issue is maturity and interest in the topic.  There is more information out there (we're living in the information age) online than has ever been available before, and anyone can learn anything if they put their mind to it.  However, making high-school or lower online is a bad idea (not including parent-led homeschooling with online assistance), but most people at that age are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of teaching themselves the information.  That's not an indictment of all high-schoolers, but by and large, age = maturity and the ability to handle responsibility.  So get out there and study/learn/teach, preferably face-to-face, but if that's not an option go online.

The new adventure dogs in the Space Needle in Seattle enroute to Japan

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Doubt Versus Close-mindedness

Bear with me, this is the first entry I'm typing on my iPad with a tiny bluetooth keyboard, getting ready for my trip to southwest Asia. Since I've committed to planning my future blog entries each time, the plan for my next entry, will be about online learning. On to today's topic.

So, as I said in my last entry, I've started listening to a new podcast from Apologetics.com. The first episode in the podcast (as I've started it) is about doubt. One of the interesting points I started to think about was how doubt makes faith stronger after it's been overcome. A touch of doubt is healthy for anyone who believes anything. Then I began to think, if it's healthy for a Christian to doubt because it can strengthen one's faith is it healthy for an atheist to doubt? My assumption is that it's NOT in the sense that it makes an atheist more consistent in their disbelief in a deity.

So I was thinking something along these lines: Are you completely sure there's no such thing as God? There's nothing that I can say to make you doubt that? So, you're completely sure that all the facts about evolution, let's take a specific example here, the earth is millions of years old? What would convince you that that isn't true? Then you know all the science behind, say, carbon dating? I imagine their response would be: Uh, not really. But... Continuing with the questions: So, you're not really sure that carbon dating is guaranteed correct in every circumstance? Do you know all the variables that might affect carbon dating? Do you know that all those variables have always stayed the same? If you're doing an experiment the goal is to only have one (maybe two) variable(s) change. If someone had some way to scientifically prove that the earth was only a few thousand years old, would you doubt the science that says otherwise?

The whole idea, is that turnabout is fair play. If scientists can make claims of proving something without all the variables and call into question biblical faith, then we can use doubt against such close-mindedness on the other side of the fence. Especially in the discussion where scientist/atheists claim that a biblical view of the world is close-minded, because in reality, scientist/atheists are just as close-minded. Don't fear doubt, think about what you believe, study other beliefs, understand that people won't agree with you, don't worry about it all will be meted out in the end.

Tree climbing, always tons of fun

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sophists and Relativism

So, I've decided to try to state my plan for the next blog each time so that I have a plan for future blog topics.  I've switched podcasts to the podcast from Apologetics.com (which isn't the usual podcast format that I like; each episode is over an hour long and they're recordings from an apologetics radio talk show).  But the next topic for blogging will be doubt versus overconfidence/close-mindedness.  On to today's topic sophists and the (possible) birth of relativism.

First a bit of history...  The sophists, from the same Greek root for sophisticated, in general originally had a meaning akin to "wise man."  Though, as other ancient Greek writers reference these sophists the meaning changes to something like today's vernacular would say: "know-it-all."  There isn't really much directly written about these people but suffice it to say they were lecture-teachers-for-hire.  They travelled around Greece hiring themselves out to teach people how to win arguments.  They were so skilled at argumentation that they prided themselves on being able to take either side of an argument and make it the stronger (basically they could convince an eskimo to buy snow).  They were skilled unscrupulous orators that sold their skill to anyone that could pay.  Interestingly enough Socrates was sometimes lumped in with the sophists though he didn't take payment for his teachings, and in some texts is shown seriously disagreeing with other sophists.

All of that history and yet (to me) the worst thing that comes out of sophists' teachings is relativism.  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy relativism is really only attributed to one sophist, Protagoras.  However, the influences of moral relativism have been huge.  This was (apparently) the main disagreement between sophists and Plato/Socrates, the idea that there is no true morality.  The moral relativist says "what's true for you may not be true for me," which can be played out in the social moral relativist argument, that society makes right and as society changes so does what's right and wrong.  There seems to be some distinction between moral relativism and moral skepticism (the idea that we cannot know what's moral), but honestly, the results are more or less the same.  As long as you can convince enough people that what you're doing is not wrong then you're in the right, morally speaking.

