About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

What exactly is Plato’s Cave? That’s open to discussion

ORLANDO – They call it Plato’s Cave, but it’s not a place to hide in … although in a sense it could be classified as an ideal location for explorers. In this case, though, the explorations are not made by those treading into unknown territory. Everyone who has gotten into Plato’s Cave has a good sense of where they want to go.

“One of our discussions was on Utopia – what would a Utopia look like,” said Steve Hall. “One of our discussions was on the allegory of the cave – how we do not observe reality in its fundamental state. It’s all interpreted through our perceptions.”

Steve Hall loves reading a good science book -- and debating philosophy at coffee houses. So do the other members of Plato's Cave.

Anyone looking for an example of just how diverse the Deep South has become should look no further than Plato’s Cave: a group of nearly two dozen people who meet on a monthly basis to discuss and debate philosophical questions, to apply logic and reason to issues and concerns that have been argued over for centuries.

“We have a group of amateur philosophers that meet up,” said Hall, the group’s current organizer. “We have about 45 members, but only 20 are able to meet at any one time.”

When they do, it’s on the third Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. at  Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park. Old and modern philosophical issues get debated, “everything from Plato and Socrates to (Immanuel) Kant to Ken Wilber,”  Hall said.  “We look at ancient wisdom to modern intelligence to free will.”

How did the Greater Orlando-based group first come together? Hall said it was founded in 2006 by Jo Bernard, who didn’t get a chance to see Plato’s Cave blossom into a regular club.

“She unfortunately lost her job in Orlando and had to move back to New York, at which point the rest of the members twisted my arm to be the next organizer,” Hall said.  “That was two years ago.”

Members keep turning out, he said, because of how enjoyable the discussions are – and how diverse the attendees have been.

“Definitely it’s intellectually stimulating,” Hall said. “We have PhD professors, people who teach philosophy, people who are engineers – we have all sorts.”

One of the regulars is Ben Griffith, who teaches at New Dimensions High School in Poinciana, and enjoys the atmosphere that Plato’s Cave provides.

“It’s definitely one of the most intellectually stimulating discussions around,” he said, noting that a recent meeting focused on the book “The Moral Landscape: Why Science Should Shape Morality,” by Sam Harris.

Harris, an atheist, argues that science has its own moral code and there’s no need for religion.

While debating the book’s theories, Griffith said, Plato’s Cave members focused “a lot on conceptualism and moral census.”

Generally, though, the group doesn’t wade regularly into religion or interpretations of the Bible.

“We haven’t gotten much into religion, though we have gotten into spirituality,” Hall said.  “We’re more likely to debate biotechnology – how long should people be able to live.”

“It’s more of a philosophical approach to the issues,” Griffith added. “A philosophical approach would be that you justify your view with a greater level of logic and vigor.”

That means they don’t automatically endorse every scientific theory out there.

“Science is best described by experiments that can be refuted,” Hall said.

Plato’s Cave is also quite different, Hall said, from a group that gets together to debate political issues. For one thing, the arguments are far less acrimonious than what you might expect on talk radio.

“We occasionally venture into politics, but we try to stay out of that,” Hall said. “It’s more likely to have to do with morals, or it might have to do with ethics.”

Griffith added that the debates are cordial, not heated.

“Philosophy has expectations for the rhetoric,” he said.  “It’s civil rather than acrimonious.”

And it’s a lot more fun than some people might think, Hall added.

“We have some great discussions,” Hall said. “But people that join our group need to RSVP first – we don’t allow ‘maybes’.”

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Freelining with Mike Freeman: The reason for the season

ORLANDO – It’s a bit hard to judge, around this time of year, exactly what you’re going to get from your local cashier.

Or from your fellow shoppers.

The Mall of Millennia goes all out this time of year.

A perfect example: last night, I hit one of the local big box stores to do a little bit of shopping, hopeful that 4 o’clock in the afternoon was early enough that I’d miss the worst of the shopping rush, which I had expected to begin well after the 5 p.m. end of the day office closing time.

I was wrong.

The crowds had beat me to it – whether it was in the parking lot, where I could easily have simply parked at my house and had the same walk to the store’s entrance, or in the isles, where being thin became a useless commodity. People act strange when they do their shopping around this time. For one thing, planting your shopping cart in the middle of the isle and not moving aside to show a bit of consideration for others – a definite no-no on most days – appears to be acceptable when you’re standing in front of an array of products and can’t quite figure out which one to buy as a holiday gift.

It’s sad but true: shopping etiquette gets awfully messy during the holidays. Maybe it’s that frantic rush to get in, buy a lot, then leave that engulfs people. I rarely noticed what I felt was a “happy” shopper. Nobody had a smile on their face, nobody seemed to be taking their time to savor the joy of finding that perfect gift. Mostly, there was a kind of dog-eat-dog determination. I kept looking over my shoulder nervously as I walked from one isle to the next.

When I had all my goods, I headed to the first check out lane I saw – there was one person being scanned through and a second one waiting behind her, which wasn’t bad. So I headed there – only to have another man swiftly cut in front of me.

