How’s This for Irony? American Blimps and Amish Buggies


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Questions for Democrats Watching Republican Debate #3


Here are three questions for Democrats to ask themselves as they watch the third Republican debate tonight:Republican Logo

  • “Among the top five contenders, who has the best chance of beating the Democrat nominee in the general election?”
  • “Among the top five contenders, who has the best chance of losing to the Democrat nominee in the general election?”
  • “Which Republican would I be most open to voting for if he of she wins the nomination?”
  • “Would I be likely to vote for one of these Republican candidates instead of the Democrat nominee?”

I hope to see your responses here.

Related links:

Shopping for a President: Republican Debate #3


Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.51.21 PMThe top ten contenders for the Republican nomination gather tonight for their third presidential debate. It will be aired on CNBC at 8:00 pm ET.

These debates offer the electorate one of the best vantage points for peering into the character and policy plans of the candidates. Many expect the field of serious contenders to be winnowed after tonight.

I hope you’ll be watching.

But what should we be watching for? What questions will inform our observations as the event unfolds? Here are some things that will have my attention:

  • There will be the usual one-upmanship on display. Look for the contest between Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Does the “religion issue” come up? How does that play out? How will their inevitable sparring affect their post-debate poll numbers?
  • Who apart from Trump and Carson do well? I expect Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina will, and maybe Ted Cruz. They’ve all demonstrated tenacity.
  • I’m looking for Fiorina to do well. Hillary Clinton has made the fact that she’s a woman a central feature of her campaign. How would that play if the Republican nominee is also a woman? Fiorina needs to perform well again if she’s to gain more traction in the media.
  • Anticipate how the media will cover the debate in the days ahead. Fiorina has exceeded expectations in each debate so far. And she’s a woman. This should have attracted lasting media interest. So the shortage of media uptake has been puzzling. Maybe it has to do with the Trump vs. Carson obsession. I have a theory. Democrats care about who wins the Republican nomination. They’ve thought about the field of candidates and scored each one for his or her potential to defeat their own candidate. I think Ben Carson looks like an easy target. I think Ben Carson is an easy target. What about Trump? He has terrific potential to self-destruct and alienate people, if he can even win the nomination. If I’m right, the Dems have a vested interest in a Trump or Carson victory. That’s what I would be hoping for if I was Hillary Clinton. So if you’re a Republican, think of media attention as a weather vane. And consider the possibility that a left-leaning media will seek to control the buzz following the debate. Will they want a strong candidate to gain traction? Or will they continue promoting a national obsession with Trump and his closest contenders, whoever they may be at any given time?
  • As you listen to each debater, whose ideas have the most cogency? Who speaks persuasively about the most urgent domestic and foreign policy problems facing the nation? How specific is their plan? Do they know what they’re talking about? Have they done their homework? Are they focused on high priorities that matter to most of the electorate, including Republicans and Democrats?
  • Ask yourself, “Do I want to hear from this person for four to eight years if he or she becomes the next president?”
  • Ask yourself, “Would this person galvanize a nation with strength at home and abroad, with a winning persona, with an inspiring vision for the future?”
  • Ronald Reagan’s legacy has long been a reference point for Republican aspirations. As you watch the debate, does anyone sound most Reaganesque, in message and in tone.

You don’t have to be a Republican to play this game. You don’t have to be a Republican to have a stake in the outcome. If you’re a registered Democrat, you may want to consider the merits of a Republican candidate for the presidency.

What will you be watching for? Share your responses here.

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Thingamajig #3 – What Is This Object?


Here are three views of the same object.

View #1

Thingamajig-IMG_2904

View #2

Thingamajig-IMG_2905

View #3

Thingamajig-IMG_2906

Share your brilliance and answer these three questions:

  • What is it called?
  • What is it for?
  • How is it used?

Bonus question:

  • What creative uses for it can you think of?

What Kind of Presbyterian is Donald Trump?


Trump has lately been shouting that he is a Presbyterian, as if the only one who has trouble believing it is himself. This is not to say that most people believe it. But Trump needs to convince himself if he hopes to convince everyone else.