On the other side there are many problems with divine morality; I understand that.  However, does there have to be a resolution to all the issues in divine morality?  One of the main issues that comes from Plato's Euthyphro (about divine morality) is: Is something good because God commands it, or is something good commanded by God because it is good?  Ironically, it's kind of like the chicken or egg first question.  To me, the whole concept is a non-issue, because God is the source of all things, what we conceive as bad is all just a part of a grand scheme that God set in motion but He allows to run its course, and of course we can't see anything but what is right now and a fuzzy view of the past.  One of the best descriptions of the concept of God's omniscience and concept of time: All of time and the universe is like a section of the sidewalk, and we are like ants on the sidewalk (though we can only go one direction).  God is like a person looking down on the sidewalk; He sees the cracks at both ends, i.e. the beginning and the end of what we conceive as time, and he sees all directions that we (as the ants) can go.

While the analogy may not seem to apply think about it in terms of, because God knows all the routes to the end He knows which is the best route because he can see all the obstacles and can change them to be easier or harder to suit His plan.  So, the right way to live is BOTH what He says to do, and just the right thing to do, we don't need to make a distinction.  It is interesting to note that C.S. Lewis uses universal morality as an apologetic argument for God.  So, just the idea that there is a right/wrong, begs the question that there must be someone that determines which is which.  How arrogant is man to stand up and say that he is the end all be all, that he decides what is right/wrong and has all the answers to life and the universe.

My boys are so photogenic sometimes!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rational Religious

I'm going to have to make this post into two different parts, I was planning on writing a post on rational religion and the far reaches of ancient sophists' relativism. However, since that would lead to a very long post I'll break up the two topics. Again, stuck on philosophy... I had more time in my car than usual today so I listened to two episodes of the History of Philosophy and I have even more time later (it's lunch time), though I might switch to listening to Korean for the remainder of my car time today.

Today's topic of rational religion actually comes from the episode on Hippocrates' corpus. That may seem like a stretch to go from the father of modern (western) medicine to religion but if you listen to the episode you'll see from where I draw my topic.

Here's a question for you: Why do people naturally assume all religious people are irrational? Why can't a religious person be logical/rational/scientific? Why can't religion be rational or logical (I can understand why not technically scientific in some cases)? That's one of the points professor Adamson makes with the Hippocratic corpus. Sometimes it may seem like they (the corpus was probably written by a number of people but all attributed to Hippocrates because he was famous) are trying to wrest medical study from the religious and place it into rational philosophy's (capable) hands, but not necessarily. Because, the way they seemed to view the gods made the study and treatment of aliments or medical study in general was actually a higher form of piety.

The same should be true in Christianity! It seems like atheists/agnostics (especially antagonistic ones) like to use the extreme examples. Often times such antagonists set up straw man arguments pointing out extremists and claiming those extremists are an equal/fair representation of that particular religion or of all religions as a whole. I'm religious, and I have no problem with taking a critical view of the world. LOTS of people in religion are not open-minded, but atheists, despite their claims to the contrary, can also be close-minded. AND, just being dogmatic on one particular issue doesn't mean one cannot be rational. The book I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist uses pretty clear arguments that atheism is (just as) dogmatic on the idea that there isn't a god as deists are that there is.

Makes me think of the whole "grass is always greener on the other side" cliche; though oftentimes it's the opposite! People raised in the country stereotype the city (and it's inhabitants) as being full of crime and poverty, while city folk often stereotype the country dwellers as backwards and uneducated etc. People on one side of an issue, often times without realizing it (but sometimes intentionally), vilify those on the opposite side of the issue. A clear example is in the debate (which saddens me because there shouldn't be a debate) about abortion: those for abortion call themselves "pro-choice" and vice versa "anti-abortion," those against abortion call themselves "pro-life" and "pro-abortion." Honestly, the point broke down a little bit there because pro-lifers don't really have a negative term for pro-abortionists. But, in the case of "pro-choice" advocates it's clear that just the term "anti-abortion" clearly has a negative connotation to vilify the enemy.

Is it unreasonable to assume a deity? As I pointed out yesterday the concept of infinity points to the idea that there's a deity... That's not the only argument either. The evident design of the observable universe indicates a deity, a universal/common moral compunction points towards a deity, as well as many other apologetic arguments. Interestingly enough on this topic of apologetics, in my search for the Amazon.com link to that book I found an interesting book: Apologetics Never Saved Anyone I just might have to read it.

Okinawan glass blowing

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


So, I've totally failed at my plan of studying a different subject every day (already). I'm doomed, the philosophy podcast is too interesting and easy to listen to; each podcast is about 15 minutes which fits well into my commute time. Anyways, one of the podcasts was about pre-socratic philosophers and their ideas of atomism. Which, as you may know atom comes from the Greek meaning, (essentially) uncuttable. Amazingly enough, with just logic and some shrewd thinking they, more or less, came up with a correct understanding of how the physical world is ordered. Though I take issue with one of their concepts.

