Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writer's Block

Sorry for the lack of entries lately.  I've sort of been busy.  Not that I've truly had writer's block per se, but rather I haven't had time.  I have several blog notes for entries I just haven't had time to sit down and put virtual ink to virtual paper.

Next couple entries, in no particular order: finish up with Plato's Republic, an entry about an Alistair Begg podcast message, and one about the philosophy of language.  So that's three (possibly four) entries I have brewing I just need to get some time to sit and type them all out.  What are you doing right now you ask?  Well, I only have time to say that I don't have time because I have to get to studying for my promotion test in a little over a week.

So, see you again (virtually speaking) in a little over a week.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Panoramic Photography

I've enjoyed photography for many years now; it started when I was in middle school and my neighbor "Bud" taught me how to use his manual SLR (single-lens reflex) camera.  He taught me the basics of metering, shutter speed, f-stops, and many other things.  Well, that enjoyment has grown and changed with time.  Now I have a very expensive hobby with a couple expensive cameras and several expensive lenses.  This is quite fortunate now that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I now have lots of beautiful things to photograph!

Here's my first attempt at stitching photos together to make a large panoramic:

Here's one of my best (so far) with a super-wide angle fisheye lens:

I'll try to always have a photo to share.  Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Daily Account: Journalism at its Finest

A Daily Account: Journalism at its Finest
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By stevenspecht / February 11, 2013 / Military Service, Notes from Afghanistan / Leave a comment

The military service member is on the front lines of history. Whether we are the special operators, aviators, or support crews, our stories are like no others and they need to be told. However, all too often, we allow the civilian journalist to do our reporting for us. In the era of social networking, self-publishing, and online blogging, there is no reason to allow others to interpret our stories.

You may ask yourself, “why is my story special?” I would respond with the obvious statement that, at any given time, you are a member of the mere one percent of the total population that makes up the all-volunteer force, and with a rapid decline of living WW II vets, you are among the steadily shrinking number of Americans who have served at all. Each story is a precious documentary. Some are fortunate (or unfortunate) to be thrust into amazing events such as those in Lone Survivor by US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, but many publications have been about gut wrenching boredom and lack of action such as Jarhead by US Marine Scout Sniper Anthony Swofford, which detailed concerns of irrelevancy and separation from loved ones that are often left out of many war books. One need not be a scout sniper or SEAL to write a great work as proven by myriad publications about Southeast Asia from the perspective of the average draftee such as If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien.

The idea of writing a book is daunting if you’ve not done it, but the method I used to complete the rough draft of “Notes from Afghanistan,” was to write down 100 words on what happened each day. This doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t. However, when multiplied by the length of a year-long deployment, it grows into 36,500 words, which, is nearly 100 pages of material for a standard book that can be fleshed out into something amazing with the right amount of effort.

The importance of writing each day cannot be over-emphasized. With time, all events become fuzzy, and we have a tendency to editorialize or dramatize events to make them look better or worse depending on our attitudes. With the technique of 100 words a day, we need take only a few moments to chronicle the who-what-where of our day, and we can leave the introspection of how and why for a later time.

This is an example of 100 words:

“I got up at 0400 today to the sound of a low flying jet. This was the third day in a row I’ve been woken up prematurely. I went to the gym for an hour of weightlifting before eating and prepping my kit for an uneventful patrol. Some locals gave us intel on the location of a weapons cache in the area that we will report later on. I was able to get online today and call my wife on Skype. She is having difficulty in getting my W-2 for taxes, but there isn’t anything I can do right now.”

While not Shakespeare, this provides the basis for elaboration later on when there is time for reflection. When you write every day of being woken up early, it will begin to form a pattern that indicates frustration with the poor sleep schedule. The daily activities of weight lifting and chow stand alone, but if the intelligence on the weapons cache turns out to be valid, then you now have the ability to connect the dots between two events that might not be remembered a year from now. Every one of us has dealt with the stress of trying to manage events back home that are largely irrelevant in the moment but important to those we have left behind.

