Saturday, January 31, 2009

Posthumous School Schedule

During my logic class this week, I decided what classes I will take during my first semester as a student at Afterlife University (or whatever facility of quite literally higher learning is available in Heaven, assuming I make it in). Here’s what my first semester as a freshmen on the flipside will look like:

Philosophy of Mathematics
Intermediate Guitar
Introduction to Physics
Gardening 101
Culinary Arts for Beginners*
*time permitting

Why save these for the afterlife? Well, it’s not as if I don’t want to learn them now. Obviously they wouldn’t be on my list if I weren’t interested in them. But these are kind of like my fantasy classes, the classes I’d take now if only I had all the time and money in the world, not to mention the ability to grasp all of the necessary skills and concepts that the classes would be designed to teach me. It seems there are things like this—things we’d really like to know how to do or know more about, but either we don’t have the time to give them the full attention they would require or we simply don’t believe we could really master the material. Well, this is my list. Intermediate Guitar is a questionable inclusion, since guitar is something I should/would (could?) make more time for in this life. But it’s hard to devote the time to it that I wish I could/would (should?). Yes, it stinks, but that’s why I sometimes live in a fantasy world, making up lists of classes to take in the afterlife.

So, what classes will you be taking?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Belles of the Bawl

I can't help but feel incredibly annoyed by the events reported in this article, concerning a high school girl's basketball team who defeated their opponents 100-0. Apparently, the team is apologizing for their victory and seeking a retroactive forfeit, worrying that they demonstrated poor sports(wo)manship by crushing the other team to the extent they did. A few details might seem pertinent to the case. First of all, both schools are private schools. Secondly, the winning school is a Christian school. Thirdly, the losing school is incredibly small—there are only 20 girls in the whole school, eight of which play on the basketball team. Fourth, the losing school has not won a game in four years. Fifth and finally, the losing school caters to students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADD, and the like. Perhaps these facts are not relevant, but I assume at least some of them will influence the way at least some people react to at least some aspects of what happened.

Moving on, I think much of this is ridiculous. It seems like political correctness once again run amok. Now, it may very well be that the winning team acted poorly in some way. For example, if members of the winning team intentionally derided members of the losing team, we might claim they demonstrated poor sportsmanship. But this hardly calls for a retroactive forfeiture, and it certainly doesn't justify apologizing for winning. None of that makes sense to me. What, for instance, would forfeiting accomplish? It's clear that the losing team did not stand a chance of winning. So why should the winning team forfeit? They didn't cheat. If anything, forfeiting the game seems a bit condescending. It's not much different than just handing the other team the ball and intentionally letting them win. Does that really help anybody? Who could possibly feel good about that?

Anyway, the story irked me. People tend to think I'm callous because I've always scoffed at stories where the disadvantaged are catered to in such artificial ways. For example, when people with certain disabilities (be they mental or physical) are voted homecoming king/queen or given a spot on the varsity football team. It's one thing if people in the school genuinely admire the person's perseverance and think that person deserves the recognition he/she is given. But, sadly, I think people are often just trying to prevent hurt feelings or, even worse, save face. I'm willing to bet there are people out there without any official disabilities who are just as heartbroken at being excluded from certain activities as are those who are sometimes handed the opportunities merely because of their disabilities. It's the “merely because” that irks me, and it's the “merely because” that could (and should!) offend those who are sometimes the recipients of this “generosity.”

Blah. I'm sure I could have said something more interesting about all this. I first ran into this story a few days ago and wanted to blog about it right away, but I've procrastinated. On top of that, it's late and I need to go to bed so I'm rushing through this and trying only to capture my most basic thoughts on the matter. Nonetheless, does anyone even slightly agree with me here? Is anyone sympathetic? Just remember, if you don't validate my feelings, you're not being a very politically correct person—especially now that I have a permanent limp.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Belated Merry Christmas to Our Bottoms

Ever since Melanie and I got married, we’ve had the same couch. Theoretically, that’s not a problem, except for the fact that the couch was a hand-me-down from my brother and has long since seen its prime. With two small children, any tears that have appeared in the sofa have quickly been exaggerated by curious, prying hands. At this stage, the couch is suffering from myriad fatal wounds. What’s worse, Peter likes to snack on its entrails when given the chance, so if you’re holding him while sitting on the couch, you’re constantly trying to keep his hands to himself, which can be an exhausting task.