They stated that there must be an infinite amount of atoms in the universe. This cannot be possible. Do atoms take up space, i.e. have mass? If the answer is yes, which it must be, then there cannot be an infinite amount of atoms, because if there's an infinite amount then there cannot be any space between atoms. Think about it, infinite is a really tough concept to grasp, but if there's an infinite amount of anything then there cannot be any space. If it's infinite then there can be no room between because that space must be taken up by more of whatever, because there's an infinite amount of whatever. One response could be; then the only thing that's infinite is space. That's not possible either because there's stuff in the space bouncing around, which means there must be a lack of space where things exist. A thing cannot move from one space to another if there's infinite space because there would always be more space.

Nothing, in the material universe can be infinite. We can try to conceptualize infinity in the material universe (e.g. cut the stick in half, now in half again, and again, on to infinity; conceptually we would never achieve "nothing" because you could always cut it in half again), but as humans we cannot ever hope to achieve an infinitely small part. Same with the size of the universe, it must be finite at least in our hope to understand it. Think about it... Even if you had a spaceship that could travel a billion lightyears an hour and lived thousands of years, and you wanted to go an infinite distance, it would take an infinite amount of time to get there, which you could never do. Because, it would take infinite amount of time, no matter how fast you go.

Only God is infinite, in any way; only God could exist before the concept of existence. Only God could be outside of time able to make something out of nothing, and know all future and all past. Only God can conceive infinite, because only the infinite can understand infinity.
The light at the end of the tunnel (if the tunnel was infinitely long you'd never see the light)

Monday, July 16, 2012


Do you have any hobbies?  I think I have too many!  It seems like I never have time to do them all!  One of the other problems is hardly any of my hobbies go well together.  Pretty much the only hobbies I have that go together are the ways I like to workout (e.g. biking running and swimming all go together well, in triathlon'ing).  Other than that, it's hard to mix my other interests, like photography and chess.  Then there's all the studying I want to do, like philosophy, language, Bible, Korean, Japanese, music, etc.  But, there's no way I can make time for all that and my family and the rest of my life (like work, that's kinda important).  How can I juggle all these different things?  How do you?

There is such beautiful flora and fauna here

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Study Plans and Fireworks

I've been listening to podcasts about learning languages, and learning philosophy but I really haven't done anything about applying what I've been learning (e.g. learning a new language myself). Since there's really not a direct way I can apply my learning in philosophy, I really feel I should learn Japanese! I think I'm going to try starting a study plan, wherein I study philosophy one day, Korean the next, Japanese the next, and Bible the next. So, I'm going to have a four-day study cycle for Korean, Japanese, Philosophy, and Bible. I'm hoping that I can quickly advance in Japanese and someday have it at the same level as my Korean. Hopefully, I have plenty of time this deployment to keep up this study plan. I really can't let my Korean slip like the last two times I deployed.

On a totally different note... We went to see the fireworks tonight at the Ocean Expo Park/Aquarium. They, were, awesome! I don't think I've ever seen such an awesome display. We can't understand the Japanese announcements so after about the first 15 minutes or so the fireworks stopped and we thought they were over, but not very many people started leaving. We were tired and ready to go so we packed up our stuff and started to leave. It took us about 45 minutes or so walking up to our car and getting ready to go/situated and whatnot. That whole time they continued shooting off fireworks. Even just the first 15 minutes were better than pretty much any fireworks show I've ever seen. Great fireworks, great timing shooting the fireworks, great colored fireworks and a great sunset (just before the show). Hopefully we can go back next year; though we plan on timing it differently. Because we left home around 1pm we hit way too much traffic on the way there and it tured what is normally an hour-long drive into a two hour drive! Apparently the Japanese really know their fireworks!
Not where the fireworks were, but the view from the front steps of the aquarium

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Work and formatting again...

It was brought to my attention that blogger wasn't working for comments...  I don't know if it was just a temporary problem or what, but it appears fixed now.  I tried to comment on my own post yesterday and it didn't work but this morning I tested it again and it worked and there's a new comment from someone else.  So, I don't think I'm going to change the format (again).  If for whatever reason, you can't comment and would like to, feel free to email me sam.r111481@gmail.com or look me up on Facebook as far as I know there are only two Sam Ronickers on Facebook and one is my dad.  I do also have a Twitter account but I hardly ever use it.