But what kind of Presbyterian is Donald Trump?

His claim might mean something if he would simply answer a few straightforward questions. For example: “Which ‘version’ of Presbyterian are you, Mr Trump? Are you PC USA (Presbyterian Church USA)? Are you PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)? Do you know the difference?” The PC USA is much larger, but only marginally theologically orthodox (to put it gently). The PCA is broadly evangelical and much closer to the tradition of Presbyterianism influenced from the outset by John Calvin, who was active during the European Reformation of the 16th century.

There are many other smaller branches of Presbyterianism spread out across the U.S. and Canada. Most of these are broadly evangelical. Is Trump the evangelical kind of Presbyterian?

John Knox-New College EdinburghNow if Trump thinks he will recruit scores of evangelicals to his cause simply by calling himself a Presbyterian, then maybe he doesn’t know what a Presbyterian is. Or maybe he doesn’t get evangelicals. Or maybe he doesn’t credit the intelligence and discernment of evangelicals, including those who are Presbyterians.

Here’s another question for Trump: “What is the name of the Confession of Faith historically affirmed by Presbyterians?” I would be surprised if he could answer this question without prompting from his handlers. (Yes, Donald Trump has “handlers.”)

Suppose Trump can name that Confession. Then he should be asked if he can complete this sentence from the Confession: “The chief end of man is to ____________________ and ____________________.”

If Trump can’t answer that question, he may know less about Presbyterianism than he does about Seventh-day Adventism. If he can answer that question, then he should ask himself how his campaign rhetoric holds up in light of its standard.

***

Bonus Question: Whose statue is pictured here and what does this guy have to do with Presbyterianism?

Triumph Thunderbird 1600 Service Manual


At the Triumph Motorcycle Rat Forum there’s a thread discussing the possibility of purchasing a service manual for the Triumph Thunderbird 1600. While those who have purchased the manual say they’re glad they did, even at a cost of $45-$138. But there’s a better option: a downloadable PDF file of the manual that Triumph Thunderbird med 1600 Twin(a) costs nothing, (b) is searchable, (c) can be saved to any computer or iOS device, and (4) can be printed, in whole or in part, as needed. Does it really get any better than that?

I went looking for the manual in order to troubleshoot a leak from under the fuel tank. The PDF file includes everything needed for this, including a detailed step-wise description and a series of parts diagrams. (It even notes the placement of the fuel tank support tool—part no. T3880806. Alas, this tool is longer available from Triumph. Probably because it really isn’t needed.)

“Where Is Everybody?”—Exploring the First Episode of “The Twilight Zone”—Part 2


The popular TV series The Twilight Zone was first broadcast in 1959. “Where Is Everybody?” is the first episode of the series. It was broadcast October 2, 1959. I’ve used it in philosophy classes to foster discussion about knowledge and justified belief.

The Twilight Zone-Where Is EverybodyI use a two-part handout with questions for guided discussion. In an earlier post, I listed the questions in Part 1. Those questions are designed to draw viewers into the story and help them recall and think about the events that transpire. In this post I list the questions used in Part 2 to facilitate reflection and discussion of themes in philosophy.

I screen the episode in class, then lead discussion around a selection of these questions. There are more questions here than can be used during a class period. So I encourage students to take some time with the rest of the questions on their own. I mix it up a little by having students get into small groups to share ideas that are prompted by two or three of the questions. Then we discuss a few of the more philosophically technical aspects of the story as a whole group. This allows me to include some lecturing. At the end I may allow time for students to write their thoughts about a wrap-up question. Students then turn in their notes, taken while viewing the story and during discussion.

You’re welcome to experiment with this exercise in your own teaching. Or you may want to view this episode of The Twilight Zone with some friends, then have a discussion around the issues raised in these questions. If you have suggestions of your own, feel free to write them in the comments box for this post. And if you do try these out in class, let us know how it goes.

