Trivialities: The Perils of being an Outlier

I am an outlier.  At least in one way.  I am incredibly near-sighted.  I also have an enormous head.  So yesterday at the eye doctor didn’t go well.  I saw a sweet pair of prescription sunglasses, which had a sort of Malcolm X  look.  They were so cool.  But they were too small for my enormous head (we’re talking ENORMOUS).  I asked if they came in different sizes and then the bomb was dropped.  Since prescription sunglasses often wrap around the head, there are few that even come in my atrociously high prescription.  But almost NO glasses even come in the size that’s appropriate for my head.  So I left without a new pair of prescription sunglasses.  So I had my glasses cleaned and that was that.

As an outlier it’s harder to find items that work for you.  Businesses that manufacture and sell items can’t waste their time and money by keeping items in stock that almost no one wants to buy.  They’re here to provide a service to people, but there’s no use in providing a service that no one wants.  The problem is few people want prescription sunglasses, but then the number of those people who are also people with enormous heads and terrible vision is even smaller.  So unless they are some kind of specialty shop, how can they devote stock and money to providing prescription sunglasses for people who probably won’t come in.  So we’ll see if I can acquire a set of prescription sunglasses.  I hope so.

Tune in MWF for more content.
Peace be with you,
-JS

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America’s Skewed Perspective

America (or the American media) have a skewed perspective on the world.  Every piece of news comes out looking all upside down or sideways.  Think back to almost every major leak by wikileaks, or to Edward Snowden’s revelations.  It’s almost as if the people who do the news are looking at the issues while hanging from monkey bars.

There’s a weird formula that all major episodes with a whistleblower go down.  They follow this outline:

  1. Leaker leaks his leak saying US Government/party/candidate did terrible things X, Y, and Z.
  2. Sometimes some foreign news outlets will run the following story: US Government/party/candidate did terrible things X, Y, and Z.
  3. The ubiquitous story in the US becomes: Leaker leaks his leak!  Tune in to hear us discuss whether we think Leaker is a good guy or should be tried/murdered!  The token devil’s advocate will say “but what about X, Y, and Z?” and be quickly dismissed while we discuss all the dirty details of Leaker’s personal life.

Consider the following cases:

Even some of the most balanced seeming reporting, e.g., settles on the question of whether Snowden (and the few press who cooperated with him) is a criminal and should be punished and not on the issues his leaks expose.

 

This happened again after wikileaks leaked the DNC’s emails showing their concerted (and corrupt) effort to make sure Hillary Clinton got selected as a candidate over Bernie Sanders.  I’m not sure what this skewed perspective means.  Maybe it’s something to do with political pressure on the media.  Maybe everyone in the media has a particular sort of state apologist’s perspective on the world.  Maybe it just makes for more watchable news to talk about a guy than to talk about terrible government wrongdoing.  I’m not sure which of these is true.  It’s simply concerning, and, I would think, depressing for those who may leak the next terrible wrongdoing by various American actors.  Our only hope, really, is the alternative news outlets.

Tune in MWF for more content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Pokemon Hunting in the Branson, Missouri Area

Hunting Pokemon in Branson, MO was a lot of fun.  Later on I will post about my Pokemon haul from down there.  And it was quite a haul.

But let me spend some time talking about the various places to play Pokemon in Branson Missouri.  There are a number of places I’d like to recommend to you as great both for your tourist needs and for your Pokemon Go needs.  The Branson area has a lot to offer.

College of the Ozarks

The first place I noticed was College of the Ozarks.  It is full of PokeStops.  Unfortunately, Niantic put about 8 of those stops in a very important war memorial.  So Pokemon Hunting is quasi-banned in College of the Ozarks.  So, after hearing this I did some research and this is the scoop.  Pokemon Go is banned near the war memorials in College of the Ozarks.  You are welcome to play Pokemon Go at the myriad other stops on campus, as long as you do it respectfully.  This is a great place to stock up, and a beautiful campus to admire.

Silver Dollar City

A trip to Silver Dollar City is also a great place to stock up on Poke Balls and to catch some rare Pokemon.  The Branson area is absolutely LOUSY with Nidorans, so you’ll catch a bunch of them.  The best times to hunt hear seem to be around opening time and around closing time.  These are the times I caught things like the Snorlax I found there, among other cool things (like a couple squirtles).  You will have a problem here.  You will have trouble keeping up with the Pokemon with the PokeBalls you get if you are enjoying the park at an ordinary park pace.  There are tons of stops, but there will be more Pokemon.  Silver Dollar City is great for Pokemon Hunting whether you are going hard core Pokemon or just enjoying the park while playing the game.

Branson River Landing

If, instead, you want to enjoy some tourist shopping instead of theme parks or college tours then you might want to enjoy Branson River Landing.  Here there are tons of little shops and things to enjoy, as well as tons of PokeStops and Pokemon.  Go a little further down the hill and you can enjoy two stops and tons of Pokemon at the Bass Pro Shops on the river.  This is also a great place to hunt Pokemon.

Table Rock State Park and the Hatchery

There is a road that goes by Table Rock State Park, several other cool destinations, and ends at the Fish Hatchery.  There are tons of stops along this way that will allow you to get out and take a look at the beautiful countryside.  This was a very fun part of the trip both for Pokemon Hunting and for enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

Later I’ll do a Pokemon Haul from the trip, but hopefully this will help those of you considering Pokemon Hunting in the Branson area.

Thomism and Epistemology

I’m a Thomist, but I’m technically a specialist in analytic epistemology.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find people who give a Thomist epistemology.  I’ve struggled to find anything particularly helpful.  Etienne Gilson says some interesting things about modern epistemology and its roots in the Cartesian doubt.  He rightly points out that Thomas Aquinas doesn’t think of skepticism as a live option.  But he also thinks that Thomas Aquinas purposely distances himself from epistemology.

But there has to be a Thomist epistemology.  A Thomist epistemology needn’t take skepticism seriously.  There are all sorts of respectable epistemologies that don’t take skepticism to be a live option.

But there’s also a nearly irresistable urge when we take this line to construe Thomas as an externalist.  I also think that this is problematic.

So how do we proceed in trying to figure out what Thomas’s epistemology is so that we can subject it to critical scrutiny?  I’m not sure what the answer is.  We need to look at the places where knowledge comes up in the discussion of other topics.  We need to look where the knowledge of God comes up.  We need to look where Aquinas talks about the sciences and their nature.  We need to look at where Aquinas talks about how we know God.  We need to look at his theory of cognition.

In the coming years, I would like to engage in a project of searching out some of the main places where Aquinas discusses knowledge so that I can settle once and for all what Aquinas thinks about the nature of knowledge and justification.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Making Sense of Trump

Donald Trump, primarily, is a reality show star.  He knows this world and he knows the strategies of this world.  But what is being a reality show star about?  Well, one of the best strategies in reality shows is to be outrageous and villainous.  That is, you should do things that keep people talking about you and make yourself the most recognizable person in the show.  Say outrageous things.  You’ll get people saying “Can you believe what Johnny said on Survivor yesterday?”  You need to create a persona.  Preferably you will create an outrageous one that gets people talking.  You will also make your persona able to be boiled down into a few words.

Trump, for example, is playing the outrageous brash business tycoon.  He’s the classic confident reality star who “isn’t here to make friends; he’s here to win.”  He stays in your brain by saying those things that will trigger the offense circuit in your brain and make you clutch your pearls and say “well, I never!”

This keeps him in your mind.  Everyone who is continuously offended by Trump (especially those in the news media) is playing right into his hands.  Trump’s message is carefully constructed to get you to feel a certain way.  He is then able to predict your moves and what you will think, because he made you feel in that particular way.

Think of the masterful way that Trump has recently taken the headlines again.  Wikileaks releases records of the DNC’s emails showing the contempt the democratic establishment had for Bernie supporters, and for a day or so the news is about the leak and is about the DNC.  But with a single speech Donald Trump has made the headlines about him.  He says that if Russia was the group that hacked Hillary’s emails, then he hopes they’d find those missing emails and release them.  All of a sudden the media is on a fainting couch saying “Can you believe that Trump just called for Russian espionage?!”  And all of a sudden, Trump wrenches the headlines back to talking about him.  He also anticipated that his comments would be misconstrued, giving him more ammunition with his followers to play the “misunderstood” card.