On to the topic of work...  I recently got the news that I have to trade in this beach for a much dustier, dryer and hotter "beach" somewhere in southwest Asia.  In all honesty I'm not terribly surprised, because of my situation.  I've had two deployments' experience in this other program (that I'm going back to).  Even so that program was supposed to be built up on its own and not need to "borrow" people from my job to do that job anymore.  But, since I'm experienced on that plane and still in training for this new (to me) plane, I am the most logical choice to send.  Sucks though, because the first time I deployed with the program (Project Liberty) I had a bad time.  I didn't like the deployment AT ALL!  I never wanted to go back.  Of course as soon as I got back from that first trip out I tried to get a different assignment or anything else that would keep me from having to go back.  Well, obviously that didn't work as I said I've done two deployments with the program.  Fortunately though the second time wasn't nearly as bad as the first and I didn't hate every minute of my time there.  Also, as far as deployments go this one shouldn't be too bad because the plan is for me to only do half the standard time.  I'm sure it will be easier to handle the shorter time, though my family situation will be tougher.  The last two times I deployed my wife took the kids back to Ohio to be with family for some of the time.  However, because we're now in Japan that's probably not going to be an option.  The only way that would work out is if they can get on a military flight back to the U.S., but those are difficult (read: impossible) to plan and not convenient or comfortable at all.

I don't know how much I'll get to blog while I'm gone, or it might be that I have way too much time on my hands and I'll be writing all the time.  I don't really know.  The last two times I went out I had different experiences both times.  The first time I was incredibly bored all the time but I didn't have internet service readily available.  The second time I kept myself busy with working out and calling/texting home every night because the internet was easily accessible.  We'll just have to wait and see.

I'm going to miss them!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sub-tropical Paradise Jungle

So I love living in this beautiful subtropical paradise, but today I had an interesting day. As many of you know I'm in the military (US Air Force) and that I work a job on an aircraft. Well, today I went into work at about 8am for a briefing that was supposed to last all morning but because there were only two of us in the class it was cut short. Then around 12 noon the other person (an aeromedical evacuation medic) and I went out into the jungle. We went with the survival instructor to an abandoned (mostly anyways) old base and practiced evasion. At first the instructor walked with us and talked about plans of how to evade and navigate through the jungle.

I've only been here a little over 3 months and I've never ventured into the jungle before, so today was new! After a short instructional bit we were sent on a short (about 200 yard) land-nav trek without the instructor. Since I've done this before I let the medic lead (plus if I went too fast I would just have to keep stopping to wait for her) and I counted steps. It was cool. Then the instructor took us to another point on base, showed us where the pick-up point was on the map and sent us on our way. This time though there was a small group of people chasing us (at least 4 counting the instructor). The goal was to walk through the trackless jungle quietly without getting caught. The "bad guys" had some distinct advantages: they had cars, more comfortable clothes, no backpack, a virtually unlimited amount of food and most importantly, they knew where we started and where we were headed.

Right away, we went down a hill and had to cross a small "stream" the reason I put that in quotes... it was more like a narrow bog. Since the medic was leading, she made it across first (nearly) unscathed, she stepped in up to her thigh just as she was about to get across. Well, my fat old self, with a backpack on tried to cross also, yeah, first two steps, up to my thighs in mud/muck. Oh well, gotta keep going, crawled the rest of the way across without much sinking; great way to start off let me tell you! After that we went on quietly and slowly till we came up to a road. If you learn anything about evading bad guys from this, learn this: crossing roads, paths, rivers, streams etc. is the hardest part of running away from bad guys because that's where they'll be patrolling.

So, being the more experienced, (the medic girl had been through only minimal evasion training and never been in the field running from bad guys before) I went first. I crawled up slowly and looked out. Of course what do I see but one of the bad guy's head and his black ball-cap. I thought he saw me so, as quickly as I could, I hurried back down the hill to the waiting medic and we take off down the ravine. Unfortunately, because we went too fast, we were making more noise than usual and they heard us and tracked us (this we found out later).

After hurrying (as much as one can hurry through jungle mess) on down away from the bad guys, we finally figure we've lost them and it's safe to try to cross the road again. We make it across with no problems, but in our haste again we leave a mark where we crossed the road because we had to slide down the hill on our butts off the road. We make it to about 50 yards from our pick-up point with about an hour and a half to spare and we're chilling in a little thicket when the bad guys walk up and find us! Aaah! Of course they pretend to be capturing us for a minute or so, then they tell us where we went wrong and how they tracked us, then they walk off. We still have about an hour before we're going to be picked up so we just sit around for a while. After some time we're told to go to the pick-up point 15 min earlier than previously planned so we leave our not-so-hidden-spot and head for the pick-up point. As it turns out, we're literally only about 50 yards away, though we though it was about 150 yards, and we put out a little rescue marker and again sit and wait.

