Sunday, August 5, 2012

Forum Following and Blog Growth

I recently joined a forum on philosophy as part of a small effort to improve my blogging.  I've not completely given up on my attempt to keep my blogging topics varied but as I'm obviously spending more time on the topic of philosophy I might as well embrace it (at least some).  Well, never mind as I'm writing this I'm looking for a language learning forum also.  Turns out, it's a lot harder to find a forum on language learning than it was for philosophy!  The first few sites I tried were either blocked, suspicious or full.  I did end up finding UniLang.  Hopefully it's active, I used to be an avid forum follower/writer, back in college.

Recently, I've taken to reading and writing blog entries.  I follow several blogs, mostly on runningrunning barefoot, barefootedness in general, an NPR blog, the resurgence blog, and of course my buddy Will's blog.  This isn't a comprehensive list either, so, obviously I'm a big fan of blog reading!  I use Google reader as my blog reading tool, it's cool because it allows you to keep them all in the same place (trust me I don't visit every one of those pages every day), and you can organize them into folders (sometimes, it's a little glitchy on that part).  All in all I spend about thirty minutes a day reading various blogs and news pages.  One of the pointers I read about improving my blog is to read more and write less, I take it that pointer means that bloggers should concentrate on quality NOT quantity.  I totally understand that, though I'm just proud that I've been able to maintain a regular schedule (sort of).

My next step in this blogging experience is a blog carnival.  I know, new term to me too!  I guess it's a sort of round-table blogging experience where people with similar type blogs all submit entries for each other to read and comment on.  In all my blog entries the only thing that gets me down is the lack of comments on my entries.  I commonly make requests for responses but most often I don't get any...  So, all you out there in the blogosphere (yeah, that's you, if you're reading this) please feel free to comment.

---Update, 13 May 2013---

I follow the stats for my blog and I've noticed this particular entry is my most popular entry and I'd like to put in an update to improve this entry.  First off, all the things I've done to improve my blog have worked, at least I think so.  I concentrate on staying (somewhat) on topic, and I feel that my NOT focusing on timelines allows me to produce better work.  I haven't been all that active on the philosophy forum or the linguistics forum but I have been seeking out various sources of information on that front.  I do regularly frequent the forums on and I still read several different blogs.  Unfortunately, Google Reader is going away soon and I'm still looking for a replacement, so far I've been using a Mac program Reeder, though it relies on Google Reader so it might stop working when the site stops working.  I've been running a series, which helps keep me on topic and it keeps me somewhat on task and studying the same series of lectures.  One of the most rewarding things I've done through my blog is the blog carnival I host.  I use to advertise my carnival and it seems to be doing well.

I still find it ironic that the most viewed entry on my site requests comments and I still don't have any.

Working on my macro photography

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stand Up for What You Believe In (or Don't Believe In)

As I think of this title I'm reminded of the song from a Veggietales movie, Stand Up for What you Believe In.  The reason I chose this topic stems from all the anger and arguments that have been thrown around about a variety of topics lately.  Namely, the Chick-fil-A statements about homosexuality and marriage, gun control or lack thereof, etc.  Especially concerning the Chick-fil-A controversy...

This is not intended to be a post about homosexual marriage; neither for, nor against.  What I'm getting at here is how people should react to statements like the one made by the president of a company as he was standing up for what he/they believe.  Why does one man's statement about what he believes and how he runs his company stir up such hateful protests and responses?  There's NOTHING anti-gay about ANYTHING Mr. Cathy said.  Saying that one believes in the biblical definition of marriage is NOT anti-gay.  That's like saying being pro-milk is the same as being anti-alcohol.  I know it's not a direct parallel, but you get the point.  Also, believing that homosexuality is a sin isn't something one should be defamed for.  Standing up for what one believes is admirable.  If you believe differently, then feel free to share your opinion however you want.  So often the LGBT groups talk about hate and bigotry, but they're often the first to throw the mud and defame people that just believe differently than they.

I was taught a long time ago that the first side in any argument that throws the first personal attack (ad hominem argument) has lost the argument.  Essentially that idea comes from the idea that the first party to run out of real logical arguments and starts 'slinging insults' has lost the argument.  Truthfully, just calling someone "anti-gay" is only slightly insulting, and that article is one of the least insulting responses I've seen.  So, who threw the first insult?  It appears to me, from the articles I searched for on Google, the first article was the one from Baptist Press, and it wasn't rude at all.  A company president just stated his (and his company's) stance that they believe in the biblical definition of marriage.

On this note: I watched a response to Chick-fil-A's statements that also blasted Mr. Cathy as not knowing the biblical idea of marriage.  The video referenced several Old Testament verses that pertain to people being married in a variety of (what is currently viewed as) unsavory conditions (e.g. raped woman must marry rapist, man must marry deceased brother's wife, variety of polygamy and harem examples).  My response to that vlog'er is: If you want to reference the Bible to tear someone down; you should read the whole Bible and understand what's going on in all those situations before casting judgement.  Maybe focus on the parts that talk about NOT casting judgment...

Back to the real topic, if you're pro-homosexuality/homosexual marriage feel free to express yourself and say so, but don't call me (or Mr. Cathy) a bigot (or worse) you're not helping your cause and you're just being intolerant (like so many accuse Christians of being).  Believing the Bible is true and that homosexuality is wrong is not intolerance, hatred, or even judgement.  Don't get me wrong, there are TONS of bigots out there (I can't believe I just linked that horrible 'church' on my blog; I DO NOT recommend you go to that link!  It was just an example).  Please don't lump someone like me, that loves Jesus and accepts everyone as a person that God created and loves, with those that twist the Bible into a message of hate.

Awesome fireworks at the aquarium here on Okinawa, this is NOT the finale, just the end of the first part

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 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 (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!