Nothing I write is meant to suggest that every single service member will write the next Jarhead, but even if you never publish a sentence of your work, you leave behind a legacy for those that come after you. Your story begins now. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of something to begin furiously scribbling down the half-remembered details. Don’t wait until your kids start asking you about your time in Afghanistan or Iraq 20 years from now. Some of the memories you will never forget, but a lot of them you will.

“Notes from Afghanistan” by Steven Specht is available on iTunes and Amazon at:



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plato's Republic, Book 9

I think it's funny, my last entry about Plato's Republic Books 1-3 has the second highest views of all my entries.  I'm relatively certain it doesn't have anything to do with the skill with which that particular entry was written, rather it's a popular search topic on Google as people are still reading and researching Plato and his writings even today.

A couple notes before we begin.  First, I don't plan on doing any entries about Books 4, 5 or 7, 8 I had a short(ish) comment on Book 6 here.  I listened to those audio recordings too long ago to adequately analyse their content.  Second, every once in a while I actually get a little proud of myself.  Let me explain, I've been listening to the history of philosophy podcast and I've recently come across the podcast entry pertaining to Plato's Republic and sometimes I come to the same conclusions or have the same insights as the maker of that podcast.  It makes me proud to think that I thought of the same things this scholar came up with.  It's silly, since it should naturally come from whatever text we're both consulting, but I still feel that way nonetheless.

Without further ado:

Book 9.  Plato (via Socrates of course) lays out the other types of human governance, and he proceeds to tear each one down to show how they are inferior to his "Republic."  Incidentally, the word 'republic' is not used in the text (at least other than the title, that I heard as I listened to the whole text read); it seems that the word 'republic' is given by scholars in describing Plato's ideal state (i.e. body politic).  It may surprise you to know that Plato lists the types of states in order from best (closest to his ideal) to worst (farthest from his ideal state), and that Democracy ranks third out of four!  The type of governance that we hold so dear, is to Plato, second to LAST in quality.  There is one huge caveat to this that I've come up with, namely, that Plato's idea of democracy is very different from our modern idea of democracy.  While the people did hold the power, from the meaning of the Greek words, the leadership was chosen by lot.  So, if you were a citizen of Athens, you could hold a position of leadership if your lot was chosen.  That means the leadership is not chosen by merit, skill, ability, persuasiveness, charisma, money or any other desirable or undesirable trait.  What we think of in the US is a representative democracy, we choose the representative leaders democratically.  We're supposed to choose based on merits or skills NOT on the negative traits.

The ninth book is quite long because it details not only these four different types of state: oligarchy, timarchy (timocracy), democracy, and tyranny, but it also describes the character of the man in relation to each of the state types.  I won't go into all the details of each group because that would take more than you or I have time for!  I will give a short personal definition of each type because not all of them are familiar.  Oligarchy, is where the rich or affluent rule.  One can buy leadership via money or winning popularity or influence.  Monarchy fits within oligarchy because it's a state run by the few and of course the monarchy would be rich and powerful, though in hereditary monarchy of course power is handed down via lineage.  There are other simple types not very many of which are very positive for the ruled classes, because they are generally in servitude to the leadership.  Though of course Plato doesn't seem to spin it that way, because oligarchy is set up as second only to his Republic as a form of governance.  Then comes timocracy (or timarchy), which is difficult to describe without referencing Sparta, because Sparta is the primary example used by Plato for this type of governance.  I've always thought Sparta was ruled by the military, which is actually not far from the this idea.  Timarchy comes from the Greek word for honor.  So, leadership is based on love of the state and honor, which one would assume comes from military prowess.  Then comes democracy, where anyone and everyone rules.  Then last and easiest to understand is tyranny, where the tyrant rules.  Generally, tyranny is considered the worst form of governance because as most people know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One key point of book nine that I'd like to point out before concluding this entry is how Plato (again) makes the argument against wrongdoing.  The other characters in the dialogue with Socrates have tried to make the argument that behaving badly is actually the best course of action.  Plato argues and quite persuasively shows how the tyrant is actually the LEAST happy personality of all the archetypes associated with each form of government.  This seems odd because one would think that a tyrant, who, by virtue of being a tyrant, can have anything and everything he or she wants at any time, would be the most happy type of person.  Plato points out that such freedom is illusionary and is actually the deepest and most sincere form of slavery; that is, slavery to oneself and one's passions.  This deeply entrenched slavery shows that the tyrant is actually the least content, happy, honorable, good, etc. type of person among all the types.  My own interpretation of this point is that we need to avoid all types of tyranny in our lives.  Don't be too obsessed with any one pursuit, even in contradiction with my blog title, the pursuit of happiness can also lead to a slavery to one's passions. Contentment is the key here, as 1 Timothy 6:6 says, "6 But godliness with contentment is great gain."