The rest of the story is pretty anticlimactic since we just get picked up by the good guy and we go back to base and talk over what was good and what was bad about how we evaded. All in all a fun yet exhausting day! I painted my face with camo paint and got to hike around the jungle for "work" today. It was fun, but when I got home I had to take a really long shower to wash off all the jungle muck. I don't think I'd want to do that for real, but I'm sure I could if my life depended on it.
Black & White of the boys at sunset at our favorite sunset beach

Monday, July 9, 2012


So I was considering writing a blog about what I learned about ancient philosophers today when I changed my mind and decided to write about something more positive.

I have a brother, I don't know if he reads this blog but brothers always have a unique bond, though to be honest I envy my boys' relationship.  Honestly, I don't very well recall my relationship with my brother when we were young, but I certainly don't remember having the kind of friendship with my brother that my boys have.  I remember going fishing with my brother and we spent a lot of time together (obviously, by virtue of living in the same house for several years), but I don't remember having fun with my brother the way my boys have fun together.

Today (like every day) they ran around pretending to be in some fanciful world as dragons, ninjas, jedi or some other character of fantasy.  They run around the house "shooting" imaginary guns at each other, and making up all sorts of weapons (Wes usually runs around with a little hammer like Thor's and Alex makes some sort of staff like Loki's).  They laugh incessantly and run around chasing each other.  I hope that their childhood friendship lasts their whole lives.

Yes, those are Michelle's feet

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Response to Facebook Discussion about Higgs Boson

A friend of mine Steven Specht posted an interesting news link (must login to Facebook to view) about the Higgs Boson on Facebook which sparked a discussion on the existence of god and the power of prayer. I won't copy/paste the whole discussion here but this is one of my replies:

"I personally don't know much about physics, so I can't really speak to their methods. But from what I have seen is that modern science seems more about assumptions based on presuppositions than actual testable theories. Trying to "see" things as small as what the collider makes and "understand" what they're "seeing" sounds more like guesswork than actually tried and true testable experiments. Don't get me wrong the geniuses working on this kind of stuff probably know what they're doing and it's too complicated to explain to a layman like me, but even if they could it doesn't PROVE anything. It's just a new, smaller form of matter that we didn't know about before and don't know the characteristic of before. When the atom was discovered it didn't shake the foundations of faith, or PROVE that there is or isn't a God."

First I would like to clarify a distinction in what I meant by, and how I can say "I personally don't know much about physics..." then go on to say that it's "assumptions based on presuppositions..." I know it may seem like splitting hairs, but if you read carefully I'm referring to physics specifically when I say I can't speak to their methods, and then I refer to "modern science" in general when I say that it's becoming more and more about assumptions and untestable theories. What I do know about the collider is that it's a place to study sub-atomic physics by causing various particles to travel at high speeds and collide and break into smaller particles which are collected and studied.

I don't know how much you know about the show "The Big Bang Theory" but I'd like to draw a humorous, albeit interesting point from an episode of that show. For those of you that don't know, it's a show about these nerd physicists that live next to a pretty blonde girl. It most often pokes fun at nerds, intellectuals, dweebs, dorks, etc. Since I fit some of the stereotypes they make fun of I see it as a sort of self-deprecating humor. Well, one of the episodes the group of four nerds get to take a trip to the north pole to try to find magnetic monopole particles. Well, in the course of their experiments the lead character is driving his friends crazy with his idiosyncrasies and they are trying to devise a way to cut the trip short. Then they discover that whenever they run the coffee grinder it gives positive results on their experiment so they give their friend the impression that he's discovered what he's looking for and becomes the laughingstock of their university. My point in this reference is that particle physics, while surely a crucial field in science, is sometimes thrown off by some of the most mundane circumstances. I say this because particle physics is about studying stuff that is so small it can't directly be observed, all we know about these substances is conjecture from the effects these types of particles have on other substances.

My real beef with modern science is that it seems like all modern scientists start out with the presupposition that there isn't a god and therefore all that is observed that can't currently be explained must be explained with some new inovation or science. All that exists cannot be explained by science. I'm not saying we should give up scientific inquiry, on the contrary it is a great form of worship. But, when such and such scientist gets up and tries to explain such and such as taking place millions of years ago, or taking place over millions of years or something to that effect; that scientist has lost all claim on truth in my eyes because no one, without making wild leaps of faith, can make grand statements like that because there is no verifiable proof of anything beyond a couple thousand years into the past.
Cool building near the aquarium at ocean expo park

Yay 1,000 pageviews!

To be totally honest I don't really care about how many people read my blog, I'm not so vain to think I have something so important that everyone needs to listen to what I have to say. Honestly, like my friend wrote in his blog, this blog is all for my own personal benefit. I use this as my journal. I write down my thoughts and interests. That's probably why it seems like my topics range all over the place. I hope someday I'll look back and read what I wrote and see how what I think now still makes sense and is still applicable years in the future.