For Christmas, Melanie and I were blessed with some generous monetary gifts from both parents and grandparents. We accumulated enough that a new sofa became a viable option for us. And so, on Saturday, after having researched what we could on the Internet, Melanie and I embarked on a couch-shopping trip. One place we visited is called American Freight, which claims to sell unclaimed freight. Their store is literally a warehouse—not very store-like at all. Sofas are lined up back-to-back so that you can’t even sit on them without moving other sofas out of the way. But, from what we had seen elsewhere, the prices were fantastic. One sofa in particular caught our eye. We adjusted things so we could sit on it, and when we did, we found it extremely comfortable. We were smitten.

There was one catch. The sofa we liked was available only as part of a set that included a loveseat. We hadn’t planned on buying a loveseat at this point in our lives, although we thought we would do so within a few years’ time. Technically, we could afford to buy the set, but should we? We left the store and kept talking about it. Eventually, we decided it was a worthwhile purchase. It certainly wouldn’t be any easier to buy these items sometime down the road. And so, a few hours after leaving the store, we were back. We bought the set. A few hours later, it was in our living room.

I must say, our derrieres are happy. The only downside that we didn’t realize during our relatively brief stint sitting on the couches at the warehouse is that the seats aren’t quite as deep as the seats on our old couch. That is, the support doesn’t extend as far out (toward your knees) as on the old couch. So, in comparison, we feel like our legs are kind of dangling. I’m sure we’ll get used to it, but it’s one noticeable difference that doesn’t completely thrill us.

I thought I’d go ahead and share some photos of our new furniture, as well as a picture of our old couch, so you can see that it was truly time for a new one. Be forewarned, the image of the old couch is somewhat grisly. It looks more like a crime scene photo, especially because I’ve circled the most damaging injuries the couch has sustained over the last few years. Those with heart problems are advised not to view the photo. Young children should also be kept away.

The Old:

The New:

The Loveseat Too:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Philosopher Kings: Don’t Rule Them Out Just Yet

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the best (and worst) jobs in the United States of America. (Click here to see the article.) Interestingly, philosopher comes in at a very respectable #12. I’m just pleased they thought to include the job of a philosopher in the cited study, given that philosophy is often stereotyped as leading absolutely nowhere. Even more exciting is the fact that philosophy ranked so high when two of the five criteria used to determine the rankings were (a) employment outlook and (b) income. (The other three criteria, in case you’re interested, are: work environment, the physical demands of the job, and job-related stress.) It looks like philosophy’s not such a bad move after all.

Several people I know and/or love might find the rankings interesting. The #1 job on the list is mathematician. (Congrats, sis!) The #2 job is that of an actuary, and I’ve known a couple of people who have considered that line of work. #9 is Industrial Designer, which is relevant to Melanie’s brother, and #18 is computer programmer, which many of us seem to know one or two. On the opposite end of the list, the worst job is that of a lumberjack, while the seventh worst job is that of a garbage collector. (Sorry, bro!) The #9 worst job is that of a roustabout. I’d never heard of a roustabout. I looked it up on, and it looks like it could be anything from a wharf laborer to a circus laborer to someone who works in an oil field. I’m not sure which meaning the job rankings were supposed to reflect.