I had originally intended to cover both book nine and ten but as this entry is getting quite lengthy I'm going to break them in to multiple entries.  So stay tuned for the next entry and possibly the closing of my entries about Plato's Republic.

Throne room (or sorts) at Shuri Castle here on Okinawa in Naha city

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guest Post by Steven Specht on Beardedness

Satire from my friend and fellow blogger/writer Steven Specht (also read here):


My Lifestyle is Not a Choice: Fighting for Survival in a Godless Society
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By stevenspecht / February 4, 2013 / Daily Diatribes, Satire, Social Commentary / 2 Comments

I and those like me are under a constant pressure to conform to a society that has lost its way. My lifestyle is called “a choice,” and because of that “choice,” I am often disenfranchised. I am tired of being a second class citizen in the so-called “land of the free.”

Of course I’m talking about having a beard.

When I walk down the sidewalk, people move to the other side of the street. Mothers hold their children close as I pass. Police stare me down and stop me to ask me where I’m going and where I’ve been. Evidently I “fit a profile.” When I try to order soup, the waitress glares at me and asks, “are you sure it’s a good idea for one of you people to eat the clam chowder?” I am more than my beard and I deserve more than soda through a straw and pretzels without condiments.

The worst part of it all isn’t the open hatred from those who don’t understand our way of life. It is the demeaning stereotypes applied to us by those who mean well. When I go to a job fair, I’m given information on construction and plumbing jobs, but no one ever assumes that I just might be an accountant or a neurosurgeon. I am sick and tired of being approached on the street and asked if I am a Navy SEAL or an unemployed hipster living with my parents.

I feel so alone.

We should have known that the moment the secular progressives began taking God out of our classrooms that beards would be soon to follow. There was a time when our nation was guided by a higher power that commanded his followers to not trim their beards like the heathens. God is out of our classrooms and our beards have been shorn. The next thing to go is our guns.

We were the men of Gods and Generals, but we have become divided and relegated to the sideshow of reality TV. The persecution is endless, but just as Jesus of Nazareth had his beard pulled and torn out by his tormentors, we must turn our cheeks—turning our cheeks while not hiding from the shame and the spitting.
We can and must fight for our freedom.

All is not lost—not yet. Join me my bearded brothers. I am bearded, hear me roar, with whiskers too large to ignore!

It is time to demand our rights! To take back our country! To take back our freedom! Join me on our day of triumph on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on February 29th. Join me as we rally around the famous beard of our 16th president. Bring your crossfit workouts, your drum circles, your harleys, and your bongs. The day is ours if we seize it.


NOT from the blog, but a prime example of a Steven Specht beard:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Slang and Cussing

I'm a professing conservative(ish) Christian and have been my whole life, so believe me when I say this is a complicated subject for me. The Bible is (sort of) clear about this, Ephesians 4:29 (KJV) "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." Of course that's not really a law per se. But there's other verses, Matthew 15:18 (KJV) "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man."  That's my opinion as a Christian, one shouldn't curse or say bad words.  Though those passages aren't specific about what not to say, they're clearly broad instructions to watch what one says.  Also, in James 3 it talks about not being able to tame one's tongue, which doesn't give one license to say whatever they want.  My point is that I should be working on not using corrupt or bad language, but the question is, what does that mean?