Speaking of the future, what do you want to be when you grow up? Michelle (my wife) is always picking on me because whenever we watch an inspirational movie, I always say something about how I'd like to do that some day. For example when we watch a movie about inspirational firefighters, it makes me want to be a firefighter. She always jokes, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" I'm 30, I am grown up! But you know what? I'm still not done with life. I plan to do 14 more years in the Air Force, then, the sky's the limit.

I really want to be a teacher/volunteer firefighter/paramedic. I've often contemplated trying to change the job I do with the Air Force to aeromedical evacuation. It seems like people who work in the medical field (should) have the highest job satisfaction. How satisfying must it be to have a job where your work is to make people healthy/save lives. Or in the case of teachers how rewarding teaching should be, your whole job is to fill young people's minds with knowledge. How satisfying that must be. I like what I do, I'm glad I learned Korean it's an interesting job, but really I have little to no satisfaction in what I do. I've done some research into changing jobs in the past but I don't think it'll work now that I've reenlisted. I might be stuck. Whatever the case, can old dogs learn new tricks? I think they can, plus, I'm not an old dog... yet.
How can I make this into a job?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Philosophy vs Religion

Well, I've started more earnest study of philosophy, including the History of Philosophy podcast, an iTunesU program on philosophy, along with one other podcast on philosophy. The most recent podcast I listened to was about Plato's Republic. Now, I haven't read the work (though we did have to read parts of it in my college ethics class), but based on that podcast I don't really like what I'm hearing. Plato's supposed Utopia sounds like a robot society with no freedom or love or self-expression. Now, sad as it may be that a society lacking freedom would probably be the safest, that doesn't mean that we should seek to create such a society. I would rather live in a slightly dangerous slightly controlled society than a perfectly safe society without freedom. Again I come back to my standard answer, balance, there has to be a balance between lack of freedom and provision of safety.

One of my other thoughts on philosophy, is my struggle to balance my love of philosophy with my love of Jesus. I don't like to think of myself as religious because I dislike the word and its implications and general negative connotations. But, I do love the Bible and I believe every part of it and am a Christian, in that, I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. As such I believe that God's Word, namely the Bible, is the complete guide on how we ought to live. So studying ethics and philosophy seems sort of silly, because if you want to know how one ought to live, just read the instruction manual. That's not to say I don't like the general thoughtfulness and rationale in philosophy. To quote Wikipedia: "Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument" (emphasis mine). So, I love systematic theology and rational argumentation, however, God's instructions don't have to be rational (as we understand rationality).

So many "rational thinking atheists" often use philosophical arguments to try to poke holes in biblical teachings. However, if you really believe the Bible is the sole source of God's intention for life and creation, then there can be no argument against God's precepts. God said it, therefore it is true and right for our lives. That being said there's a whole world of biblical discussion on systematically analyzing the Bible to understand how and when to apply certain principals. But, the question never comes up as to why we should do this or that. God said it therefore we must do it. That world of biblical discussion also includes the ideas that God intended somethings for some time periods/peoples and other things for other people/time periods. It's often called dispensationalism. The idea that though God is immutable; the way He interacts with creation has changed over time. Many prime examples are found in much of the Old Testament law; all the forbidden foods and other ways God set down to separate His people. Critics will say, if you believe the Bible is true and the rules for your life why do you eat pork or wear mixed fabric clothes? (Which is easily refutable with a careful study of the freedom taught in the New Testament.) Most biblical scholars aren't thrown off by these simple arguments, but some newer, less studied believers can be. All this to be summed up with: I'm going to continue to study philosophy but with a critical Christian point of view.
We are blessed to live in such a beautiful place

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ten Year Old Glenmorangie at Sunset

At the behest of my good friend Will Haas we're trading guest blogs.

I taste tested this new single malt Scotch whiskey Glenmorangie Original at Taguchi beach park this evening.  While I like the taste and may add it to my regular scotch collection it doesn't have enough bite for my preference.  I like biting scotch and this particular single malt it a bit too smooth and sweet for me.  A bit of a floral taste sweeter than other single malts I've tasted.  It does have a beautiful look especially in the warm glow of the setting sun over the East China Sea.  It has a bit of a woody taste to it, which isn't unusual for single malts and it is quite smooth.  Not the smoothest taste I've had but pretty good.  Looking forward to having more.  Don't worry the bottle and glass survived the trip to the beach and I am actually sitting at my desk enjoying another glass as I write this.  I'm not quite the connoisseur that Will is, but if you'd like to read more of his reviews on other whiskeys I encourage you to check out his blog.  Whatever the case, if you're looking for a good single malt to go with a good cigar (which I don't have, because I haven't found a good cigar shop here on island yet) or just to sit back and enjoy sometime try this the original Glenmorangie.  You won't be disappointed.