Rod Serling-The Twilight Zone-image

Part II – Some Philosophical Questions

  1. At one point the main character says he has the strange feeling of being watched. Why does he think this? First, when he says this, what evidence does he have? Later it turns out that he is being watched. Does this explain why he thinks he’s being watched? And do those who are watching know what he is experiencing? Support your answers with evidence from the story.
  2. Why does the man think he’s suffering from amnesia? Is he suffering from amnesia? He thinks he might be dreaming? Is he dreaming? Explain your answers with evidence from the story.
  3. In the soda shop the man spins three bookracks. The fourth one he comes to is already spinning. What is significant about this? What is displayed on the rack? What does he make of it? Why, given how the story ends, would he have this particular experience?
  4. How does the man conclude that he’s in the US Air Force? Is he justified in believing this? Is his judgment based on memory? If so, what accounts for his remembering this? Does he have evidence? If he does have evidence, is it sufficient to justify his belief that he’s in the Air Force? Is he instead being caused somehow to believe that he’s in the Air Force? At this point in the episode, are we supposed to be convinced that he’s in the Air Force? Support your answers with evidence from the story.
  5. How does this story compare with the Brain in a Vat thought experiment? What are some key parallels? What are the most significant differences? Could this episode be used to make the same point intended by the BIV argument for skepticism? Why or why not? Does the story raise any other epistemological questions? What are they? (See below for Brain in a Vat argument.)
  6. At one point the man says, “I must be a very imaginative guy. Nobody in the whole bloody world can have a dream as complete as mine.” And his “dream” is remarkably vivid. But there are no other people in his dream. Why wouldn’t such a complete dream world include people, especially if there are signs of recent human activity all around him? How does this eventually connect with the theme of the story? Think about how this might make sense in the final scene and when the narrator says, “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, and the void that is the sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting, in the Twilight Zone”?

Brain in a Vat Argument for Skepticism

“The Brain in a Vat thought-experiment is most commonly used to illustrate global or Cartesian skepticism. You are told to imagine the possibility that at this very moment you are actually a brain hooked up to a sophisticated computer program that can perfectly simulate experiences of the outside world. Here is the skeptical argument. If you cannot now be sure that you are not a brain in a vat, then you cannot rule out the possibility that all of your beliefs about the external world are false. Or, to put it in terms of knowledge claims, we can construct the following skeptical argument. Let “P” stand for any belief or claim about the external world, say, that snow is white.

  1. If I know that P, then I know that I am not a brain in a vat
  2. I do not know that I am not a brain in a vat
  3. Thus, I do not know that P.”

– Lance P. Hickey, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/brainvat/; viewed 23 September 2015)

Click here for discussion questions in Part 1.

“Where Is Everybody?”—Exploring the First Episode of “The Twilight Zone”—Part 1


The popular TV series The Twilight Zone was first broadcast in 1959. “Where Is Everybody?” is the first episode of the series. It was broadcast October 2, 1959. This story takes a fascinating look at themes of interest even today. I’ve used it in philosophy classes to foster discussion about knowledge and justified belief.

Rod Serling-The Twilight Zone-imageI use a two-part handout with questions for guided discussion. The questions in Part 1, reproduced in this post, draw viewers into the story and help them recall and think about the events that transpire. In a separate post I’ll list the questions used in Part 2 to facilitate reflection and discussion of themes in philosophy.

I screen the episode in class, then lead discussion around a selection of these questions. There are more questions here than can be used during a class period. So I encourage students to take some time with the rest of the questions on their own. I mix it up a little by having students get into small groups to share ideas that are prompted by two or three of the questions. Then we discuss a few of the more philosophically technical aspects of the story as a whole group. This allows me to include some lecturing. At the end I may allow time for students to write their thoughts about a wrap-up question. Students then turn in their notes, taken while viewing the story and during discussion.

You’re welcome to experiment with this exercise in your own teaching. Or you may want to view this episode of The Twilight Zone with some friends, then have a discussion around the issues raised in these questions. If you have suggestions of your own, feel free to write them in the comments box for this post. And if you do try these out in class, let us know how it goes.