I know it's not the best source, but there's a funny TV show on Showtime network called, appropriately, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!  The pretense of the show is this comedic duo tears apart various beliefs.  Generally, they tend to interview the extreme oposite ends of the spectrum and they (intentionally, I'm sure) generally interview the worst possible representatives on the side that they're trying to put down.  They have an episode devoted to "Profanity" in which they discuss and show, through various arguments/interviews, that the concept of bad words or profanity is a simple social convention that is outmoded or outdated.  I don't buy into this wholeheartedly, but people need to watch what they say; I don't mean walk on eggshells and avoid saying "bad words" completely.  I'm saying there's a time and a place for everything, and "bad words" are appropriate in the appropriate situation. I like the line from the TV show Firefly, "I swear when it's appropriate." Though the other character replies, "Simon, the whole point of swearing is that it ain't appropriate."  Well, I feel the way Simon feels.  Swearing is appropriate.  Just like exclamation points, they exclaim an emotion.  When you're in a meeting at work with your bosses, you probably shouldn't swear.  But, it's not that big of a deal to swear when you smash your thumb with a hammer.

What brings this up you ask...  Well, I've been reading a couple blog entries about slang.  This first one about the slang surrounding the Prohibition in the 20s and 30s, then this one about trying to teach IBM's supercomputer "Watson" slang from Urbandictionary.com, last but not least this entry about the different uses of the word snow.  All this reading about slang and the difficulties behind it's proper use made me think about profanity.  They're intricately related, profanity and slang are difficult intricacies in  language, especially a second language.  As a second (and someday third) language learner I can say from personal experience, this is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language.  It's funny, because that seems like one of the first things many of my friends sought out right away when learning a new language.

It reminds me of a story I often tell about my time learning Korean.  We were in class one day and one of the teachers was leaving the school; we were having a going away party later that day for her.  Well, the word for "going away party" is somewhat similar sounding to "sex party/orgy."  One of the guys in our small, four-person class accidentally asked (in Korean), "What time is the sex party for our teacher?"  Of course, this innocent kid had no idea that's what he said!  He was clueless and so was the girl in our class, but the Marine, who fit the stereotype and knew all the "bad words" in Korean, was cracking up laughing at our poor classmate's misfortune at saying something so embarrassing.  I made a point NOT to learn all the bad words in Korean, but I was a good student and I knew his mistake immediately just by knowing related vocabulary, so I was laughing hysterically as well.  It's easy, even for good students, to make similar mistakes and using actual profanity/slang in a new language, and I still have problems using such language in Korean, I've learned some Korean profanity so that I understand it when I hear it.

This is extra complicated for me, because I'm hypocritical on this subject; I tame my tongue in the presence of my family, but at work or in deployed situations, I don't have a problem using an occasional swear word.  That's the way I feel profanity should be used, when it's appropriate, when you're angry or something bad happens.  Then, when you're around certain people in certain situations you need to control your speech.  I feel like the verses I referenced in the first paragraph are more about meanness and bad words directed at other people.  How do you talk?  Do you curse?  EVER?  Never?  Well, hardly ever?  More importantly, how do you feel about it?  Should cursing be abhorred?

I wanted to update this entry with a funny video from Messy Mondays.  These funny videos often cover a variety of topics and they had a good lesson about bad words.

Even though I'm going to redo this formatting, hopefully on the same slide, I wanted to share these photos I took as I was going down a slide at a park near Naha.  I need to set it up with the same settings on each photo and make it so the pictures are taken more evenly spaced.  Also, need to maintain spacing or have no one in front of me as I go down the slide.

To 'slide' down the slide with me, click the photo and use left/right arrows to scroll through the pictures.  I can't wait to make a better version of this, now that I've practiced, but here's my first and only attempt (so far).