So blessed to live in such a beautiful place

Couldn't convince Michelle to stop taking pictures of me

See what I mean about it being yellow

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Short and sweet today...

Spent a lot of time at the beach today, but the tide was very low and we walked around on the coral most of the time and I got roasted.

Short update on my philosophy study: I've been listening to the History of Philosophy podcast, though we're still on the pre-socratics.  The podcast is well put together though solely western philosophy focused.  I bought a Korean philosophy book but haven't had the time to start it.  It's called 웃기는 철학, 우스운 철학(넥서스) "Funny Philosophy, Silly Philosophy (Nexus)" I haven't even started reading it, it might be about western philosophy hopefully it's about eastern philosophy.

Got this funny picture from a friend, it seems silly but it's pretty close to correct Korean pronunciation and if you learn it this way you will, more or less be able to pronounce all the Korean letters and read it phonetically:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Guest Blogger #1 Eric Flynn

My first guest blogger!!

Eric Flynn and I attended the Defense Language Institute at about the same period of time though he was in the Arabic course and I took the Korean course. He's out of the Air Force now and been teaching English in Korea for a few years.

---When you ask someone "What's the best way to learn a foreign language?", usually the answer will be "Live in another country." Well, that's mostly true, but not so much when that country happens to be South Korea. It's still kind of true... but not as much as you'd think.

I've been living in South Korea for almost three years now. Before I came here, I imagined myself in the future, having lived abroad for several years, and returning to impress my friends and family with my mastery of Korean. I learned very quickly that this was not to be. From time to time I recall a scene from a movie called The Thirteenth Warrior in which Antonio Banderas (pronounced Bahndehrrassss, in a breathy tone) plays an Arabic scholar (or something) who finds himself in league with a band of Vikings. For a portion of the movie he finds himself flummoxed with this inability to comprehend their language (which is called "Vikish" for those of you who are not experts in world languages). Finally, in one scene, we see him listening to the conversation of his Scandanavian companions as they talk around a fire and, suddenly, he finds himself able to comprehend their speech simply by listening to it and absorbing it.

Yeah, right.

Of course, humans do have the capacity to learn language intuitively; that is, simply through "absorbing" it. This ability is present during our formative years and diminishes steadily as we age. Though I've never lived in a country which speaks Spanish, Italian, etc., I'd imagine that it's still possible to absorb language in such a way. Certainly not to the extent that we can absorb our mother tongue (why does that term always make me uncomfortable?) when we're young, but still enough for it to be of some use. A person with a rudimentary education in Spanish, for instance, can go and live in a Spanish-speaking country and gradually become fluent in Spanish. At least, that's what people tell me: people who use Spanish at every available opportunity to prove how good they are at Spanish, even going so far as to pronounce Mexico "Meh HEE Ko" when it comes up in conversation. However, with Korean it's different. It's very common to meet people who have lived in South Korea for six years or more and who still have only a basic working knowledge of the language.

Now, most of you who have never lived in Korea might think this is because everyone in South Korea speaks enough English that a foreigner can get by without speaking Korean. Therefore, there's no reason to use Korean, let alone learn it. This is not really true. While much of the South Korean youth have a rudimentary knowledge of English, and it has found its way into the Korean culture (albeit in often improperly-applied ways), one shouldn't think that he or she can take care of such things as banking, internet service, or even grocery shopping without knowledge of Korean. There is a language barrier here, so much so that foreigners need someone else to rely on (someone who speaks Korean) to make sure most of their basic needs are met. So it isn't simple laziness that prevents people from absorbing the language here. It's my theory that the reason so few foreigners in Korea are able to learn the language is that Korean and English are so fundamentally different that nothing short of intense studying can help you learn it.

Evidence can be found in the Korean youth. English is taught in public schools from as early as elementary school, and probably even kindergarten, if I had to guess. And yet, most of my high school students don't even know that "nice to meet you" is an inappropriate phrase when greeting someone whom you've been seeing five days a week for the last six months of your life.

Beyond the fact that Korean students are apathetic towards English, it's really hard for them to learn. I personally have studied Arabic intensively for two years of my life, and I can say that learning Arabic is a walk in the park compared to Korean.