My main point in posting this, of course, is to promote philosophy, especially after my most recent post. Still, I wished I could find the link I had sent to me in an email that was an annual report from one of the Ivy League schools. (I can’t remember which one; I want to say Stanford, or perhaps Harvard.) Anyway, I couldn’t find the link, but it reported on the highest average earnings for those who earned graduate degrees at the university. Those who earned graduate degrees in philosophy had the highest average annual income when compared to graduates of all other graduate programs at the school. No, I’m not kidding. Of course, as the person who sent me the email pointed out, this is bound to be a severely flawed statistic. Because philosophy is such a small program, there are relatively few students earning philosophy graduate degrees. Thus, one or two of them making a large sum of money would throw off the statistics for philosophy graduates as a whole. Given that these are Ivy League students, it is possible that some of these philosophy students went off to work for their rich father’s company after graduation and are now earning a pretty penny. Nonetheless, it was an interesting (and somewhat amusing) piece.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spring Semester Starts, Several Students Still Shockingly Stupid

The first week of the spring semester is over and done. I must say, I'm in very good spirits (aside from a minor cold I'm battling—mostly an annoyingly scratchy throat). I expected this semester to be an overwhelming one. I'm taking two required courses that are supposed to be extremely demanding (one called “Modern Logic I,” which is largely a philosophy of mathematics class, and the other being a “core course” on metaphysics and epistemology). I'm also taking a class on libertarian (not in the political sense) theories of free will and TA-ing for an intro to philosophy class, the latter of which involves leading two discussion groups per week. Fortunately, though it may be premature to say so, I am feeling quite hopeful about managing these responsibilities. Having gotten my first peek at them, I'm not sure they'll prove any more grueling than I am used to dealing with, and that's a great relief. If I stay on top of things, I am hopeful this semester will not be anything beyond exhausting, which is something I've grown accustomed to.

One reason I'm feeling a bit more optimistic is because of the weekly discussion groups I am leading. They are going to be more laid back than I had expected. That is, I don't think I'll have to be spending exorbitant amounts of time preparing for them. I wasn't sure that would be the case, so this is great news. However, I had the first of these discussion groups just a couple of days ago, and I was a bit disheartened at the students' ability (or inability rather) to differentiate between fact and opinion. I asked the class what they thought philosophy was, since I think most people do not know as well as they think they might. People tend to think philosophy is all about opinion and subjectivity. They think it's completely independent of objective truth. Many times I've had people tell me they don't like philosophy because they want to deal with “facts.” This is obnoxious to me, because I think what they really mean is that they want things to be super straightforward – they don't want to think about what the facts are, they just want to have the facts told to them. Philosophy is as much a search for objective fact as is science. In fact, philosophy is very often not as sloppy in its conclusions as is science.

But I digress. The point is, I had several students in my discussion groups tell me that philosophy is more about opinion than about facts. That they are misguided in this way is not the worst part. What is bothersome to me is that when I push them on what the difference between fact, opinion, and belief is, they don't seem to give a very good answer. I worry that they have been raised in a society that is so politically correct and tolerant that they honestly don't know the difference between fact and opinion. God's existence, some of them want to say, is an opinion. To clarify, whether or not God exists is an opinion, according to many of these students. One student said something along these lines: “I believe in God, so for me, it's a fact that God exists. But I wouldn't say that's the case for everyone. I know there are people out there who don't believe in God, so for them, it's an opinion.” Huh?!?!? That's not how it works, folks. I proposed the following thought experiment to the class: say we stumbled upon a sealed box that we could not open. Say some of us believed there was a certain object in the box, and others of us did not. I then asked the students if there would be a fact of the matter regarding whether or not that object is actually in the box. There was not much consensus in the classroom about that. Yikes.

So that's the beginning to my semester. The bottom line is that I'm hopeful. And happy. Talk to you again soon.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Potpourri No. 23: New Year's Edition

Tiny tidbits marking the transition from 2008 to 2009…

Goodbye, 2008!
Melanie and I welcomed 2009 in the grand tradition of renting a bunch of movies and buying a ton of snacks. Not only did we boost our Netflix membership up to the three-at-a-time option (just for this month, solely for the purposes of celebrating New Year’s Eve in style), but we ended up getting a couple of DVDs from the library as well. We watched Horton Hears a Who! with Edison (when Mommy and Daddy weren’t dozing off), and then once Edison was in bed, Melanie and I watched Hancock, which I really enjoyed (though the first half is much better than the second half). Once the movie was over, we still had about an hour before the new year would arrive, so Melanie and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle while watching the latest episode of Top Chef, which we had recorded earlier in the evening. All in all, it was an indulgent and fun evening, and we had plenty of movies left over to last us through the weekend.

Hello, 2009!
On New Year’s Day itself, Melanie started a new tradition of baking a cake for New Year’s Day breakfast. Eddie was thrilled about that and has adamantly requested the cake every few hours since. (He insisted it was a birthday cake, and as such, we had to put candles in it and sing.) The cake, which was yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, has finally been entirely devoured, but it was fun while it lasted. A few hours after that, we packed up a picnic lunch and headed to Lake Ella to feed the ducks as well as ourselves. There were tons and tons of seagulls at the park, which is not the case in the warmer months, and this made the feeding of ducks a rather intimidating experience. Whenever poor Edison would toss a duck a scrap of bread, it seemed a thousand seagulls would swarm around him and begin their screeching supplications for food. It kind of freaked my little boy out, and I don’t blame him. (Obligatory 80’s pop-music pun: This was a flock of seagulls that would definitely inspire a person to run, to run so far away.) Luckily, the seagulls are fairly quick to move on once they realize you don’t have anything more to give them. We were able to eat our lunch in peace.

The Page Turner
Reading was a fairly successful activity in 2008. I read a grand total of 6,779 pages. That might not sound all that impressive, considering I had read nearly 2,200 pages by the end of last February. But, I can’t help feeling good about the totals. My goal for 2009 is to read somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 pages. I’m not as confident about this as I could be, but we’ll give it a shot. For some reason, the bus system in Tallahassee doesn’t seem as conducive to leisure reading as did the train system in Atlanta, even though I’m probably spending roughly the same amount of time in transit on any given school day. Still, I’m certain I can do better than I have been doing the last several months, where I’ve failed to read even 500 pages within a 30-day period. For shame!

You’re Older Than You’ve Ever Been, And Now You’re Even Older
Another adulthood benchmark was reached this last week as Melanie and I became official members of Costco. Beyond a few basics, I’m not sure how much of our shopping we can really do at Costco, since we’re still a small family and purchasing certain items in bulk just doesn’t make sense. But we figure the cost of the Costco membership will be returned to us on the price of milk alone. It’s at least a dollar cheaper per gallon at Costco than anywhere else we’ve seen, and we’re somewhat big on milk around here lately. The cheese was also a lot cheaper, and I’m guessing we can save roughly one buck every time we fill up on gasoline if we do it through Costco. And so, it seems the membership dues will be worth it. It’s also nice that, because it’s a brand new Costco, it’s not very crowded yet, unlike Wal-Mart. Another perk: lots of free samples. I'm jonesin' for another chicken potsticker!

From the Mouths of Babes
Tonight, Melanie and I finally hung up a curtain rod in our bedroom. It’s not like we’ve needed one, but our bedroom is right by the front door, and the porch lights come on automatically every night and are not something we can turn off. Ergo, our bedroom is fairly well lit during the nighttime hours. We’ve wanted to rectify this situation for a while, but during the school year, it always seemed I had some other project that was more pressing. Well, tonight there is finally a curtain hanging in our bedroom. Whew! But the best part about it all is what Edison said to me after I had finished screwing in the brackets and officially nestled the curtain rod into place. He said, “I’m so proud of you!” Well, you had to hear it for it to be as cute as it was, but it made me feel better about the project than actually having the project completed. I’ve never heard him use that phrase before. It was adorable.

Time Keeps on Slipping…
The problem with going out of town for the holidays is that the time passes all too quickly. I rushed to get all of my final papers done for the semester, and then just a few short days later, we flew to Utah. Now we’re back in Tallahassee, and in just a few days, I’ll be back at school. Tuesday morning, to be exact. I can hardly believe it. Call me spoiled, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve had much of a break. Certainly not three weeks worth! Sadness. I’m not all that excited about being super busy again. And this semester, I’ll be going to campus five days a week. I haven’t had to do that in a long time. Sigh. Oh well.