He’s a genius and the media are playing straight into his hands.  The down side of all of this is that we don’t ever know what Trump’s actual views are.

Honestly, I think that Trump will be a deeply mediocre president if elected (but terrible in the sense that a libertarian thinks all presidents are terrible).  He only plays a supervillain on tv to trick you into still thinking about him.  Hillary isn’t any better.  Vote Gary Johnson I guess.

Is Rey too good at everything in Star Wars?

There has been a lot of online discussion over the last six months on the question of whether Rey is a Mary Sue (a term for a–usually female–character for whom everything comes ludicrously easy) in Star Wars Episode VII.  Max Landis, a really great writer, director, and YouTuber, is the originator of this theory.  And there are accusations that this is a sexist charge, and it probably is for many individuals on the net.  Here’s Max’s point: all Rey does is succeed.  She never fails and beats everyone up and is an expert at everything and beats a more experienced Sith lord in a lightsaber fight.  Max thinks that this removes all the tension from Rey’s story, and to a certain extent I think he’s right.  We don’t ever worry about whether Rey can do it in any situation in the movie.  This makes the story not very compelling.

I’m not so sure.  I won’t talk about the in-universe explanations that make her being good at stuff make sense because this isn’t Max’s point.  Max doesn’t think the story doesn’t make sense, he just think that the story as written doesn’t contain enough tension.  He thinks it doesn’t get us invested in the action.

But I’m not sure that the action is supposed to be what gives rise to the tension in this movie.  Rey’s story is about emotional growth and acceptance of oneself.  We are fairly liberal with Rey’s abilities (relatively easily explainable in universe) so that the action doesn’t distract from Rey’s emotional journey.  Fundmentally, Star Wars Episode VII is a coming of age story that takes place in a world paying homage to the original Star Wars movies.  It’s a story of a girl who is having trouble coming to terms with being a magical space wizard.  And believe me, this is difficult to come to terms with.  She’s also struggling with letting go of ever seeing her family again.  There are two parts of Rey struggling within her.  There is the part of her that just wants to live an ordinary life, waiting on Jakku for her parents, but there is the other part of her that longs for something more than her ordinary scavenger’s existence.  The movie is about her finally coming to accept her power and her being extraordinary.

Now, there are other characters that some accuse of having too little to do in Episode VII, but we’ll discuss these at a later date.

Check back on WMFs for new content!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Bug Out Bags: What Apocalypse is most plausible to prepare for?

So as a fun way to think about catch-all emergency-readiness, in our house we do some basic things “in case of zombie apocalypse.”  This is obviously silly.  A zombie apocalypse is not going to happen.  But apocalypses happen. And there are emergencies to be prepared for.

The most reasonable kind of emergency to prepare for involves evacuations.  Evacuations happen fairly often, as apocalypses go.  You will be subject to evacuation most often if you live in an area subject to hurricanes.  But you might have to evacuate an area due to almost any large-scale natural disaster.  You may be evacuated for a hurricane, for an earthquake, for flooding, and even for when the aliens from Independence Day come down and destroy all our most treasured monuments.

So in my house we’ve created Bug Out Bags.  Many people have these and you can find a number of great websites devoted to what you should put in your bugout bag.  But creating a bugout bag can be a fun thing to do.  Look through some of the lists on line, think about what you would need in a situation where you need to live away from home on short notice for a while, be frugal, and if you don’t have family nearby, maybe live in a camping or survival style mode for a while.  If all else fails, you’ll simply have prepared a backpack for some rugged super minimalist camping.

Good luck with your prepping. In future posts I’ll talk about some of the trials and tribulations of coming up with our bugout bag.  And maybe I’ll talk about our survival pack, which is like a mini, entry level bugout bag that is more portable.

Check in for more posts every MWF.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Why Do People Not Get Pokemon Go!?

It’s weird. Above a certain age, in all probability the only mention that will be made of Pokemon Go! is of people walking into the holocaust museum playing it, people getting injured playing it, people falling off a cliff playing it.  Even people that are seeing the benefits of it do so through gritted teeth.