Part I – Questions about Your Experience and Evaluation of this Episode

  1. The story begins with a man walking along a dusty road. The narrator says, “the journey we are about to watch could be our” What does this mean? How does this personalize the story? Notice, the narrator uses the first person plural (“we” and “our”), not the third person (“you” and “your”). Why might this matter?
  2. The man hears music playing and walks into a coffee shop. Thinking there’s someone in the back room, he calls out, “Say, I noticed there’s a town just up the road. What’s the name of it?” These are his first words in the story. Why would he ask this? Does it have anything to do with what he later begins to experience? Why would he want to know the name of the town? Does he ever learn its name? Why not? Later we find out that he can’t remember his own name. What is significant about this being a town with no name and his inability to remember his own name? (When does he realize that he can’t remember his name?)
  3. During the coffee shop scene, the man begins talking to himself. This happens when he pulls out a wad of cash and notices that it’s American money. When he then says, “I’m not sure who I am,” he’s still talking to whoever might be around. But we realize he’s actually talking to himself. This shift between direct address and self-address happens repeatedly throughout the story. For the story to work, we have to know what the man is experiencing. The episode depends on narration by the character himself, speaking aloud about what he’s experiencing. He’s reporting his thoughts and responses to what he encounters. But he transitions back and forth between talking to others and talking to himself. These transitions back and forth need to be smooth to move the story along and to keep us informed about what’s going on in the mind of this man. How effective is this device?
  4. What is significant about the following events:
  • breaking the clock in the coffee shop?
  • crashing into a mirror in the theater?
  • discovering that the “woman” in the passenger seat is a mannequin?Twilight Zone-Oakwood Telephone Booth-image
  • the man’s conversation with the mannequin when she tumbles into the street?
  • the telephone ringing?
  • getting trapped in the telephone booth?
  • the gong of the clock in the church tower?
  • the film clip scene in the movie theater?
  • the cigar still burning in the ashtray?

Is there any symbolism here? What do these events reveal about the character, once we know the real nature of the experiment? What would you add to this list?

  1. At the outset of the story, the man is relaxed and casual. When he discovers there are no people in the town he’s mystified. At times he seems to be humored by his circumstances. There’s his encounter with the mannequin, and the moment when he’s stuck in the phone booth and says, “This is an absolutely hysterical town, and I’m growing very fond of it.” In due course, however, his experience is increasingly disturbing, until he reaches the heights of desperation. What is happening to him? What is your sense of the explanation for this as things unfold? Does your understanding of his plight change at all by what is revealed at the end?
  2. How is the character delivered from his artificially manufactured experience? In his imagination he’s pressing a button labeled WALK, but in reality he seems to be pushing an actual button. What purpose is served by this button?
  3. Eventually we learn that the man’s name is Mike Ferris. And we learn the backstory. Why has Ferris been kept in an isolation booth? What was the purpose of the experiment?
  4. What did you experience as you watched this story unfold? When the man first discovered there was no one in the town, what did you think would happen next? Were you right? As the story went on, did you expect something dreadful might eventually happen to him? What did you think might happen?
  5. Describe what you were feeling as the man noticed there was a “woman” in the passenger seat of a car and he began to shout out to her? How did it make you feel when he opened the door and the mannequin tumbled out onto the street? Why would Ferris have imagined this?
  6. Movies often begin by giving viewers a reliable sense of what the story is about. This story doesn’t do that until the end, with only five minutes remaining. But the progression of events shapes our beliefs about the story and its meaning. Based on the clues provided in the story, we naturally seek to make sense of what is happening and what will happen next. How did your beliefs about these things shift as time went on? What did you think this episode was about when the man first walked into town? What did you think when he went looking for someone to find out what was going on? When he walked into the coffee shop and there was coffee brewing, but no one was around? When he ran into the jail? When the phone started ringing? When he got stuck in the phone booth? When he went into a movie theater and a film was playing, though no one was there? Why did you feel and believe the things you did? What elements of the story were the basis of your beliefs as they shifted over time?
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