I stopped short, and looked at him, a bit surprised at how brazen he was – but he barely acknowledged me. Plus, since he was bigger than me, I decided to let it pass.

Then I noticed a check out lane two isles over, which was – surprisingly – empty. There were about five lanes open, and each one had a line, except for this one. So I walked over there and put my stuff on the counter, and was done in less than a minute.  The cashier scanning my good was in a great mood. Not all cashiers are — I know stores like they employees to be happy ambassadors for the store, but have you noticed how many of them scream out I hate my job! through their sour expression and equally dour tone? Not this one, though. He seemed positively upbeat as he engaged me in the kind of small talk — “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” “How are you doing today?” — that I actaully enjoy. No Bah! Humbug from me this time, or my cashier.

As I grabbed my bag and receipt, I glanced over at the man who had cut me off.  He was still waiting in that same line he’d shoved me aside for, and it wasn’t moving all that quickly, because the two people in front of him had a lot to buy.  And did he see me?  Oh yes he did, for a brief second. Then he quickly turned away, as if the irony of our situation – I was about to walk out the door, he was waiting impatiently – hadn’t grasped him.

Poetic justice indeed.

And did I flash a big happy grin as I caught his eye?

What do you think?

If shopping doesn’t always lend itself to the spirit of the season, it can be a lot more fun to hit the mall just to see what the owners have done in terms of holiday decorating. This year, I think the Mall of Millennia went all out, setting up sky high trees, beautifully decorated, that make it hard not to feel swept up into the mood of Christmas.

Some mall decorations are great fun to check out.

And for once, it’s fun to see massive crowds milling past you, because you’re not competing against them in the check out lines, you’re marveling at how these decorations bring people out and about, like a big family. Suddenly there’s so much life in the malls. It’s all hustle and bustle around you.

There are plenty of things to be worried about when you hit the shopping centers these days – will thieves target you at night when you walk back to your car in a spacious, dimly lit parking lot? Will you forget how much you’re spending and then get sticker shock when you open your credit card bill in January?  Will your gifts bomb and will the recipients give you that Wow what in the world was he thinking look once the wrapping paper comes off? And how do you look pleased when you open your own gift and think, This is the worst thing I’ve gotten since last Christmas, as you look up and say, “This is wonderful!”

The holidays don’t get any easier.

But at least those mall decorations make me feel like a kid again, as I glance up at the tree and think, I wish it was Christmas every day.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

Remember worrying about your a.c. breaking down in the summer? The cold brings a new concern.

POINCIANA – It’s not uncommon for power companies to issue press notices during the summer months, offering advice to homeowners on ways to save money – shutting off lights, raising the thermostat a few degrees, installing more energy-efficient light bulbs.

That’s not much of a surprise. In steamy hot Florida, power usage is at a maximum when the heat and humidity set in, and all those air conditioners running full volume puts a strain on energy suppliers.

But anyone who cringes when they get their electric bill in the summer months may have forgotten that Central Florida, for all those 90-degree days we suffer through in the summer, can still experience some suprisingly frigid temperatures during the winter. The fact that the cold weather set in earlier than usual this year, arriving by early December, may have caught some people off guard.

This owl-like thermostat shows a recent daytime high at 49 degrees -- surprisingly nippy for Orlando, even in December.

But it did prompt one local utility to issue a very un-Florida-like news release, urging people to take steps to protect their water pipes from … freezing.

In Florida?

Created in October 2003 by a special act of the Florida Legislature, Toho Water Authority is the largest provider of water, wastewater, and reclaimed water services in Osceola County, serving 80,000 water, 74,000 wastewater, and 10,000 reclaimed water customers in Kissimmee, Poinciana, and unincorporated areas of Osceola County.

Their advice to folks who think the cold means space heaters at night and extra blankets on the bed: don’t forget about the risks that freezing temperatures pose to your water pipes.

The news release was first sent out on Sunday, Dec. 12, in anticipation of temperatures falling into the high 20s overnight — although the advice could just as well apply to another cold spell headed into the region this weekend and into next week, bringing unseasonable nippy highs in the low 50s and overnight temperatures back into the 30s – at best. So much for Christmas in a t-shirt on the golf course.

“When temperatures drop below 30 degrees, water in exposed pipes, service lines, and backflow preventers may freeze,” Toho noted in its release. “The Authority recommends that all residential and commercial customers follow the steps below to minimize the inconvenience of frozen water pipes.”

As any resident of New England, the Midwest or the Mid-Atlantic who relocated to Florida knows, the advice sounds awfully familiar. In includes:

  • Wrapping exposed exterior pipes with old towels or plastic foam for insulation.

“Hardware or building supply stores will have pipe wrapping material available as well,” the authority notes.

Area residents often take care to cover their plants and trees during cold spells -- but may forget about the hose they left outside to water them with.

* Removing, draining, and storing hoses used outdoors.  

“When the weather is very cold outside, running water through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing,” the release points out. “Ice might still form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before the pressure builds to where a pipe can burst.”

  • Finally, making sure that everyone in your household knows where the main water shut-off value is located, just in case you wake up to find one of your pipes has burst.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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