I went to the Doctor today and was talking about how healthy I felt after playing Pokemon Go for a couple of weeks straight.  I was told that the doctor didn’t care what a person did as long as it got them active.  It’s the weirdest thing.

You should have been there. It was as if the very idea of Pokemon Go pissed him off, but he was having to admit that it has some few benefits.  I honestly don’t get it.

Do people hate texting because some people pay attention to  their texts instead of the road and got hit by a car crossing the street?  Do people hate gum because some people stop paying attention while putting in a stick and trip over their own feet?  Do you hate baseball caps because someone disrespectfully wears a baseball cap in church or at a funeral?

The answer to all these questions is no.  You may be unhappy with people’s behaviour, but you don’t dislike the vehicle of the person’s bad behavior.

So what is it that people hate about Pokemon Go?  Maybe it’s the connected to those old trashy MTV dating shows. Do you remember those shows?  There were these shows where a person would be set up to go on a blind date with a person, and at any point in the date, they could end it and bring in another person, rejecting the first date.  Invariably the person who got rejected would change their attitude upon being rejected.  They would invariably turn to the camera and say that they never even wanted to go out with that jerk.

Maybe this is the problem people have with Pokemon Go.  They see a thing that other people are enjoying and they can’t enjoy it, so in order to convince themselves that this is the right case, they decide instead to think of this thing that clearly looks fun as something to be hated.  This makes them feel better about not understanding the really cool new thing that everyone loves.

What do you think? Is this why a lot of older people hate Pokemon Go?  Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Tune in MWF for more content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Video Rental Review: Daybreakers

I love Ethan Hawke.  I love him so much.  Ethan Hawke is so dreamy.  He also picks some of the most interesting genre films to star in.  He began to build his status as a genre legend with Gattaca.  But lately he’s just been hitting it out of the park in genre film.  There’s Predestination, to be discussed in a later podcast, and then there is Daybreakers.  I love Daybreakers.  It takes the concept of a vampire and turns it into a conceit for a dystopic scifi film.  It’s a film about decadent western society.  It’s a film about our dependence on coffee.  It’s a film about oil.  But most importantly, it’s a film about one individual’s search for redemption.

Daybreakers follows Ethan Hawke’s character, a conflicted vampire who never drinks human blood and is searching for a cure to vampirism 0r a formula for fake blood that will keep vampires from deteriorating into their more horrific form in the wake of a dwindling supply of real blood.

His brother is in the military, whose primary task is to go out and hunt down humans in order to be brought back and bled dry by the multinational corporation in charge of both the military and the blood supply.

Through a series of unfortunate events, these brothers are pitted against each other in Hawke’s search for answers and for healing.  The movie largely plays as an allegory for abuse of the environment, but it also can be seen as a vehicle for the discussion of the ethics of eating animals.

Ethan Hawke’s journey alone is worth the price of admission here, let alone the really interesting performance by Willem Defoe.

Tune in every Monday Wednesday and Friday for more posts.  This Wednesday I will be talking about how to play Pokemon Go safely and ethically.

Science Standards, Philosophy Education, and Cross-Cutting Concepts

The next generation science standards are out.  These standards include a number of things besides mere knowledge of scientific facts.  These are called cross-cutting concepts.  Cross-cutting concepts are the things related to the practice of science that are not strictly science facts to learn.

The thing is, many of these cross-cutting concepts don’t end up being especially scientific.  The cross-cutting concepts involve things like “engage in argument from evidence” and “critically read a text,” etc.  They also involve teaching the students a particular philosophy of science.  One is to be taught a realist interpretation of the findings of science, among other things.

It is my contention that, if the things recommended in the next generation science standards are real goals we should have for high school students, then we should teach philosophy courses at the high school level.

Teaching students how to reason and reason well from evidence is something that is primarily and ideally the office of a philosopher.  This is why logic and basic reasoning classes are taught in philosophy departments.  Philosophers are familiar with the kinds of reasoning that need to be taught and the problems people encounter in reasoning.  Further, philosophy instruction in high school would uniquely position the philosophy teachers to teach the aspects of the philosophy of science that science teachers might simply give uncritically or teach without knowing the significant debates in the area.

High school education should include philosophical education.

Peace be with you.
-JS