That's not saying that Korean is poorly thought-out language or inefficient (a native of speaker of English calling another language inefficient seems a lot like the proverbial kettle calling the metaphorical pot "cookware"). In fact, I'm told that, much like it's easy for English speakers to learn Spanish, it's similarly easy for speakers of Japanese to learn Korean. But I'd venture that it's safe to assume that a Spanish speaker would find it every bit as difficult to learn Korean as I – uh, I mean English speakers – do.
So just how different are the two languages? Well, I think the best example is simple use of the word "what". Imagine that we're eating dinner together and I'm staring at you funny. You're not sure if it's because I'm trying to use my psychic powers to make your head explode, like that guy in the movie Scanners, or if I'm fascinated/disgusted by the goiter on your neck that makes "Kuwato" from Total Recall look like a freckle. So, in order to surmise why I'm staring at you the way I am, you'll stop chewing your tofu-dog and say:


Both being native speakers of English, we know that this is a short way of asking "What is the reason for which you are staring at me, you freaking weirdo?" However, if we were Koreans, you would stop chewing your still-squirming octopus, perhaps shoving a tentacle back in your mouth as it tries to escape and say:


A seemingly small difference, but imagine that applied to everything you say. Not only must one learn vocabulary, but there is also an element of culture, and learning how to phrase things. Let's look at another example. Let's say we're eating dinner together again and you're wondering if it's possible that anyone out there could fall in love with the pathetic slob in front of you, who didn't even bother to put on pants when he left the house, but still chose to wear a mustard-stained Poison t-shirt. So you ask:

"Are you married?"

In Korean, the way they choose to phrase this question is "Did you marry?"

When learning Arabic, I found that, once one gained mastery of the various grammatical concepts, it was generally okay to translate what you wanted to say word-for-word. Even expressions such as "on the other hand" occasionally translate to mean exactly the same thing. But was we can see from the above example, even when asking a simple question, one must change it so that we are no longer using an adjective, but rather a past-tense verb.

Now, I should point out that my understanding of Korean is very rudimentary, and I'm sure that there is more than one way to posit the above question in a way that's more akin to English verbiage, but the very fact that the question is generally stated in that way hints at how difficult it is to learn Korean.

On final example of the differences between English and Korean: I was in my co-workers' office one day. They had seen fit to let me out of my cage at that time, since they understand that it's good to let me stretch my legs once in a while. The young, highly attractive student teacher was sitting off to the side, not noticing my existence, as she was wont to do. Suddenly her sweater (the periwinkle-colored one that complemented her eyes nicely, and that she usually wore on Tuesdays, but today was wearing on a Wednesday, for some reason) had slipped off the back of her chair upon which it was hanging and fell to the floor. Before I could dash over and pick up, presenting the sweater to her in the same way a dog presents a pair of slippers before his master, eagerly wagging his tail and hoping for praise, my co-teacher pointed to the sweater and uttered one single word which, I was told, is Korean for "fell".

Now, had the same thing happened in the U.S., or Canada, she would have more likely said something like "Oh, your sweater fell on the floor." But in Korean, this entire sentence was condensed to a single word.

This brevity of language can be evidenced with students. When speaking in English, they often tend to use only minimal sentence fragments when conferring their ideas, and frequently need to be reminded to implement subjects and other things when speaking.

If the above examples haven't driven home just how different Korean and English is, maybe this will: a common task of English teachers in Korea is teaching students how to organize essays when writing in English. The tactic of using and introduction, then body (with supporting details) and finally, a conclusion, is a concept that is completely alien to speakers of Korean. Of course, not being able to fully read Korean, I can't read any essays or papers written in that language, which only leaves me to fantasize at what sort of roundabout stream-of-consciousness three-ring-circuses their papers must be. When I've asked my Korean friends about Korean essay writing, it's been explained that such linear organization as is found in western papers is unnecessary to accommodate the eastern way of thinking.

Of course, this alternate way of thought expression involved in the learning of Korean is only one of several hurdles English speakers have to overcome. Add to it things such as foreign sounds (such as the notoriously difficult-to-pronounce "eu"), verb conjugation, different speech patterns depending on level of formality, and words that simply have no equivalent in English, and one can clearly see the myriad obstacles that English speakers encounter on their way to becoming fluent in Korean. I'd like to see Antonio Banderas and his rugged Latino good looks deal with that.---

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Monday! Time for Scotch

If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I've been invited by my friend Will Haas to write a blog on scotch, and that I was having trouble finding a good single malt scotch whiskey and that I was considering trying a blended scotch.  Well, tonight while on an ice run to the store I found a 10 year old Glenmorangie single malt.  Hopefully it lives up to the other scotch whiskeys that I've tried.  Probably not tomorrow, maybe on the fourth.

This is where I plan to sample said scotch: