Christmas without Batteries

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H&CXmas2008.JPGThis year we had a Christmas without batteries and it was excellent. 

Santa, aka Val, asked for and bought nothing for the girls that required a battery of any kind.  Most of what the girls received for Christmas was made out of natural materials and required nothing more, or less, than imagination to bring them to life.

As a result, we had a Christmas punctuated by laughter, make-believe adventures, games of various sorts, the crackling of the fire in the fireplace, and soft holiday music courtesy of the Jazz Holiday station on Pandora

It was a peaceful day, absent the harsh digitized shrill that comes with toys requiring batteries. And the pace of the day was slower, too, less frenetic than I recall in the past.  In all, it was a quiet, beautiful day for the four of us to be together celebrating the wonderful power of our imagination.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Mortgage Relief

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For those of us who own houses and who are working hard to keep up with our mortgage payments, it has been difficult to hear about multi-billion dollar bailouts of Wall Street banks and financial institutions who have failed to make good on their commitments.

However, according to the New York Times article, Washington’s New Tack: Helping Homeowners, the Treasury Department is considering a plan that would subsidize 30-year mortgage rates so people would have the opportunity to get such mortgages at an interest rate of as little as 4.5%.

This strikes me as a very promising idea, and not only because my family and I would benefit from it. By essentially cutting the monthly cost of living for all current homeowners, the government will be increasing the amount of money middle income families can inject directly back into the economy.  Further, the plan would help the banks insofar as there presumably would be fewer loan defaults and the fees generated by the millions of people electing to refinance existing mortgages would be a windfall profit for them.

There is a qualified version of the proposal, however, that concerns me. The Real Estate lobby is apparently suggesting that these subsidized mortgages be limited to new home buyers. While this would be cheaper for the government insofar as fewer people would be able to take advantage of it, there is no reason to impose such a limitation if a more inclusive relief package would still make the offer available to new home buyers and thus stimulate the housing market. 

I think the proposed subsidized mortgage stimulus package, if enacted in an inclusive rather than exclusive way, would be a far more effective stimulus to the economy than writing individual rebate checks to all tax payers. To have a reduced monthly payment built into the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage would have a profound and lasting impact on the overall wealth of those who are working hard to afford their first home or who are, like us, working to pay off the remainder of a hefty mortgage.

Of course, this proposal only address those with the money to buy or own a house, so it would not address the struggles of millions of the working poor.  For them, relief in a variety of other forms will be needed: health coverage, unemployment benefits, etc. Such efforts, however, would not be undermined by extending mortgage relief to homeowners and home buyers; to the contrary, the overall effect of this sort of mortgage relief plan would be a more robust and strengthening economy.

If you agree, write your Congress members, the President and the President-Elect:

For those who live in Pennsylvania, you can write to our Senators here:

Critical Optimism

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My friend and colleague from the New School, Emma Bianchi, forwarded me an essay written by Judith Butler entitled “Uncritical Exuberance?” that cautions us against too enthusiastically identifying with the election of Barack Obama.  Butler discerns a danger in “believing that this political moment can overcome the antagonisms that are constitutive of political life, especially political life in these times.”

She also insists, rightly I think, that “there have always been good reasons not to embrace ‘national unity’ as an ideal, and to nurse suspicions toward absolute and seamless identification with any political leader.”

I share her concern about the disjunction between those who voted for Obama in California (60%) and those who voted against the legalization of gay marriage (52%) and about the way economic concerns may have trumped racist tendencies in voters who professed to have voted for Obama despite his race.  To the extent that Obama’s rhetoric of unity (“there are not red states or blue states, but the United States…”) colludes in masking such ambivalence, it must be critically challenged.

However, I hear in Obama’s politics something different, something more nuanced and mature. There is, of course, often the appeal to a certain unity, but always without denying difference.  Here is where a different form of politics becomes possible. This other politics is not animated by the naive ideal of post-partisanship, but by the sober courage to enact a more deliberative reality.

My experience this year as a local volunteer canvassing for Obama has pressed this recognition upon me. In face to face encounters with individuals, many of whom disagreed with me, I came to see the possibilities endemic to what Obama envisions as a “deliberative democracy.” George Packer, drawing on Obama’s The Audacity of Hope in this article from the New Yorker, clarifies the meaning of “deliberative democracy” this way:

it denotes a conversation among adults who listen to one another, who attempt to persuade one another by means of argument and evidence, and who remain open to the possibility that they could be wrong.

Deliberative democracy thus understood does not deny the antagonistic dimension of politics, nor does it enable the masking of ambivalence by an imagined unity; rather, it presumes the maturity of the citizenry and seeks to further cultivate it by engaging in honest, fallibilistic dialogue oriented always by the attempt to move us, incrementally to be sure, toward a more just way of living together.

If this is Obama’s understanding of politics and if he intends to allow his Presidency to be informed by such a politics, then in electing him, this “dangerously adolescent country” has taken a decisive step toward maturity.

Yet, however decisive, it is only a first step, for the difficulty of it comes in living it. To live it requires critical optimism: the sober analysis and recognition of the limits of our current situation animated by an unyielding refusal to allow our failures to deter us from pressing toward a more just community.

The grassroots organization of Obama’s campaign has the capacity to cultivate this sort of critical optimism. The technology it has embraced should enable it to pivot from the fund-raising and canvassing so critical to campaigning to the dynamic exchange of ideas so critical to governing.

If Obama can make this turn by empowering people to voice their views, offering them a resource by which they feel genuinely heard, and providing them with a certain level of transparency with regard to the mechanisms by which decisions are ultimately made, it will be transformative of American democracy.

Watch closely what happens as the campaign becomes, for here will be the first indication that such a transformation is really being attempted. I am not uncritically exuberant; yet I remain critically optimistic.

Summoning a New Spirit

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NYTObama.jpgIt is difficult to put into words the feelings of the last few days, the sense of genuine pride, of relief, of hope, of new possibility; the sense of gravity for the seriousness of the situation we now face, the very weight of responsibility that comes with an accomplishment like this.

From the moment I saw the President-elect walk onto the stage in Grant Park on Tuesday night, I knew he was changed. The full weight of the Office was squarely on his shoulders, and he bore it well.

As I listened to him speak, I was filled with a solemn sense of elation; joy in the moment, earnest in the face of the enormity of the task.  Obama captured this sense of solemn elation when he said:

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.  And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.  It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.  So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.

The passage resonates with almost every speech Obama has given through the campaign; it invites us to participate in something larger than ourselves, and it uses “this day, this election…this defining moment” to turn our attention toward new possibilities, to a future not measured by days or months, but by centuries.  It seized the moment as the opportunity to ask us to to imagine what we want to be and how we want it to be for our children.

From the start, Obama has had a sense for what the Greeks called the kairos, the right moment. It is a term that means also due measure, proper proportion, fitness; the proper time for planting, the season when growth is best cultivated. This most ancient of words not only designates the sense of timing with which the Obama campaign has operated, but it also beautifully articulates the very manner of its operation: balanced, steady, measured.

And now, they have turned from campaigning to governing with a swiftness that is to be admired.  Without a break, the Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, has been established and a new website launched:

One senses that this is just the beginning and that we will be asked to be an important part of what is to come.

President Obama!

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ObamaOpening.JPGThe first word Hannah could read herself, or at least recognize, was ‘Obama’.  She has been involved with the Obama campaign for at least 30% of her three year old life, and now she and her sister Chloe will never know a world in which an African-American was not president of the United States.

Here are some pictures that bring into focus how much Chloe and Hannah have grown over the course of this election.  The first is of Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah at the opening of the State College Obama campaign office in March.

Val and Girls Eday.jpgHere is a picture of Chloe, Hannah and Val on Election Day, 2008.  Hannah and Chloe have grown up during this campaign and I hope they have learned something about standing up for what you believe in and putting your energy and efforts into making the world a better place. 

Chloe and Hannah were my intrepid canvassers, walking through many neighborhoods, ringing doorbells, always very happy to be out talking to voters.  They never complained and always were happy to visit the Obama office, where they inevitably received some treats, many stickers and more than a few high fives from volunteers.

To hear President-elect Obama speak tonight in Grant Park in Chicago was gift enough for all the effort.

E-day State College, PA

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Val and Girls Eday.jpgWhen I arrived at the 31st precinct (State College West – 1) at 6:45am to begin working as a poll watcher for the Obama campaign, they had already been lined up for a half an hour.  Fathers with their daughters, young students and retired professors, mother’s with their children, all waiting to begin voting in the 2008 Presidential election.

They came in a steady stream from the moment the doors opened at 7am until 11:20am, at which point we signed in our 300th voter.  Shirley, a longtime poll worker in the precinct, reported that 300 is usually a good number for when the polls close.  (It seems that there are about 700 voters registered in the precinct, so by 11:15 over 40% had already voted.)  Shirley said she had never seen it this busy.  One 74 year old voter said that in all his years here, he had never waited in line as long as he had this year. Everyone was in a good mood and the voting went smoothly. There were a large number of first time voters and voters who had been inactive in recent elections.

My job was to write down the voter numbers of those who had voted so that a runner could pick up the list and bring it back to the Obama campaign. They had a list of targeted voters who the campaign was calling if they had not yet voted.  It was, again, all very organized.

Veronique.jpgBy noon, when Val and the girls came to pick me up, almost 400 people had voted, and I left to drive one of my colleagues to her polling place so she could vote.  When we arrived a little past 1pm at the Knights of Columbus on Stratford Ave, where the 19th and the 22nd precincts were voting, there was a huge line waiting to vote.  Actually, the line for the 22nd precinct, which covers an area where a lot of students live, was very long.  The line for the 19th, which is were my colleague, Véronique votes, the line was short.

This suggests that the student turnout is extremely high, which is a very good sign for Obama.  Obama campaign volunteers from New York and elsewhere were managing the line, making sure each person was on the proper line.  They had access to laptops on which they double checked people’s precinct to make sure they only waited on line if they were to vote in the 22nd district.

During the course of the morning, I was struck by how important this entire process is.  Here were people, each concerned enough about our community to come out and have their voice heard. When I finally had a chance to stand in front of my own ballot, I was moved to be able to fill in the circle for Barack Obama.  I paused over it, taking special care to make sure the circle was perfectly filled in, that all was in order before it was scanned.  As I filled in that circle, I recalled the words Obama spoke the night he won the Iowa primary last January: “They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together around a common purpose…”  Perhaps today, our day has finally come.



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Chris and Larry.jpgToday the girls and I went out for another day of knocking on doors to get out the vote for Obama.  This time, however, we were paired with Larry, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education, who was out for the first time volunteering.

When we started, I was really hoping that he would experience the same feeling of empowerment that I have come to feel each time I muster the courage to go door to door canvassing. The day started slowly as there were no answers at the first few doors on which we knocked. Then we came to a house where someone came to the door and motioned that he was not interested.  Just as I was beginning to feel depressed for Larry, we knocked on the door of a strong supporter who was even willing to volunteer on election day. 

Chloe Driving.jpgLarry and I were rejuvenated by this response and proceeded to happily work through the rest of our assigned addresses, with Chloe helping a bit with the parking lot driving, and Hannah happily sleeping in the back.  (If you look closely at the picture to the right, you can see her napping.)

Today we were knocking on the doors of all the houses that had no answers yesterday. While we are out there, another two volunteers were going through the same neighborhood putting signs on the door nobs of the houses of likely voters indicating where their polling place was and giving them information about voting. 

Chloe and Hannah PA.jpgAgain, I was very impressed by the organization of the campaign materials and those training the volunteers.  The Obama office in State College was buzzing with volunteers young and old.  An eighty year old woman was behind us as we were picking up our packet and she said she was there to work the phones. I met a student I had last year in my first year seminar at Penn State, Stephanie Marek, who was calling off-campus students to make sure they knew where to vote and that there were also down ticket candidates for whom it was important to vote.  We saw dozens of young out-of-state volunteers catching a bite to eat before going back out canvassing. 

It was really quite inspiring to see so many people so motivated and engaged. This year is different for so many reasons, but most of all, it is different because so many people have felt empowered to participate in the political process and have been given an avenue through which to channel this very positive political energy.

The polls open here in Pennsylvania in about 34 hours …


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GOTV1 Chloe and Chris.jpgHere in State College, things are progressing very well with the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts for Barack Obama.  Chloe, Hannah, Nanny Janny, Val and I went to the Obama office in State College today to canvass for them and we were told that all the canvassing packets had already gone out, and this was at 1:30pm!  The office was packed with volunteers, including many young people who have come from out of state for the next few days.

They told us that the Bellefonte office needed some help, so Nanny Janny, Chloe, Hannah and I headed to Bellefonte to do some canvassing.  They sent us out to Pleasant Gap, PA and again, I was impressed by the level of organization involved.

The packet I had included about 25 houses nestled into the gap that passed over Nittany mountain.  The doors I knocked on were largely of lower-income white voters who, for the most part, were supporting Obama.  My job was to ask if they knew where to vote and if they needed a ride to the polls.  Although I encountered two households who were not supportive, the majority of people I talked to were planning to vote for Obama for reasons ranging from the profound to the endearing.  When I asked one voter if he supported Obama, he told me that he supported the idea that the troops should be out of Iraq and so he would be voting for Obama.  Another voter told me that he though Obama was “pretty cool” and that, although he didn’t really follow politics, he was going to vote for Obama because he sponsored a concert at Penn State with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. I made sure he knew where his polling place was an happily moved on to the next house.

Today’s Washington Post is highlighting a story with the headline “True Believers In McCain Flock to Pa.” The dateline says State College, Pa and the story highlights a man who drove from South Carolina to State College in his trailer, set up camp in a local Walmart parking lot (is that legal?), and starting going door to door.  He is trying to do 25 houses a hour for ten hours a day through Tuesday.

What strikes me about this story is the way it highlights the radical difference between the McCain and Obama campaigns.  McCain has decided that winning PA is the only way he can possibly map a road through the electoral map to the White House.  However, inundating the state with free roaming door knocker set up in the parking lot at Walmart does not strike me as a very effective campaign strategy.  It calls to mind the seat-of-the-pants, winging it decision making process the McCain campaign has embodied from the start, having perfected it with the choice of Palin and the suspension of the campaign to muck around in the economic rescue process.

In striking contrast to this, the Obama campaign has a very well thought out and methodological approach to GOTV efforts.  They have thousands of people coming from out of state too, but they are put up in people’s houses, fed by local volunteers and given access to resources that will allow them to make extremely effective use of their time while they are here.  The campaign has a very clear idea of what it wants done each day.

GOTV1 Walking.jpgToday and tomorrow, we are to contact likely voters and ensure they know where to vote and find out if they need a ride to the polling place.  Monday, canvassers will be hanging thousands of door nob notices on the doors of targeted voters indicating where the polling places are and reminding people to vote.  On election day, each house will be visited twice to make sure each supporter has in fact voted.  This is a potentially very powerful method and will be looked upon as a model if it works.

The current Real Clear Politics polling average for PA has Obama ahead by 7.5 points, but I am not sure any of these polls are able to factor in what will happen to an electorate when the Democratic candidate has such a powerful GOTV program.  My hope is that this will be decisive and that Obama will win PA and the election going away.

World Champions 2008!

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NYT Phillies.jpgPhiladelphia has waited 28 years and 46 hours for this moment when Brad Lidge struck out Cliff Floyd to win the 2008 World Series.  One of the most memorable moments of my childhood was watching the 1980 Phillies win the World Series. 

Although I have not followed the Phillies religiously since then, once a Phillies fan, always a Phillies fan.  Watching this team, this year, I was brought back to my younger days, when the whole world seemed to hang on a single out.  I had a sense of that feeling again tonight, and the joy that comes with the last out.

Congratulations to the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and to all my fellow Phillies fans.

Perfect Sports Weekend

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

This has been a perfect sports weekend from my perspective.  Over the last 36 hours, we have seen the Phillies win not one, but two World Series games, the Eagles beat the Falcons and, of course, the Penn State Football Nittany Lions beat Ohio State at the Horseshoe in Columbus.

Aside from the rioting here in State College after the aforementioned PSU victory, it does not get much better than this for a Pennsylvania kid living in State College with leanings toward Philadelphia.
Well, yes it does, but I will wait until after tomorrow night’s World Series game five in Philadelphia before I dare mention it.

Redemption for Powell?

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While many of us have found it difficult to forgive Colin Powell for the decisive role he played in lending credibility to the lies that led us into Iraq, his endorsement of Obama today on Meet the Press goes a long way toward winning him some degree of redemption.  The passion with which he spoke in particular about the “really right answer” to the question of Obama’s being a Muslim earned him my admiration.

"That One"?

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Last night’s presidential debate was, on the whole, quite
substantive, offering the public a good sense of the fundamental
differences between McCain and Obama on issues ranging from health care
to foreign policy.  However, the single most poignant moment from my
perspective was when McCain disdainfully referred to Obama as “that
one,” pointing his index finger across his chest toward Obama, but never looking directly at him.

The comment and the gesture captured the deep level of contempt
McCain has for Obama. It seemed to express something  bitter and angry
at the core of McCain’s character. As my mother suggested at the time,
the phrase “that one” trades on an undercurrent of racism associated
with references to “those people.”

Although much more distasteful, I wonder if this gesture will have
the same effect on McCain’s ultimate quest for the White House that  George H.W. Bush’s impatient glance at his watch during the 1992 debate had on his quest for a second term.

This is also posted on the Vote2008 blog available here.

The Front Porch

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The girls and I went out canvassing for Obama again on Saturday and I learned something: the front porch is where the world can be changed.

OK, that sounds perhaps a bit grandiose, but I think it is something both Socrates and Jesus knew well: that the conversations we have with each individual we encounter changes everything.

Yesterday, Chloe, Hannah and I visited 29 houses in the Greentrees neighborhood of State College. We talked to people at 18 of them. Some people were already planning to vote for Obama, a few had decided in favor of McCain. Many, though, were undecided and open to hearing why I was out on a cloudy and cool Saturday afternoon with my daughters knocking on doors for Obama.

I think we changed a few minds, moving undecided voters toward supporting Obama. I am not sure how much my arguments about Obama’s economic plan or his health care initiatives had an impact. I had the sense that it was less what I said than it was that I was there on their front porch with my girls talking to them about issues that matter to us all. My hope is that these short conversations, these brief connections, will stay with people and move them to vote in November.

Of course, our adventures on Saturday were not all so wonderful. Toward the end of our route, about two and a half hours into it, with my two little political activists beginning to tire, we happened to knock on the door of a rabid libertarian, his wife, two kids and a friend of theirs. They all came right out onto the porch to aggressively interrogate me as to why I support Obama. Before I could say much, the man dismissed my comments as platitudes and declared all government to be evil. We then had a lively discussion, in which, among other things, I was told that the government should run its business like he runs his rental business and that it should not lend money to lazy people who can’t afford to pay. When I pressed him on the question of what we owe to one another as members of a community, he said bluntly: “nothing.”

With that, I bid him farewell, giving some of my Obama literature to his friend, who I felt to be silently supportive of me throughout. As I left, saddened and disheartened, my libertarian friend informed me that he would be writing himself in as president this year because, as he said, “I am smarter than Obama and McCain.” I told him: “good luck with that,” shook off my sadness and forged ahead to the next house.

After that encounter, I was so happy to meet at the next house a middle aged woman who came out in her socks to talk to me as the girls ran all over her freshly cut lawn. As I apologized for that, she assured me it was no problem, said she had not decided for whom she was voting and listened to me talk about why I was out there advocating for Obama. After our short conversation, she said: “you know, I think I will vote for Obama.”

The world can indeed be changed by a conversation on the front porch.

Register to Vote Now

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This is a simple call for anyone who comes across this blog and agrees with what they find here to please register to vote.

The Pennsylvania deadline is Monday, October 6th.

I have added the voter registration gadget from Google below for all US citizens eligible to vote to easily determine how to register online by typing in their address here.

Please take the time to register.  If you don’t vote, you have no voice; but you can’t vote unless you register!

The Death of Reaganism and the Future of America

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The last vestiges of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933,
which was passed during the first year of the Franklin Roosevelt
administration in an attempt to regulate the banking industry in the
face of the Great Depression, were repeled in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton.

With a stroke of the pen, Bill Clinton, who campaigned on the idea
that “the era of big Government is over,” completed a process begun in
1980, in the Reagan administration.  Reagan, who campaigned on the idea
that he would “get government off our backs,” began the process of
deregulation. In 1980, the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act
was passed. It removed the power of the Federal Reserve Board to set
interest rates for savings accounts originally established by

The process of deregulation that began with Reagan and was completed by Clinton has brought us to the crisis we face today.

To read the rest of this post, including the suggestion that Smart Government replace Big Government, see

The Issues

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In a striking comment earlier this month, Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, insisted: “This election is not about issues.  This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

As the economy crumbles around us, the issues have finally taken
center stage in the presidential election. Despite the McCain
campaign’s attempts to draw attention away from issues, it is precisely
in the face of the very real economic issues facing Americans that a
composite view of the two candidates is indeed coming into focus.

To read the rest of this post, please click here to visit the Vote ’08 site.

Boots on the Ground in PA

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DanChris.jpgToday my friend and neighbor, Dan Letwin, and I went out canvassing for Barack Obama with our kids.  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon; a perfect day to change the world.

We brought our four kids: Nicholas, 4, Chloe 4, Hannah 2 1/2, and Timmy, not yet one. The kids helped us put people at ease as we knocked on their doors. And they lent us courage to do the knocking.

After picking up our list and route from the local State College Obama Office, we headed out to the Park Forest area of Ferguson township.

Over the course of the afternoon, we talked to over 20 people, many of whom were already supporting Obama. We did, however, talk to three undecided voters who were open to our pitch about Obama’s character and qualifications. We also talked to three Republicans who were ready to consider voting for Obama based on the recent problems with the economy, but were as yet unconvinced.

KidsCanvass.jpgI was struck by how welcoming people were and how willing they were to talk. It did not hurt that we had kids running around, excited to take turns ringing doorbells and happy to just be with each other and with us on a beautiful day.

We did meet one person who felt political views were a personal matter. We respected that and left him with some literature about the Obama plan to strengthen the economy.

One Republican resident answered the door with a bowl of spaghetti, but he didn’t excuse himself on that basis when we told him we were canvassing for Obama. He expressed concern about the economy (by far the main issue on everyone’s mind) and listened to us talk about how Obama wants intelligent regulations for 21st century business practices that do not undermine innovation.

In the end, however, the best part of the day was to be with a friend, with our kids, doing our part to nudge the world in the direction toward which we believe it should go.

If we changed no one’s mind, if we failed to win a single vote for Obama, it would still have been time well spent; for surely Nicholas, Chloe, Hannah and Timmy, each in her or his own way, felt something of the powerful possibilities that open when people enter into dialogue with one another intent on bending the “arc of the moral universe toward justice”.

President 2.0

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If Barack Obama wins in November, it will surely be historic, but not only because he would be the first African American president.  He would also be the first President elected based on an organizing and fund raising campaign driven by the incredible power of Web 2.0 technologies.

The traditional “grassroots” strategies have given way to a pixelroots campaign.

To read the rest of this post, please click here to visit the post on

Learning from the Lies

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Over the past eight years, the Republican party and its leaders have perfected a strategy of political dishonesty and deception.

In 2000, having lost badly to McCain in the New Hampshire primary, George W. Bush, decided to appropriate the McCain message of reform and undertake an aggressive negative smear strategy in which he deployed push polls and a “whisper campaign” to propagate the lie that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. The results were remarkable: Bush won the South Carolina primary and ultimately the White House.  
To read the full post, click here to visit WPSU Vote08.

Long Time

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

I have now posted episode 9 of Life with Chloe and Hannah, entitled “Long Time.” It chronicles our time with my brother, Jon, and his family, Hilary, Hoshaiah, Lucia and Natasha as they visited us from Portland, OR. It also includes footage from the Long family reunion in York, PA, August 16 and 17, 2008.

As usual, the best way to view the movie is from my MobileMe gallery. You can link directly to the video by clicking here.
I have also posted it to my YouTube channel, embedded below. 

Climate Change and the 5th Congressional District

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The most distressing revelation to come to light in the Penn State sponsored forum held at the Grange Fair on August 26th for the candidates running for the 5th Congressional District is that only one of them, Democrat Mark McCracken, believes that human beings contribute significantly to global warming

To read more, visit the rest of this post at:

A Step Closer

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Exactly one year ago I wrote of the disjunction between the ideals American professes and the reality it embodies.  That was the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina and the day after the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

On that day, I despaired that “we are a long way from such an uprising.”

Today, on the third anniversary of hurricane Katrina and the day after the 45th anniversary of King’s speech, we are a very large step closer to such an uprising: 84,000 people were present and millions more watched, like me, with pride and, yes, hope, as Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States.
The speech weaved the idea of the promise of America into a tough, compelling and powerful argument for change.  I was glad to hear Obama himself come out strongly against the fear mongering and hateful attacks of the McCain campaign.
I was glad to hear the specific changes Obama proposes: 
  • “In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”
  • “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy.”
  • “Now is the time to meet our moral obligation to provide every child with a world-class education.”
  • “Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable accessible health care for every single American.”
  • “I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission … I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century…”
But what struck me most, what encouraged me most, was the way Obama took the ethical values question away from the Republicans and reframed it in terms of our responsibilities to one another. He did this when he emphasized that the promise of America has less to do with what we own and more to do with what we owe one another:

“What is that American promise? It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect… 

That’s the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. 

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.”

Today we are a step closer to living out the meaning of our creed, to bringing the ideals of American into closer connection with our reality.  

But we still have a way to go, so keep marching, or to channel Hillary channeling Harriett Tubman, keep going, keep going … now to the voting booth!
Click here to register to vote.

Blogging for WPSU

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For the next few months, most of my political musings will be posted on a political blog run by WPSU, the PBS affiliate for Central Pennsylvania based at Penn State.

I have been asked to join their team of bloggers dedicated to discussing and analyzing the upcoming local and national elections. You can see the WPSU Vote ’08 site here:
The blog associated with this site is available here:
See my first post, entitled “The End of Summer,” and follow all my posts here:

The End of Summer

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Summer ended on Saturday at 4:49 am. No, this was not the moment the din and energy of 40,000 students descending upon us here in State College made itself felt – that actually began already on Friday. Nor was it the moment a reveler practicing for the new semester at the number three party school in the country woke me – that was 3:30 am on Sunday.  Rather, it was the moment the Obama campaign sent the email and text message that announced that Obama had selected Joe Biden as his running mate.
Although the choice may have been made while Obama was on vacation, it had all the seriousness and weight of the fall. The decision speaks well of Obama and his campaign:
  • It was magnanimous as Obama had to look beyond the harsh and destructive comments Biden had directed against him in order to make a “wise and self-aware” decision that is in the best interest of the country.
  • It was done with discipline: in holding Biden’s name in confidence for an extended period of time, Obama illustrated the organizational discipline of his campaign and staff.
  • The process by which the decision was made public reflected foresight and technological savvy: in announcing the decision directly to supporters via text message and email, the Obama campaign showed a keen ability to communicate with people wherever they are and won for itself a powerful Get Out the Vote tool it will use on election day. It also circumvented the elaborate filtering mechanisms of the mainstream media.
Beyond this, however, the decision marked a decisive turn away from the foreign policy hubris of the Bush Administration, a hubris on which McCain seems to be doubling down. In responding to the crisis in Georgia, for example, Obama charted a strong but measured course of action that began with a call for dialogue. Obama’s politics of engagement and dialogue has long been championed by Biden, who himself helped draft a resolution that urged increased diplomacy in order to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s weapons program even if it ultimately gave authorization to use military force as a last resort.  For his part, McCain turned to hyperbole in responding to the Russian action in South Ossetia and Abkhazia: by insisting that “today, we are all Georgians” and inserting himself directly into the crisis by calling Georgian President Mikheil Saakashivili, McCain over-reached and undermined the response of the sitting President of the United States.
Now that the summer is over, it will be necessary to turn to the weightier issues of the fall. If the summer witnessed the abandonment of a promised civility for Steve Schmidt’s spiteful, Karl Rove-style tactics that appeal to our worst selves, trading on hatred, fear and resentment, let the fall bring a serious discussion of policy, of perspective, of priorities and indeed, of philosophy.
I can only hope that the beginning of such a fall was announced by the appearance of that email at 4:49 am this past Saturday morning.

Dream Ticket

By | Politics, The Long Road | 3 Comments

ClintonObamaOver the past few weeks I have been thinking that Obama might just pick Hillary Clinton as VP.  I know the media is saying that an Obama-Clinton ticket is unlikely, but still, consider this:

  1. Who is Bill Clinton going to speak before on Wednesday evening during the Democratic convention? I can’t imagine he would allow himself to be upstaged by anyone but is wife.
  2. Hillary Clinton has been doing a lot of campaigning for Obama while he is on vacation.
  3. The news that the Obama campaign does not yet have an office in Arkansas might also suggest that they know that will be no problem once Hillary Clinton is on the ticket.
  4. Consider too Patti Solis Doyle, a long time Clinton adviser and former campaign manager currently occupies the position of “chief of staff to the vice-presidential candidate.” 
  5. They are going to place Clinton’s name in nomination at the Democratic convention (which is not unusual, but given the close nature of the primary this year, it is not insignificant).
  6. Bringing Hillary Clinton on board would completely unite and energize the Democratic party.
  7. It would put Obama in a much stronger position to win Pennsylvania and Ohio, and it would add a degree of experience that conventional wisdom thinks is needed.
All of this has me thinking that it will be her. Could it be that an agreement was struck in the one-on-one meeting Obama had with Mrs. Clinton just prior to the suspension of her campaign?  Was the plan that Obama would take a few months to allow the idea to take root that he alone is the presidential candidate, that he can navigate a high profile foreign trip with grace and that he can run a strong campaign against McCain only then to add Clinton just prior to the convention?

I think it would be a very good choice for Obama.  It certainly would be historic on multiple levels. I have difficulty seeing how anyone McCain would choose could have an equal impact or come close to generating the level of excitement of a Obama-Clinton ticket.

The Joys of Writing

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HannahHeid.jpgI am currently slugging through what I hope are the last few chapters of a book on Aristotle and it is not easy going. Although writing has always been something I love–crafting sentences, considering the nuances of words, playing with metaphors and images–it is also one of the most difficult things my job and career demand of me.

This week, though, as summer comes to an end and the pressure to make significant progress has increasingly taken a toll on my psychological well-being, I was released from my self-imposed obsession with the minutia of Aristotle scholarship by two moments, one involving Hannah, the other, Chloe.

Yesterday, I was particularly frustrated as I emerged from my basement office after a day of writing and torment. The effects of it must have written on my face, because when Hannah saw me, she said, “Daddy, why are you mad?” When I told her I wasn’t mad, just thinking about my writing, she said, “Daddy, I missed you when you were at work. I love you; you’re my best Daddy.  Do you want to sit with me and play?” It was a great gift, a reminder that forced things into perspective. 

Heraclitus put it best: “A lifetime is a child playing … the kingdom belongs to a child” (fr. 52).

The other moment was also very touching. I often bring Hannah and Chloe to the Penn State library when I need to pick up something. They love to run through the stacks of books and play on the ancient elevator with the gate in front of the door. We were in a corner of the basement where the books on Ancient Greek philosophy are and I noticed my book, The Ethics of Ontology, sitting on the shelf. (Shockingly, it was not checked out!)

I picked up the book and asked Chloe if she could read the name on it. She was able to identify some letters and ultimately came to the surprising conclusion that the name on it was that of her very own Dad. “Oh Daddy,” she exclaimed, falling into me with a huge hug, “you wrote that book all by yourself?!? I am so proud of you! That’s great! And how did it get in the library?” When I explained that they bought it from the publisher, she said, “They bought it!  I can’t believe it. Your book is in the library.”

Her pride and excitement were so affirming and genuine that I immediately felt the years of work that went into the writing of that book–and this one–come suddenly into poignant focus: this moment made it all worthwhile.

A Sleepover in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH, PA – The girls are finally asleep in their “hotel home” in Pittsburgh, where we have come for an overnight so we could visit the Pittsburgh Children’s Musuem and the Pittsburgh Zoo.  The day has been excellent:

We left State College around 9 and arrived in Pittsburgh at noon. We went immediately to the Children’s Museum where Chloe and Hannah had a great time doing Arts and Crafts, going through the Gravity Room, playing in the garage workshop and the water room.

At ages 2 1/2 and four they simply soak in the world they encounter.  Their curiosity is boundless. It was amazing to see each moment of the day awaken some new sense of wonder for them.
After the Children’s Museum, we drove to the Doubletree Hotel, where we were greeted with cookies, a little shoulder bag with surprises for each of them and a very spacious suite on the 15th floor.  They were beside themselves with excitement as they ate their cookies and watched the traffic flow around the hotel far below.
We then took a walk through downtown Pittsburgh, which was alive with energy as the Pirates were preparing to play and there was a big Sara Evans concert in the Point State Park.  We ate a nice little meal at Cafe Milano, which is an excellent place to eat with kids.  It is a very casual pizza place with surprisingly good food. Although the Point State Park is undergoing renovations, the concert was in full swing and we were able to enjoy a nice walk through the park after dinner.
On the way back, Chloe said “who built this beautiful city” and Hannah said, “I love visiting Pittsburgh.”

How I Lost 50 Pounds and Gained 7.5 Years

By | Living, The Long Road | 7 Comments

Camp 07.jpgAbout a year ago, Val pointed me to the website and I took the RealAge test. The test is designed to calculate your “real age” as opposed to your “chronological age” based upon your answers to questions about your health and lifestyle.

At the time, I was 38, chronologically, but my “real age” turned out to be 43. You see the “43 year old” here, swimming with his daughters during a camping trip in August, 2007.

The results came as a bit of a shock to me and I took steps to reduce my “real age.” They recommended more exercise, more healthy eating and a reduction in my weight, which was 225 lbs. on a 6 ft., 2 in. frame.
So, with the support and help of Val, I decided to change the way I was living and eating.  Here is what I did:
  • Cut out all junk food completely: I loved anything sweet; no donut, cookie, cupcake, danish, etc. could escape me once it presented itself.  So, I made the decision:
  • Nothing at all between meals; nothing after dinner. I stood firm by this rule for about four months, eating as much as I wanted at meals, but nothing in between.  Now I largely follow it, save in special situations.  I do, however, often allow myself pretzels (Utz Sourdough) with mustard (Grey Poupon) after dinner if Val and I are watching a movie or a TV show.  It helped a great deal that Val is such an excellent cook and we
  • Eat healthy food, locally grown if possible, in reasonable quantities. I tried to listen to my body when it told me that I was full; I ate more slowly (knowing this would be all I would have until the next meal).  Val and I also agreed to
  • Exercise regularly.  We starting doing the YOU: On a Diet 20 minute Workouts every other day together.  We began with the Beginner Workout, moved through the Intermediate Workout and now we have progressed to the Advanced Workout.  In the year we have been doing this, we have remained very dedicated to our every other day schedule.  Working out together after the girls are in bed has been one of the best things about the whole process.  Sometimes we talk during the workout, but just as often we workout together in a supportive silence.

Camp 08.jpg

That is basically it: eat well and move.  If possible, do both with someone you love. 
I started to shed pounds and, most importantly, I started to feel much better. When I wake up now, I no longer have the aches and pains I had a year ago. My back never hurts and I feel much stronger. I feel more in control of myself overall.  Plus, I don’t get as tired as I used to when playing with the girls and when it is hot out, I tolerate it much better.
Now, I am 39, chronologically, but my “real age” is 35.5.  You see the “35.5 year old” here, swimming with his daughters on a camping trip in July 2008. I now weigh a little under 175 lbs. and none of my clothes fit any longer, but I feel much more at home in my body and I look forward to more time with Val and the girls.

Shopping in Enviro-Style

By | Living, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Neela.jpgA few weeks ago my Aunt Cathie wrote us an email about a business her niece, Renee Fischer, had started with her friend, Carla Manna. The name of the company is Neela Products and they make excellent reusable, recyclable bags that are stylish and functional. 

The message came just as our existing reusable shopping bags were reaching the end of their working lives, so Val went to the website and found The Market Pack, which includes a carrying bag that contains five fold-up Market Totes.
We have used the bags now for a few weeks and I have been moved to post this because the bags are excellent:
  • They are a big hit with our style conscious shopping helpers, as seen here above.
  • They are sturdy and large.
  • They are easy to carry when filled, although the helpers like carrying them best when empty and folded into the pack.
  • They hold a lot of groceries – our weekly shops only fill three or four of the five bags.
  • They are simple to fold and store when the shopping is done.
  • They look good.
  • They are totally recyclable when they too come to the end of their working lives.
So, I encourage anyone out there interested in reducing the considerable harm the use of plastic and paper shopping bags does to the environment to look into Neela bags.

More iPod Touch Ups

By | Technology, The Long Road | 2 Comments

I hesitate to write this after what has been such a difficult roll out for Apple of MobileMe, the Application store, firmware upgrades for the iPhone and iPod Touch and, of course, the introduction of the 3G iPhone.  Time will tell if these new dimensions of the Apple empire will be successful, but I thought I would update my ongoing evaluation of the iPod Touch.

Incrementally, things are getting better, but the process remains slow and frustrating.  I am very hopeful that with the introduction of the application store and the SDK for the iPhone and iPod Touch, some progress will be made on the Cisco VPN situation.  Once this functionality is available, I am convinced that my iPod Touch will be transformed for me into the best PDA devices I have ever had.  Thus far, however, there is no solution for the Cisco VPN issue and this leaves me with an unconnected device during my hours on the University Park campus of Penn State where I work.  (I have steadfastly resisted – with the help of my wife who always keeps me grounded in such matters – paying the outrageaous costs of an AT&T plan for an iPhone.)  If the VPN situation is worked out, I think I have a device just as good at a fraction of the cost.

As for the other issues about which I wrote previously, let me summarize:

  1. MobileMe, if it starts working, promises to solve my calendar issues.  I actually prefer to use the web version of iCalendar in MobileMe when it is operational, but this has been rare this weekend.  If Apple intends this to be “Exchange for the rest of us,” they will have to make it more reliable. Apple has addressed one of the issues I had with the calendar application: you can now determine the specific calendar to which you want to assign an event.
  2. ToDo problems.  Still, there is no integration of the ToDo list in Mail/iCal from my MacBook Pro to my iPod Touch.  Why?  I should be able to view and edit a single ToDo list from my Mail and iCal applications on any of my devices.  Change something on the iPod (if it had ToDo functionality) and it should sync with the MBP and vice versa.  I am still using dedicated entries in my address book to write ToDo notes to myself – pathetic. Although I think the free Remote app that Apple developed for the new Application store is useful and techonolgically innovative, they should have spent less time developing that and more time perfecting the existing applications on the iPhone and iPod Touch. [Update: Apple seems to have integrated ToDo list functionality through MobileMe IF you set up the mail account on the iPod Touch.  A new folder appears called Apple Mail To Do, but it does not seem to sync with the Mail ToDo list yet. I tried adding a To Do item in Mobile Me through my calendar, it did not immediately show up in my Apple Mail To Do folder on the iPod. On the other hand, I have taken to Zenbe’s List app for the iPod Touch/iPhone.  This works well, syncs with the web version and is accessible through iGoogle.  Not the integrated option I wanted, but it is nice in any case.]
  3. Here I will just restate, verbatim, what I wrote about descriptions of podcasts: There remains no ability to access descriptions of podcasts on the iPod
    Touch.  This is an issue of continued frustration for me as I sort
    through podcasts that have collected over a few days and would like a
    simple way to view their content without listening to the introductions
    of each one. [This was a feature of earlier generations of iPods which has been lost.]

I have tried some of the free new applications from the Application store and they show a lot of potential.  The Weatherbug application already is far better than the Weather app that came with the first software upgrade.  Now I just wish I could remove that older one.  The application store and the SDK promises to bring much innovation to the device, but as it now stands, almost a year after it was introduced, there remain too many frustrating inadequacies.

These are so much the more difficult to live with as we begin to see the real power of the device and platform unfold.  All I can say is that I hope independent developers will succeed where Apple has failed with respect to integrating Mail, iCal, etc. into a more coherent and functional system.  And I hope that Apple will succeed, where is has so far this weekend failed, in making MobileMe a truly seamless experience in cloud computing where all the information related to my daily life and schedule is available to me anywhere I can get online.

Obama Mamas and Papas

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Obama Mamas.jpgYesterday, in the spirit of the Obama campaign’s attempt to organize “Unite for Change” neighborhood parties across the country, we gathered with some of our neighbors for an “Obama Mamas and Papas” party. Thanks to Jim and Gloria Leous for organizing and hosting the event. Three of the Obama Mamas are pictured here (from left to right: Gloria Leous, Valerie Long and Linda Erickson).

Although I have been a bit frustrated by the way the campaign has moved more squarely into the mainstream since winning the nomination, I am keenly aware that such a move toward the center is necessary if Obama is to win in November.
My frustration is does not concern the decision to pull out of the public campaign financing system — I argued in February that he should opt out.  Rather, it has to do with the way the mainstream of the democratic party is now beginning to bring its influence fully to bear on the Obama campaign. So, for example, Obama has embraced Jason Furman, a close ally of Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary, both of whom privilege free market principles over labor interests and the need for stronger economic regulations of Wall Street.
Also, Obama seems to be backing off a strong stance he took against the Protect America Act of 2007 which was to amend FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). He is now supporting a compromise passed by the House which puts an end to the Bush’s use of warrantless surveillance, although it does grant retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that helped facilitate the illegal wiretaps. This is a case, I think, of Obama’s politics of compromise: he will take this even though he recognizes that it is not everything he would want. Although I have problems with the compromise legislation, I think it is probably the right thing for Obama to do.
Something Obama said to his campaign staff on a video the campaign sent to supporters has stuck with me. It helps explain some of the recent moves they have been making.  Obama said, “we don’t have an option now … because we won [Iowa and the nomination], we have no choice, we have to win.”
I am as confident now as I have always been that Obama will do what he needs to do to win this election. I have never fallen into the misguided camp that believes that Obama is naive and inexperienced. Now, we see, he is ready to do what needs to be done to meet the Republican challenge at every turn.

A Small World

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KorbinianChrisFreiburg.jpgFREIBURG, GERMANY – I have been struck during my short visit here in Germany by the way the world is at once made smaller by the internet and yet remains also somehow large enough that what concerns people here is rather different from what concerns us currently in the United States. 

I feel the world smaller when I am able to access all the information I would have at home easily over the internet here in Germany. I can still read the New York Times, the Centre Daily Times, I still have access to all the feeds to which I subscribe through Google Reader. I can even talk to and see my family. The world felt small when I skyped with my Mom upon my arrival, and then, later, with Val, Chloe, Hannah and Choo Choo Nana. To be able not only to talk to them, but to see them, made the distance disappear. 
I feel the world larger when I see the real differences between the German and the American academy, when I sit in a cafe and am not rushed out, when time slows, when I hear the city cheer each goal in the European Football Championship (Europa Meisterschaft). 
And yet, the sense of excitement is not unlike that we feel in State College when the town swells with football fans, and so I am left, ultimately, with a sense of how similar we are, how small the world has become.
Note: The above picture was taken in Freiburg of me with Korbinian Golla, the graduate student who spent a year studying and working with us at Penn State this past academic year.

18 Million Cracks

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Over the course of the last few months, I have been very critical of Hillary Clinton’s politics. However, now is the time to recognize the powerful significance of her candidacy for the presidential nomination, to reaffirm the importance of electing a woman president of the United States and to express gratitude for the ways in which her continuing to campaign into June has made Barack Obama stronger candidate by forcing him to extend the roots of his grassroots organization into many more states.

Her speech on Saturday was poignant, beautiful and graceful.  I could not help but think of Chloe and Hannah when she said:

Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.

I have been very disappointed and angered by the sort of misogyny that she had to endure throughout her campaign. From references to “Billary” to lewd nutcrackers, to men yelling “Iron my shirt,” to the sexist comments by commentators like Tucker Carlson, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, we have witnessed an embarrassing display of destructive and hateful misogyny. 

To read more about this, see these articles: 

There is something deeply significant about my daughter Chloe’s reaction when Val showed her, earlier this year, pictures of all the Republican and Democratic candidates for the Presidency. When she saw Hillary Clinton’s picture, she said, “I want her to win.”  Chloe saw something there, something I want to affirm for her: there is someone who looks like me, a strong, confident, highly qualified woman, running for president.  
So, it is time for me, so long critical of what I still think of as a misguided political approach, to express my admiration and gratitude to Hillary Clinton for the courage she had to compete for the office of the presidency and for the 18 million people who voted for her.  
Let us not forget the unfinished business her candidacy has left us.  As a reminder of the long road still ahead, I leave you with this chilling montage put together by the Women’s Media Center. 

The Moment

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00235_thebluemarble_1920x1200.jpgSo much, of course, can be said about the significance of Barack Obama’s capturing the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States.  I simply want to mark the moment by appealing to a single line from the speech he gave in Minnesota on Tuesday:

… this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal …

I was surprised to find myself moved most by this fragment of a very inspiring speech. Perhaps it is in part because the book I am writing, The Saying of Things: The Nature of Truth and the Truth of Nature in Aristotle, has developed into a study of how human-being exists as a natural being in and with the world of nature. 

Although I am thrilled to see an African-American receive the endorsement of a major political party, and I do not think the significance of this aspect of his candidacy can be overemphasized or celebrated too enthusiastically, still it continues to be the sort of politics Obama articulates that moves me most.  His is not identity politics, but a visionary attempt to transform the nature of politics in the United States.

As I read today of how the U.S. Senate is determined to drown the climate debate in a flood of words designed to foster inaction, I look forward to a President who is willing to use words to transform the way we live in and with the world. 
As Obama takes up the mantle of the Democratic Party, my hope is that he does not set aside the transformative politics that won him the nomination in the first place.  I remain, as ever, confident that he will not.
UPDATE, 8:19: If this story from the AP indicating that Obama has instructed the Democratic National Committee not to take lobbyist money is any indication, my confidence is well founded. 


By | Living, The Long Road | 2 Comments

SH08 Hannah Flowers.jpg

STONE HARBOR, NJ – As our week at the beach draws to a close, the girls are in bed, though not yet asleep, I type, watching the sun set from the back deck of our rented house.  

I am struck by a sense of gratitude for this time with my family, for the sun and the ocean and the earth, for my life.

We returned to the sea this year with an ebullient sense of excitement and anticipation.  We return home tomorrow, filled with new memories, nourished by deepened connections with one another and our extended family.

Walking back from the beach with Hannah, slowly, looking for interesting rocks on the way, I was reminded again how important it is to attend to the present, to stop for the beautiful purple flowers, and to share a moment together.   

The Passing Details of Life at the Beach

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SH08 on Beach.jpgSTONE HARBOR, NJ – The passing details of life at the beach:


  • Hannah standing on one foot.
  • Chloe and Danny playing with Jake in the pool.
  • The breeze smells of the salt sea.
  • Danny reading a bedtime story to Chloe.
  • Aaron drawing with his father and grandfather.
  • Chloe telling Karen: “I like how you look. I don’t want you to go.”
  • Time to talk.
  • Eating Springer’s Ice Cream. 
  • Nanny Janny playing the wave game with Hannah and Chloe. 
  • The middle-aged Olympics at the playground.
  • Hanging out with Tom and Amina.
  • Chloe, Hannah, Val and Chris alone on the post-Memorial Day beach.
  • Hannah, first with Nanny Janny, then with Baba Teedo sleeping on the couch.
  • Finding a conch shell with a hermit crab inside.
  • The sun setting on the bay.

Divisive Politics

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Leigh Johnson makes a very good point that to the extent that Hillary Clinton’s continuation in the race for the Democratic nomination calls our attention to the struggle of women in American society, she should continue. 

However, it is increasingly difficult to stomach the old style, divisive politics she continues to practice.  I have already talked about her recent suggestion that the US might need to “totally obliterate” Iran if it used nuclear weapons on Isreal and her repeated use of Rovean fear tactics, but today she has taken things a step further by turning to racial stereotypes in order to conjure up votes.
In summarizing an Associated Press article (perhaps this one?) about who had won what demographics in North Carolina and Indiana, Clinton told USA Today that the AP article:

“found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.  There is a pattern emerging here.”

Although the New York Times reports that she says the comments were not meant to be divisive, clearly, her suggestion that “working,” indeed, “hard-working,” Americans, are white Americans draws upon the longstanding stereotype of African-Americans as lazy. (Here too her comments are in the spirit of those of Karl Rove.)
When you add these comments to those of Paul Begala on CNN in heated debate with Donna Brazile in which he says that you can’t win with “eggheads and African-Americans,” it is difficult to see anything positive from the sort of politics the Clinton campaign is pursuing.
If I didn’t know better, I might be tempted to say that she is clinging to racial stereotypes out of bitterness … but perhaps it is better simply to say that it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, one I would swallow if she somehow became the nominee, but one I hope (and increasingly think I will be able) to avoid.

Hot Air and Gas

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If one wants an immediate sense of the different kind of politics Barack Obama is offering, look no further than the recent discussion of gas prices in the campaign.  At a time when the Obama campaign has been hurt by the comments of Jeremiah Wright, when it would seem, according to the political logic that prevails in Washington, to turn to political pandering on the question of high gas prices in order to win a few votes in the upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Obama has opted instead to speak the difficult truth to the American people about the long term solution to the problem of rising gas prices.

Clinton and McCain have opted to respond to what is palpably the worst energy crisis we have experienced in a generation by pandering.  They both want a national holiday on the gas 18.4 cents a gallon gas tax for the summer. Thomas Friedman has rightly called this an idea “so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away.”  Friedman concludes his article by calling for a mature, sustained and serious response to this crisis: 

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way.

When Obama launched his campaign on February 10th, 2007, he diagnosed the problem with the sort of politics McCain and Clinton have perfected.  He recognizes that the politics of pandering is completely ineffective in dealing with the sort of energy crisis we now face.  He said then that we are unable to deal with our many problems because of a failed, immature politics: 

What has stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

So this week, when faced with a pastor who is actively sabotaging his candidacy, he remained true to himself, to his message that the immature, posturing and pandering politics of old must be replaced by a more mature, reflective, honest politics of responsibility.  This week, in the face of calls by McCain and Clinton for a short term narcotic for a long term addiction, Obama responded courageously:

This is the problem with Washington. We are facing a situation where oil prices could hit $200 a barrel. Oil companies like Shell and BP just reported record profits for the quarter. And we’re arguing over a gimmick that would save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something. 

Well let me tell you–this isn’t an idea designed to get you through the summer, it’s designed to get them through an election. The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is to tell you exactly what you want to hear. But if we want to finally solve the challenges we’re facing right now, we need to tell the American people what they need to hear. We need to tell the truth.  (See, The Stump on this.)

Gas prices need to go even higher.  Already, people are beginning to change their habits and practices in the face of higher prices.  The New York Times today reported that people are flocking to smaller cars in the face of higher gas prices.  It seems that a solution to the problem is possible only when enough of us feel the concrete effects of our addiction to gas.

Fear and Obliteration

By | Politics, The Long Road | One Comment

Fear and obliteration are the two words that currently define the Clinton campaign and mark the substantive difference between a possible Clinton and Obama presidency.  

First, taking a page directly out of the Karl Rove playbook, Clinton has consistently deployed fear tactics in the final days before a primary to motivate people to vote.  We have already experienced the violence and destruction that results when people vote their anxieties. And with the appeal to fear, as we have also witnessed, comes the foreign policy of irresponsible bombast.  
Thus, it is no surprise that when asked how she, as President, would respond to a hypothetical scenario in which Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, she said that we would “totally obliterate them.”  This is, as discussed in a previous post, consistent with a foreign policy driven by Lee Feinstein who has criticized the Bush Administration’s strategy of preemption for not going far enough.
Robert Scheer has intelligent things to say in criticizing Clinton’s statement, as does Dorothy Wickenden.
See the immediate context of her comment here:

A Bright Light on an Otherwise Tough Night

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Well, last night did not bring the victory for Obama and the conclusion to the Democratic nominating process that I had hoped.  It seems that Obama’s defeat in PA was largely due to the voting tendencies of an older generation that is not ready to move on to a more mature politics.  

The younger generation, however, was clearly energized by Obama as is clear from the following points made in an email to Obama supporters by Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a Penn State student organizer for the Obama campaign.

These figures suggest that the work that was done here in Centre Country made a significant difference.

  • Centre County was Obama’s 2nd best county in the state, trailing only Philadelphia County.
  • Obama’s margin of victory in Centre County (4,766 votes) was big enough to prevent Clinton from getting a 3-1 delegate split from our congressional district. Instead, it will be a 2-2 split.
  • The margin of victory in Centre County also appears to have prevented Clinton from obtaining a significant milestone: a double-digit victory in PA.
  • Obama won newly registered Democrats by a 62-38 margin. Without these these voters (13% of the electorate), Clinton’s margin of victory would have been a whopping 15%. This is the type of victory she really needed to claim campaign viability. The gains we made on her in PA from when we were 20 points down were due in large part to the boots on the ground registering new voters and getting them to the polls.
  • Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the county by a 69-31 margin, with 60% turnout on the Democratic side. That’s great news for the general election.
I choose to focus on these positive aspects of last night as we move into the next phase of this process.  I remain hopeful that the Democratic party will choose its future over its past.
PS: For an interesting take on how the two candidates and their respective generations view change, see Ellen Goodman’s article, How We Make Change.

Our Turn

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OK, Pennsylvania readers, it is now our turn to weigh in on the Democratic nominating process.  I hope tomorrow will put an end to the long primary season with a decisive victory for Obama.  The polls are saying that he will keep it close, but from where I stand in the center of PA, there seems to be a chance for a real upset tomorrow.  

Note the following:

Below are the two ads. I leave you with them in the hope that tomorrow will bring a victory for Obama and an end to the Democratic primary race for the nomination.

Obama wins Debate, will win PA

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If the title of this post is unequivocal and definitive, it is offered in the spirit and style of the American mass media punditocracy.  No sooner was the debate on Tuesday over than commentators and bloggers were pontificating not only about Obama taking a beating, as one commentator on MSNBC put it, but also about how the sorts of inane questions ABC’s George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson posed during the first 45 minutes of the debate were actually vitally important and highly relevant.

As a paradigmatic case, take David Brooks’ column from today’s NYT: although Brooks has a point about how inadvisable it is to make absolute pledges about complex issues like the war or tax increases, he goes astray when he defends Gibson and Stephanopolous this way: 

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News are taking a lot of heat for spending so much time asking about Jeremiah Wright and the “bitter” comments. But the fact is that voters want a president who basically shares their values and life experiences.

In his commentary this afternoon on NPR, Brooks went yet further saying that the reason the Democrats have not been able to win the last few elections is because “people were not convinced that the Democratic candidate lives the kind of life they lead.”  He goes on to suggest that high school educated white voters do not want to vote for a Harvard educated lawyer who bowls a 37.  

Ironically, this is precisely the sort of elitist and condescending analysis Brooks himself so likes to associate with those of us in the academy.  My sense, which is admittedly largely informed by what I see around me here in a small college town in the center of Pennsylvania, is that the debate will largely help Obama because people are fed up with the sort of immature, gotcha politics on which the main stream media thrives.  
Here, E.J. Dionne’s analysis is more accurate: Obama may be one of the first Democrats to actually win something significant — like PA and thus the nomination — by running against the media.  
He started to do this already in the debate when he pivoted from Stephanopolous’s inane question about whether Obama thought Rev. Wright “loves American as much as you do” (who comes up with this stuff and how does it get on national television?!). Obama responded by trying to shift the focus back to the important issues the country is facing, saying:

And I have confidence in the American people that when you talk to the American people honestly and directly about what I believe in, what my plans are on health care, on energy, when they see my track record of the work that I’ve done on behalf of people who really need help, I have absolute confidence that they can rally behind my campaign.

At another point, again responding to Stephanopolous, who was pressing Obama about his campaign’s questioning Clinton’s credibility, Obama tried to shift the focus to issues of substance, saying:

I think what’s important is to make sure that we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last 40 years. Our economy is teetering not just on the edge of recession, but potentially worse. Our foreign policy is in a shambles. We are involved in two wars. People’s incomes have not gone up, and their costs have. And we’re seeing greater income inequality now than any time since the 1920s.

My sense is that people, whatever their level of education, will embrace the maturity of Obama’s politics. They will vote for him not because he is like them, but because he has his eyes on the prize and has the talent to make  substantive changes to the way American politics and policy is pursued.  

Obama in PA

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As many people must have heard, Barack Obama stopped in State College last Sunday on his six day tour of Pennsylvania.  The girls and I were there with 22,000 other people for the largest political rally in State College history.  (See, the Daily Collegian’s report and that of the Centre Daily Times.)

Here is a picture I took during the event, along with a YouTube video that captures the scope of the rally at Penn State.

Although I had heard many parts of the speech before, Obama seemed focused and energetic during the rally.  I was struck in particular by how bold his vision of politics really is.  It is guided at its core by a strong commitment to social justice both at home and abroad.

This was reinforced today on the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, when Obama spoke of the need of all of us to work to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

From Obama’s speech today in Forth Wayne, IN:

You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. But what he also knew was that it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because each of us puts our hands on that arc and bends it in the direction of justice.

So on this day – of all days – let’s each do our part to bend that arc.

Let’s bend that arc toward justice.

Let’s bend that arc toward opportunity.

Let’s bend that arc toward prosperity for all.

And if we can do that and march together – as one nation, and one people – then we won’t just be keeping faith with what Dr. King lived and died for, we’ll be making real the words of Amos that he invoked so often, and “let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Podcasting and Blogging the Liberal Arts

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A Liberal Arts Education is committed to cultivating habits of thinking and acting capable of responding to the world in ways that open new possibilities for human community.  It is oriented in part by what may be called the reading life and the writing life.

The reading life is animated by an attempt to enter into dialogue with the ideas, thoughts and actions of the past and present.  
The writing life is animated by an attempt to contribute to the dialogue by synthesizing, criticizing and publicizing ideas, thoughts and actions capable of transforming the future.
Technology can play a powerful role in a Liberal Arts education by cultivating the skills associated with the reading and writing life.  Here are some examples of how I have sought to mobilize technology to support the Liberal Arts education.
Podcasting the Reading Life
The Assignment
  • Locate an academic secondary source that presents an interpretation of the assigned section of Plato’s Gorgias. Produce a podcast that summarizes the interpretation.
An Example
  • Stephanie Marek’s podcast on the Gorgias with Casey Cox.
Expanding the Reading Life
  • Find a picture on the web or take a picture that grows out of your experience reading the Oedipous trilogy.
    Post the picture to your blog and write a post that explains how the picture relates to your experience with these texts. Present then a “reading” of the picture.

An Example

Blogging the Writing Life
Students in my PHIL204: 20th Century Philosophy course were required to blog each week about the readings we had done.  The criteria for assessment I provided set out that these posts must:
Demonstrate familiarity with the readings

  1. Be well organized from beginning to end
  2. Be well written and edited
  3. Articulate original ideas
  4. Reflect thoughtfully and critically on the texts

An Example

Expanding the Writing Life
One of the goals in using blogs in my philosophy courses was to provide a forum by which philosophical ideas could be brought into more intimate contact with the wider world of politics and culture.
David Klatt did this with his excellent final paper project, An Immigrant Songwriter and Dewey on Language and Citizenship, in which he critically engages a Spanish translation and performance of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to ask questions about the meaning and nature of citizenship.
I managed to do this in Myth, Tragedy, Politics with posts on Hesiod’s Theogony and how it related to the protests by Monks in Burma; in 20th Century Philosophy, I was able to present Merleau-Ponty and Dewey’s philosophy of art to bear upon works by a variety of artists like Cézanne, Klee and others.
For more information on my use of technology in the classroom, see my story on the TLT Website.

The Growing Up of an Adolescent Country

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In his 1961 essay, The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King, James Baldwin speaks of the death of segregation in America and he raises the question as to “just how long, how violent, and how expensive the funeral is going to be.” We have lived the length of the funeral, felt its violence in the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, we have paid a price too high.

Baldwin advocated, however, a quick burial of the corpse of segregation:

The sooner the corpse is buried, the sooner we can get around to the far more taxing and rewarding problems of integration, or what King calls community, and what I think of as the achievement of nationhood, or, more simply and cruelly, the growing up of this dangerously adolescent country.”1

Obama’s speech on race yesterday was a step toward the maturing of our adolescent country. His willingness to stand against the firestorm of outrage in the face of Jeremiah Wright’s statements and, without wavering, to challenge the American people to live the tension that Obama himself embodies, that we as a nation embody: this took courage. It was a stand for achieving nationhood, to use Baldwin’s words, a move toward genuine community, to use King’s.

Our response will take courage too.

I am proud to say that I hear something of the courage it will take in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.There various civic and religious leaders were interviewed about their reaction to the speech. One voice heard here is particularly dear to me: my step-father, Theodore Loder, retired pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown and long time advocate for social justice. He has worked his whole life toward achieving the nationhood of which Baldwin speaks.

I have often said that my support for Obama is animated by a concern for the future, but reading Ted’s words quoted in the Inquirer, I am increasingly aware of how important this moment and this candidacy is for all those thoughtful, courageous leaders, black and white, who came before, teaching us the hard lessons of what it would mean to grow up as a country.

With them in mind, I end here as I began, with the words of Baldwin, this time from his 1960 essay, Notes for a Hypothetical Novel:

A country is only as good … a country is only as strong as the people who make it up and the country turns into what the people want it to become.  Now, this country is going to be transformed. It will not be transformed by God, but by all of us, by you and me.  I don’t believe any longer that we can afford to say that it is entirely out of our hands. We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over.

State College Obama Office Opens

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Tonight I went with my neighbor and friend, Paul, and his daughter, Caitlin, and with my daughters, Hannah and Chloe, to the opening of the Obama campaign office here in State College.  There were many people of diverse backgrounds, much energy and a good deal of excitement for the Obama campaign.

Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah were quite excited, dancing and singing and, of course, chanting along with the “Fired Up and … Ready to Go!” call and response.  It was powerful to feel the energy of so many young people and not a few older ones at the office opening tonight.  

There is a lot of work to be done if Obama is to do well and perhaps even win in Pennsylvania next month.  But after tonight I am more confident that it is possible.

My confidence is yet further augmented by Obama’s speech on race in America today.  It is a sober, thoughtful speech.  It is a challenging speech, one that asks us to live up to the mature politics of which I spoke here months ago. It recognizes that America “is irrevocably bound to a tragic past.” And yet, it pushes us to think about how we will respond to this past.

Will we continue to be haunted by it in a paralyzing way, or will we draw upon it even as we move toward a more perfect union? Or, to use Obama’s words:

“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”

This is a call to action, to live up to a promise so long deferred. Now is the time.

Registering to Vote in PA

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To those readers of this blog living in PA, now is the time to make sure you are registered to vote in the Pennsylvania primary.  

The deadline is March 24th, so if you want to be part of the Democratic primary in April, you need to register by the 24th.  You can register online here: 

Those of you teaching classes this semester, please contact Jessalyn Schwartz at if you would like to have a student come talk to your class about how to register to vote in the primary. Jessalyn writes of her efforts:

I am a graduating senior working with the Penn State Chapter of Students for Barack Obama as the Academic Outreach Coordinator. With the Pennsylvania primary quickly approaching, we have taken on the task of registering students to vote. The goal of our effort is to turn in more than 8,000 registration cards before the March 24th deadline. 

I am contacting you to ask if you … would allow one of our members to speak to some of your classes and impart a non-partisan message about the importance of this election and voting as well as inform them of how and where they can register to vote. We are not trying to get more support for our specific candidate and will not be mentioning our position, though we do have to remind them that they cannot be registered independent in order to vote in the primary. Please let me know if you would be interested in allowing us to come in for a few minutes to engage your students or if you have any questions or suggestions of other faculty members that may allow our presence. Thank you for your time. 

I hope people will consider contacting Jessalyn to make sure as many people as possible can participate in the primary on April 22nd.  

PSU for Obama

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A number of graduate students, faculty and Penn State staff have started a Google Group to spread the word about Obama and generate excitement about his campaign. It seems now that Pennsylvania will finally have a chance to weigh in on the nomination.  We will finally have a chance to make a definitive statement that we are ready to move beyond the politics of hate and division and toward a more mature politics at home and abroad.

I was extremely disappointed by governor Ed Rendell’s comments last month to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette, that Pennsylvania is home to conservative whites who are “probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.”  Although Gov. Rendell does not yet seem ready, many of us here in Pennsylvania are ready to vote for a candidate who is capable of changing the way politics is practiced in the United States.

Noam Scheiber of the New Republic points to Bryan Curtis’s October 2000 report about Gov. Rendell’s propensity to harm those he is trying to help.  Although Obama will have to combat Rendell’s machine here, he may get some help directly from the mouth of the Governor.  

If you are a member of the PSU community, or just interested in the Obama campaign, come and join the group:

Winter Hike

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On Sunday, Val, Hannah, Chloe and I went on a winter nature hike sponsored by the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. Although everything was covered with snow, we were about to witness the more dormant side of nature as it waits for spring.

We also made it into the newspaper!  The Centre Daily Times sent a photographer to the event and she captured some excellent pictures.  One of me helping Hannah with her binoculars appeared in the CDT on Monday, March 3rd.  That picture and the others can be viewed from the Centre Daily Times website here by looking at pictures 11-15.

A slide show of the CDT photos of the hike can be seen here.


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WNYC’s Radio Lab did a wonderful set of stories on laughter recently.  They appeal to Aristotle as having said that human beings “are the only ones of the animals that laugh” (Parts of Animals, 673a7).  I would like to place this along side of those other claims Aristotle made about human beings–that they are “animals with reason” and “political animals.”  Somehow, that human beings are laughing animals was lost in the shuffle.

In any case, the Radio Lab episode proceeds to prove Aristotle wrong by showing how Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a psychobiologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, discovered that rats laugh when they are tickled.  The story of how he and his research assistants discovered this is quite beautiful.

For my part, however, I think that Aristotle would not have been too surprised by laughing rats, although I imagine that he himself would have been tickled by the discovery.  He always insisted that human beings are part of the animal kingdom and the continuity of phenomena between human and other animals would likely have struck him as natural.

But what I loved most about the Radio Lab stories was the laughter.  So here is my contribution, or that of my daughters:

Hope with an Edge

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My Dad wrote me an email today suggesting I take a look at David Brook’s column, When the Magic Fades, in the New York Times.  He wanted to know what I thought, so here it is:

In that article, which seems to be Brooks’s own attempt to fulfill a prophesy, he regurgitates the mainstream media’s insistence that Obama is all posture and no substance, all hope and no guts.  He calls him the “Hope Pope,” the “Changemaker,” “The Chosen One,” and the “High Deacon of Unity.”  He speaks of “what’s bound to be a national phenomenon: Obama Comedown Syndrome.”  

O.C.S., he says, will set in when people realize that Obama’s PAC is giving $698,000 to superdelegates, when they realize he is considering backing off his promise to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election and when he fails to stand up to the lobbyists and the special interests in the Democratic party.

As I write, it doesn’t look like Wisconsin got the O.C.S. diagnosis in time.  No, they seem to have chosen, and chosen wisely.

My support for Obama has always been because he can use his power with words to mobilize the American people to get substantive change accomplished. I am happy that he is not afraid to play serious politics, Old School style.  He is not naive enough to believe you can get elected on a lot of talk of hope. He knows he needs to win over (which means buy off via legal contributions) all those with loyalties to the Clinton machine.

So, if I were advising him, I would tell him forget the promise he made about campaign contributions.  That was before the people of the US told him that they wanted to finance his campaign themselves via internet contributions to the tune of $36 million in January alone.  This is different from taking huge money from few people. So, I would tell him to say that he has decided to forego public financing because the promise he made previously was intended to ensure that big money special interest groups were out of the mix.  Obama’s money is not coming from special interests, but from hundreds of thousands of people giving a little at a time.  This accomplishes the same goal and leaves him free to out spend McCain by a lot.  

What I like about Obama is that he plays by new rules but is ready to respond with tenacity to old ways when needed. Meanwhile, Clinton’s tired negative strategy is falling on deaf ears.  McCain seems to be trying some of the same tricks–he says Obama is peddling empty promises, that he and his wife are unpatriotic, etc.–they have no idea what they are dealing with here.

Krugman and Brooks think Obama can’t play hardball. Watch him.

This is hope with a hard edge. 

Preemptive Dialogue

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I have recently been struck by, and stuck between, two critiques of Obama’s foreign policy approach.  The first, articulated here in Kristin Rawl’s thoughtful response to my last post on Style with Substance, argues that Power and other Obama advisors will remain far too willing to assert United States military force in areas like Pakistan and Rwanda and Darfur.  She expresses grave concerns about all forms of American preemptive military intervention.  While her emphasis on the complexity of the issues involved and the difficulty of determining a productive way of response are surely correct, I still believe that people like Joseph Cirincione, with his emphasis on engagement, and Power, with her insistence that questions of social justice should drive American foreign policy would be a huge step in the right direction.

From the right, but not so far right that it is ridiculously neoconservative, there is this recent article by Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic. He argues that Obama’s impulse to dialogue fails to appreciate the “darker dimensions of our strategic predicament.”  He points, rightly I think, to the “recalcitrance of the world,” but argues, wrongly I think, that it is a sign of youth (and thus, one assumes, naivete) to think that an essentially optimistic, dialogical stance will be more effective in addressing the recalcitrance of the world than the tough talking posturing and very real violent course of action we have pursued to date.

I would suggest that Obama’s fundamental political approach of preemptive dialogue and compromise informed by a set of ideals and values grounded in a commitment to social justice is much more mature and effective than the immature politics of demonization and destruction.  To take a willingness to dialogue as a sign of weakness is to fall into a masculine logic of violence that has proven to be completely ineffective and counter-productive.  The disposition toward dialogue is a posture of strength and security, bolstered often by a self-assured recognition of military superiority, but guided always by the understanding that the use of force is a sign of failure, even when it may be justified.  

Words and ideas have always had a more substantive capacity to transform cultures and societies than have violence and force.  If we have learned anything from the Bush Administration’s many failures it is that it is in America’s self-interest to engage the world in a proactive, humble, deliberative and dialogical way.  

This is neither the naivete of youth nor the delusion of nostalgia; it is not a rejection of nuance and subtlety, nor a blanket and abstract refusal to use force; rather it is a mature response to the complexities of the world in which we live, however recalcitrant.  

Ironically, the youth of America–as can be felt here and here at Penn State and on college campuses throughout the country–seem to recognize Obama’s hope as grounded and mature.  They hear in it a call for for a level of deliberative action and engagement far beyond the imagination of those who, like Krugman and Wieselteir, defend force and violence in the name of sober realism.

Style with Substance

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To the degree that I have embraced the power of Obama’s words as a way to move the country toward a new way of thinking about politics, I risk giving the impression that I too have uncritically fallen into the mainstream media’s simple dichotomy that insists that Clinton is substance without much style and Obama is style without much substance.  Leaving the racist undertones of this way of formulating the differences to one side, it is perhaps important to address the distinctions between the two candidates directly.

I propose to do this by looking here at the question of foreign affairs to show the substance of Obama’s position and the substantive differences between Obama and Clinton.

Turning to the question of foreign policy, we ought not rely exclusively on the track records of the two candidates nor should we focus only on Clinton’s poor judgment in supporting the war in Iraq or Obama’s good judgment in opposing it from the start. These are important points, but the best way to determine how a president will conduct foreign affairs is to look at her or his foreign policy advisors.  

One of Hillary Clinton’s main foreign policy advisors is Lee Feinstein, the Clinton Campaign’s National Security Director.  He co-wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in 2004 with Anne-Marie Slaughter that was critical of the Bush administration’s strategy of unilateral preemption even as it argued for a “collective duty to protect” the lives and liberty of citizens of “nations run by rulers without  internal checks on their power….”  It sounds as if the extent of their critique of the Bush Administration is the unilateral nature of their approach.  The “collective duty to protect” seems to be a re-affirmation of the strategy of preemption but “exercised collectively, through a global or regional organization.”  Indeed, they suggest “the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.”

Obama’s foreign policy team includes Joseph Cirincione, Lawrence Korb and the human rights scholar Samantha Power.  Cirincione has argued for a policy in which diplomacy plays a central role in the attempt to “contain and engage” nations like Iran.  He argues: 

“Rather than pursue the faint hope that the organization of coercive measures will force Iran’s capitulation, our contain-and-engage strategy couples the pressures created by sanctions, diplomatic isolation and investment freezes with practical compromises and realizable security assurances to encourage Iran onto a verifiable, non-nuclear weapons path.”

This fits well with the central idea of Samantha Power’s Pulitzer prize winning book, A Problem from Hell, which is “that if the shapers of US foreign policy looked out for the human consequences of their decisions, the world and the United States would be far better off.”  When Obama speaks powerfully about change it is to give voice to this very different way of pursuing foreign affairs.  This is part of the substance that underlies the style.

For a good, balanced discussion of the substantial differences between Clinton and Obama on this issue see, Stephen Zunes’s article, Behind Obama and Clinton, on Common Dreams.

I want to thank Marcus Dracos for pointing me to information about the various advisors of the candidates, and for his thoughtful analysis of the differences between Clinton and Obama.  Much of what is written here grew out of conversations with Marcus.

To view Samantha Powers talk about why she works for and supports Obama, see below:

January Travels, Pictures

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DSC_3509.JPGJanuary is a paradoxical month: it contains the hope of new beginnings in the very dead of winter.

In early January, we traveled to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  Little did we know when Chloe posed for this picture in front of a wall of fish eyes, that just a few weeks latter we would be at the Franklin Institute watching a young staff member dissect a cow’s eye.  Chloe was fascinated.  She is developing a keen interest in everything having to do with the operation of the body.  She watched that dissection with the same sense of curious wonder that she had when watching the video of open heart surgery they have there at the Franklin Institute.  This interest in the body, in its operation and its repair has it roots in her longstanding interest in bodily injury and the possibility of recovery.


I have written in the past about what a wonderful mimic Hannah is.  Here at the Children’s Museum in Philadelphia, she carries it to an extreme.  To watch Hannah at play with her own image was to see a girl at ease with herself taking pure joy in making herself multiple.  She danced for quite a while to the delight of her parents and grandmother.

A New Political Calculus

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The Obama campaign continues to perplex the pundits and the politicians who insist on operating with an outdated political calculus based on fear, hatred and self-interest. Some in the press see Obama’s dominant victory in South Carolina as an indication that Obama’s candidacy will trigger huge racial divisions that will tear up the party and lead to disaster.  One passage from an AP article appearing in the Sun News of Myrtle Beach reads:

While blacks overwhelmingly favored Obama, the exit poll showed he got only about 25 percent of the white vote. The racial split raises fresh questions about whether Obama can win in states outside the South, despite his early victory in overwhelmingly white Iowa.

However, in his article, Opening Up a Can of Obama, John Dickerson of  puts these numbers in context:

“Going into primary day, the national press and political class obsessed over whether Obama’s victory would be diminished because he performed disproportionally well among African-Americans. Obama did in fact obliterate his opponents among black voters, winning 82 percent of the vote, but he also got a quarter of the white vote. Obama also did well among independents, who made up 23 percent of the primary electorate: He beat Clinton 40 percent to 23 percent, which helps his argument to Democrats voting in future states that he can capture those swing voters in a contest with Republicans in the fall.”

Even the Sun News admits that the big news was the huge turnout on the Democratic side: Obama alone collected more votes than were cast in the 2004 Democratic Presidential primary and the number of Democrats voting outnumbered the Republican turnout last week. All of this suggests that South Carolina would be a state in play for the Democrats in November if Obama is the nominee.

Obama is a cross-over candidate the likes of which we have never seen.  He is motivating not only the blacks in South Carolina, but whites in Iowa and young people all over the country.  And if his speech last night is any indication, he may have just learned how to fend off the slash and burn politics of the Clintons without taking anything away from his own lofty vision.  The speech is posted below, but one of the most brilliant rhetorical moments was this one:

“The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It’s about the past versus the future.

It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a politics of common sense, and innovation – a shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.”

This is another indication that the Obama campaign is not operating with the old playbook.  They are thinking in a completely different way, one that sees possibility where so many see division and partisanship.  Just listen:


Toward a Mature Politics

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In his famous essay, What is Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant writes:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.  Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.1

I was reminded of this passage as I read George Packer’s recent piece in the New Yorker entitled, Choice: Hillary’s idea of the Presidency vs. Obama’s.  Although the media has allowed the difference between Clinton and Obama to be defined in terms of her experience versus his vision, the more appropriate distinction is really between her immaturity and his maturity.

As the Packer article makes clear, the Clintons thrive on the adolescent politics of partisanship.  Thus, in the face of her loss in Iowa, Hillary announced her strategy to go negative on Obama by saying “Now the fun part starts.”  When presented with a way to offer discounts to the elderly in Arkansas during Bill’s tenure as governor, Hillary responded: “The last thing we need to do right now is something for folks who didn’t vote for Bill.”

Sidney Blumenthal, a long-time senior advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton, puts it succinctly when he says: “It’s not a question of transcending partisanship.  It’s a question of fulfilling it.” The immaturity of such sentiments, masquerading around as a kind of political realism and toughness, is palpable.  It is an immaturity born of years of fighting the vicious and hateful right wing of the political spectrum.  In the end, however, it is a reactionary politics that tends to degrade the political dialogue and drive us to that which is worst in us: the petty, the spiteful, the belligerent.

No one believes that the likes of Grover Norquist and Karl Rove will ever give up on the politics of hate. However, there comes a time when a people must emerge from its self-incurred immaturity and become adults. The adolescent politics of the Clinton administration gave us the rise of Newt Gingrich and the Lewinsky affair. Of course, this was vastly more innocent and benign than the violent adolescence of the Bush administration, which lied its way into war, tried to torture its way out and now, it seems, has won for itself an economic morass to go with its quagmire in Iraq.

A genuine transformation of our society and our position in the world can be accomplished only if we can cultivate a political maturity capable of thinking for itself.

It is time we grew up.

The Politics of Hate

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Today as the Republicans of South Carolina again go to the polls, I am returned to those critical days in the Republican primary in 2000 when Karl Rove deployed a strategy of hate and fear that set in motion a series of events that has led to one of the most disastrous presidencies in American history.  During the South Carolina primary in 2000, the Bush campaign, led by Rove, had surrogates use push polls to suggest that Bridget McCain, Cindy and John McCain’s adopted daughter from Bangladesh, was in fact John’s “illegitimate black child.” For a description of what happened, see Richard Davis’s account in the Boston Globe.

Although the Rove and the Bush campaign denied that this polling was their doing, it was consistent with Rove’s tactics from previous campaigns and it resonates with his most recent comments about Barack Obama in his January 10th, 2008 Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal.  I refuse to link directly to that article as it would reward the Wall Street Journal for publishing the racist musings of a hate monger.  Instead, I quote the relevant passage here: 

“He is often lazy, given to misstatements and exaggerations and, when he doesn’t know the answer, too ready to try to bluff his way through.”

This, of course, is basic, hackneyed racism designed to draw on people’s underlying fears and prejudices.  It also echos a senior White House official who called Obama “intellectually lazy” back in September, for more, see this.  All of this is vintage Rove.

However, my sense is that people are ready for something other than the politics of hatred and fear.  That approach bought us a war in Iraq, a well earned reputation for torture, and a CIA that is burning evidence of its own illegal activities.

Perhaps Americans are finally willing to turn from the politics of fear and hate to a different kind of politics. 

Perhaps we are prepared finally to live up to the ideals the founders so beautifully articulated but over which they hopelessly floundered.

Perhaps we will finally be able to hear the garbage Rove and his ilk spew as precisely what it is: hateful, small minded and cynical political posturing that works only if a population gives in to its worst tendencies.  

I remain hopeful that this year will mark the beginning of a different politics, one grounded in hope and possibility rather than fear and hate.  

Perhaps not…but, just maybe.

iPod Touch Ups

By | Technology, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Last October I wrote with some frustration about the limitations of my iPod Touch, three months later, it is perhaps fair to revisit the list of issues I had with the device to see what has been addressed and what remains to be done.  

  1. The ability to add events to the calendar was added by a firmware upgrade late last year and it has made a very big difference in the way I use the Touch.  The addition of this functionality, which should never have been missing in the first place, has moved the device forcefully into the realm of a fully functional PDA.  More on this in a moment.
  2. There still remains no support for the Cisco VPN we have in place here at the University Park campus of Penn State.  So, I am unable to connect to the internet with the device during extended periods of the day when I am on campus.  I understand that a fix for this may be coming with the release of a Software Development Kit for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but the delay on this has been frustrating.
  3. The Google calendar interface for the iPhone was made to work with the iPod Touch late in the year last year and the interface is very nice.  However, without continuous internet access on campus, I have opted to use only the Calendar app on that sits locally on the device.
  4. There remains no ability to access descriptions of podcasts on the iPod Touch.  This is an issue of continued frustration for me as I sort through podcasts that have collected over a few days and would like a simple way to view their content without listening to the introductions of each one.  

Having touched again upon the above points, it is clear that much remains to be done to realize more of the potential of this machine.  With the release of the January update which includes five applications that Apple should have offered free to iPod Touch users, but for which it instead decided to charged us $20, some progress was made.  Even so, significant problems remain:

  1. The Mail app is very nice in many respects, but it does not include a way to easily delete all of the emails in a given mailbox.  Specifically, there should be an easy what to empty the trash can in Mail on the iPod Touch.  
  2. A more significant failure is that the Mail app does not include the ToDo list functionality Apple just built into the Mail app in Leopard.  There is no reason that Mail on the Touch/iPhone should not sync seamlessly with Leopard’s Mail app, and specifically with its Notes and ToDo features.  This would make the Touch into one of the best PDA’s out there and Apple could do this so simply in a few elegant strokes.  I can’t help but wonder if the impetus behind moving Notes and ToDo’s to the Mail app in Leopard is an intention to move in this direction.  If so, why is it taking so long?
  3. The Google Maps app is very cool and will be useful on trips even without an internet connection if my initial tests are correct which indicate that basic driving directions remain cached in the machine even when it is not online.
  4. The Weather app is weak.  The web apps for weather are much better than the app that now resides locally on the Touch.  It gives basic information about current weather, temps and the upcoming week, but there is no way to get more detailed information like radar maps or wind chill factors or even sever weather information.  This information could be accessed when the device is connected to the internet and cached when not.
  5. The Stock app is fine, although it is hard to look at these days.  I don’t know why it does not sync with the widget built into Leopard which is identical.

In all, there are a lot of little things that need to be done to make this a truly excellent device.  I remain, even after three months, very impressed with the user interface and continue to enjoy interacting with the machine.  The iPod Touch now needs a few touch-ups, most having to do with integration with existing Leopard apps and functionality.  Once these are accomplished, the pleasure of using the device will finally eclipse the frustration of being confronted daily with such unrealized potential. 

The Poetics of Politics

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Last year on the anniversary of hurricane Katrina I wrote about Martin Luther King and the content of our Nation’s character. In that post, I embedded a YouTube video of about Barack Obama because I heard in his voice an empowering rhythm and in his message the hope of new possibilities.

Listen, now, to his victory speech in Iowa last night:

In hearing him speak, I was struck by the power of his political poetics. The poetics of politics names something different from the manipulative rhetoric politics has always deployed for propagandistic purposes. Rather, the poetics of politics resonates with that in us capable of actualizing our best selves. Its rhythm and cadence opens us to new possibilities of community, quickens our passions, not with irrational enthusiasm, but for deliberate action intent on bringing our values in line with our lives.

The United States has been blessed with a wealth of political poets. Think of Jefferson’s “When in the course of human events …“, of Lincoln’s “Four score and seven years ago…“, of FDR’s “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself“, of JKF’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” or of King’s “I have a dream…

Obama’s “They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned …” does not yet rise to the level of these great poets, but only because the words mark a minor, albeit significant, victory. Even so, they give voice to the possibility that our highest ideals, when powerfully articulated, can give birth to transformative action.

Grass Roots Politics

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I have always thought Obama’s background as a community organizer would help his chances in Iowa. A few hours time will tell if this intuition was right. However, this article, entitled “A Tiny Iowa Paper and One Very Big Name: Obama” by Peter Slevin of the Washington Post, suggests that from its beginnings the Obama campaign has been assiduously focused on the personal dimension of national politics.

What seems most significant to me in this story is the degree to which it is reported that the Obama campaign operates in the mode of attentive listening. This sort of sensitivity to local concerns and local people is a hopeful sign that this candidate is committed to the real concerns of everyday people rather than to the business concerns of corporate lobbyists.

Although I remain too cynical to think that a politician could be elected in the US who turns a deaf ear to corporate interests, at least it would be nice to know that voices of traditionally less influence are also being heard.

This sort of personal politics need not be naive. In fact, there are signs that Obama’s strong grass roots connections will allow him to succeed in Iowa because he has empowered his precinct captains to make deals with delegates committed to other candidates, like Kucinich, Biden and Richardson. This seems to be a powerful strategy for success in Iowa.

Success in the larger, richer states, however, will require that this grass roots approach take hold on a much broader scale. A victory in Iowa would be the first step in broadening the field of political participants in the United States.

No Monsters

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Chloe: No Monsters

Lately, we have had a monster problem in our house. Chloe has been very concerned about monsters, particularly the possibility that one or more live in one of her closets. Checking the closets before bed each night did not seem to allay her concerns.

Now, however, she has hit upon an excellent solution. As we brainstormed ideas about how best to deter monsters from entering our house in the first place, Chloe came up with the idea of an unequivocal, definitive sign. She dictated it to Val, drew some scary pictures on it and posted it in the window next to our front door. The sign reads:

And I mean it, monsters.

Chloe used her most powerful I-mean-it voice in dictating this sign and the monsters seem to have received the message loud and clear.

Blogging in the Philosophy Classroom

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Christopher Long

One of the many great privileges of teaching here at Penn State is the opportunity I have to work closely with faculty and staff committed to thinking creatively about teaching and learning. One place where there is a vibrant and exciting community of people dedicated to thinking creatively about innovative teaching techniques is the office of Education Technology Services (ETS). Cole Camplese, the Director of ETS, has cultivated a culture of creative experimentation that is transforming the pedagogical use of technology here at Penn State.

As part of the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) unit, ETS supports faculty willing to try new technologies to determine what does and does not work in the classroom. For the past two years, I have been using blogging and podcasting in my philosophy courses to encourage students to articulate and disseminate their ideas in ways that relate the philosophical content we discuss in class to a wider community. I will present some of my experiences at the Spring 2008 Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State.

To hear more about my approach, see the story about my use of blogging in my philosophy courses posted on the TLT Symposium Website at:

To view my course blogs, with links to blogs written by my students, see:

Phil & Sophia

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Two boxes of old slides had been sitting in my closet for years. My mother gave them to me long ago with the thought that maybe we might look at them sometime. Over Thanksgiving this year, we decided to have the slides transfered to a CD ROM.

I have posted some of the results on my .Mac account at:

The pictures resonate with me not only because they are images of my most immediate ancestors, but also because my maternal grandparents were themselves parents of two daughters. There is a certain repetition here: the moments of the family seen in these pictures amplify the importance of the moments we now spend with Hannah and Chloe. What pictures of ours will be unearthed by their children, what memories will last, what stores told?

Phil, my Grandpa Filing, died when I was five, so I never really knew him. I knew, however, the stories, told always with laughter. My mother and Aunt Barb can hardly mention their father without breaking into joyful laughter. The stories live on, the laughter lasts. You can hear it in these pictures if you look with attentive ears.

Sophia, Nan as we called her, died just after I graduated from college, so I knew her well. She taught me to be loyal and to love my work. She always had a deep love for us, grounded firmly in a stoic strength that only now am I beginning to truly appreciate. This love and strength too can be felt in these pictures if you look with a sensitive heart.

To Phil and Sophia, for the stories, the laughter and your love, thank you.

Web 3.0

By | Technology, The Long Road | 3 Comments

After hearing the Education Technology Services (ETS) Talk, number 35 in which issues were raised about the limits of Facebook and other aspects of Web 2.0 social networking that were feeling a bit cumbersome, I have been thinking about what Web 3.0 will be like and what we might anticipate for its impact on pedagogy.

My sense is that the sort of control over content that the next version of Moveable Type will offer to the Blogs @ PSU program points in the direction of Web 3.0. I imagine that Web 3.0 will bring an increased capacity for us to have complete control over our own on-line identity and digital expression regardless of whether we belong to a proprietary social network like Facebook or or Flickr. Rather, I will be able to develop and customize a digital space accessible to anyone willing to subscribe to the feeds — Twitters, Pictures, Blog Posts, etc. — that I am publishing about myself, my work, my life. My students, family, friends will have access to my information on a variety of platforms, again, regardless of whether or not they belong to a common social network. They will engage with my content both passively and actively using cell phones, laptops, desktops and new devices like the Kindle throughout the course of their day, not limited by wires or walls. It seems to me that a number of interesting pedagogical possibilities would open up in such a world.

I imagine too that I am vastly underestimating the new creative possibilities that the technologies on the horizon will bring to us. I probably have described something that belongs more to Web 2.1 than Web 3.0. But, it would be very interesting to hear any speculation you might have about what Web 3.0 will look like. In three years, say, what new pedagogical possibilities will be open to me as a faculty member committed to weaving technology into my courses in order to teach students how to articulate themselves and critically engage the world in and through the digital medium?

The Dazzle of the Light

By | Living, The Long Road | 5 Comments

Upon passing a cemetery on the way to play group yesterday, Chloe was prompted to a line of questioning that led to the question of death: not only her death but also the death of me and Val. Val was alone in the car with the girls and did her best to avoid retelling those tempting stories we mortals tend to tell ourselves to assuage the ineluctable burden of our finitude.

Yet, what does one tell a three and a half year old asking about the limit of her own existence? Her humanity presses in upon her and she responds with a natural wonder that must be nourished, however much it challenges the securities we have won over the course of a lifetime of living in the shadow of the limit.

Whitman helps me here, although the help is hard to hear:

You are asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear [daughter],

Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you
with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
and laughingly dash with your hair.

-From Leaves of Grass, 46 ("son" changed to "daughter" by cpl)

To invite and hear the questions, to admit the impossibility of answers, to nourish our children and to empower them to be bold swimmers are the true gifts we parents have to offer. In return, there is a nod, a shout, a laughing dash of hair: the dazzle of the light. Let us habit ourselves to every moment of our lives.

Hannah's 2nd Birthday

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Today Hannah Aveline Long turns two years old!  To celebrate I have added one of my favorite pictures of her with a new umbrella she received for her birthday.
This year we celebrate with visits first from Choo-Choo Nanny and Baba and then from Nanny Janny and Baba Teedo. 
Two years ago this beautiful, funny and amazingly smart little person entered into the world.  She has made our lives rich with wonder.  Happy Birthday Hannah!

Life with Chloe and Hannah 01 – Early Snow

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I have posted Life with Chloe and Hannah, episode 01 below. It is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing collection of podcasts that capture something of the daily life of my daughters, Chloe and Hannah.

The idea of the podcast is to focus not on the big events–birthdays, holidays, vacations, etc.–but on the beautiful little events of daily life.

The podcasts are produced in the spirit of that Hasidic Jewish tradition of hallowing the everyday. The format is to allow Chloe and Hannah to speak, as much as possible, for themselves, although at the beginning at least, there is much prompting from their father.

Fiscal Responsibility: Pay for Educational Excellence

By | Politics, The Long Road | One Comment

In the Centre Daily Times today (after 11/4, link requires subscription), I noticed a central theme that appears in the answers the State College Vision slate of candidates gave to the question: What would your priorities be if elected to the office you are seeking?

They all emphasize that the new District Wide Master Plan will be a priority and that community input and fiscal responsibility will inform all decisions concerning the plan.

On the face of it, these seem to be worthy and laudable priorities. However, a deeper look into what these priorities mean for these candidates in this context suggest less noble forces at work.

For these candidates, fiscal responsibility seems to mean minimizing the community’s tax liability for our schools. Barney Grimes puts it this way:

We must also provide “the most bang for the buck” with taxpayers’ resources. The expenditure of funds should be based upon fully transparent, established and mutually agreed upon priorities.

Ann McGlaughlin wants to put the question of what is most affordable to taxpayers on an equal footing with the educational and extracurricular needs of our children. One of her priorities is:

To update the district facilities master plan so that it not only supports a strategic plan for educational and extracurricular needs, but also prioritizes renovations in a manner that taxpayers can afford. To provide a disciplined, financial perspective to planning and policymaking, maintenance of the district’s financial health and common-sense stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources.

While affordability and the financial realities of the district must always be a factor in administrative decision-making, it should never be permitted to drive those decisions. Rather, the single most important question should always be: what needs to be done to ensure that our children receive the best education possible? Once that is determined, the community should be challenged to come up with the financial resources necessary to meet those educational needs.

Fiscal responsibility cannot mean minimizing our tax liability, but maximizing our investment in the educational needs of our children.

The community should be prepared to pay whatever it costs to ensure that we have state-of-the-art facilities, superior teachers, an innovative and demanding curriculum, and talented, conscientious administrators. There is no more important financial commitment a community can make to its future.

My concern with the emphasis the State College Vision candidates place on affordability and transparency is that their own candidacies have been funded largely by local developers who are less concerned with the educational needs of our children and more concerned with the financial needs of their businesses. I worry that the obsession with tax liability, when combined with the influence of local developers, will turn the noble goals of transparency and openness into an ignoble reality in which the superior financial resources of local developers will manipulate public opinion in such a way that business interest trumps educational need every time.

Because of these concerns, I intend to write-in James Leous and Robert Hendrickson on November 6th.

Save Our Schools (SOS)

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The write-in campaign of James Leous and Robert Hendrickson have produced three short, funny YouTube advertisements that highlight some of the differences between their positions and those of the State College Vision slate of candidates. I blogged last week about my concerns that the State College Vision campaign has been blinded by the business interests of local developers.
This week I thought I would highlight these YouTube ads to try to give a sense of some of the concerns of the Leous and Hendrickson campaign.
A Negative Vision
The first ad is designed to emphasize the lack of a vision articulated by the State College Vision campaign. This campaign was born out of a vociferous community movement to block the renovation of the local high school, but has not set forth a positive agenda now that the renovation project has been abandoned.

Investing in children, not local business interests
This second ad highlights the commitment Leous and Hendrickson have to investing in the sort of innovative technological that will offer students in our district critical skills for success in a rapidly changing academic and professional world.

The Democratic Process
This final ad is designed to highlight the rather puzzling objection on the part of many on the State College Vision side that the election is basically over and that the Democratic Party’s support for the Leous and Hendrickson write-in campaign amounts to an unwillingness to listen to the will of the people. However, of course, many independents were not permitted to participate in the primary election. Also, a number of people who supported the Vision slate of candidates because they opposed the High School rennovation may have changed their minds in the face of:

  1. revelations about the business interests that funded the campaign and
  2. the Visions campaign’s failure to articulate a positive vision of how to preserve and strengthen the excellent tradition of education the current Board has worked so hard to establish and maintain.

Write-In Leous and Hendrickson

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The upcoming School Board election in State College seems to mark an important turning point for our schools. As someone with two young daughters who will enter the district in the next three or four years, I was very disturbed to read the following article from Voices of Central PA.
Although many people were clearly upset about the idea of renovating the High School, it seems that we have lost sight of the important question of who can best ensure that our schools continue to achieve excellence. It is more than a little concerning that local developers contributed so much money to the State High Vision slate of candidates.
Happily, it is still possible to counteract the influence of these developers because Jim Leous, my neighbor and colleague at Penn State, and Robert Hendrickson, who has served on the Board during a period in which the district established a strong record of excellence, are running as write-in candidates.

Penn State Atheist, Agnostic Association

By | Education, The Long Road | One Comment

Nat Jackson and David Yanofsky have taken it upon themselves to reactivate the Penn State Atheist, Agnostic Association that was started two years ago by Richard Jeffery, a former philosophy major here at Penn State. Two years ago, the group focused largely on debating people with views different from theirs, including Gary Cattell, known as the Willard preacher. The goal then was to open up a dialogue about religion and belief.
Nat and David have something similar in mind as they reactivate the group, though dialogue is only one dimension of the group’s mission. They seem also committed to the idea that the best argument against the notion that atheism and agnosticism are nihilistic positions that annihilate the values on which good deeds are done is to work with other religious organizations and charities to be a force for positive change in the local community.
I am very happy to see that they and the group are receiving substantive and fair coverage in the student newspaper, the Daily Collegian. It is disturbing, however, to hear that Nat and David have been threatened with physical violence as they held their sign that reads “Non-believers Unite in Disbelief” by students claiming to be Christians. The irony of such threats does not lessen their repugnance.
My experience as the faculty adviser of the Atheist, Agnostic Association is that the students involved in the group are responsible, thoughtful and dedicated people who embody one of the most important dimensions of life at the university: the willingness to investigate tenaciously and evaluate critically one’s own core beliefs and the beliefs of others.
The quotation from Nat that concludes today’s piece in the Daily Collegian bears repeating here: “People say ‘what meaning can life have if there is no God?’ But I believe that this one life is all we have. There is no permanence and that makes it more meaningful.”

My New iPod Touch

By | Technology, The Long Road | 4 Comments

I received my new iPod Touch the other day and have had a few days to play with it. On the whole, I would say that it is very close to being one of the best handheld devices I have ever owned. At this point, however, there are significant drawbacks that are extremely frustrating. Let me mention a few issues:

  • There is no ability to add events to the calendar. This is particularly galling because the iPhone has this functionality and someone at Apple decided to disable it on the iPoT. I can’t think of a rationale for this, and it is extremely frustrating, particularly because of a second point:
  • There is no support of Cisco’s VPN software which is required to get on the wireless network at Penn State, where I teach. So, I have a beautiful new device with a calendar and WiFi capability, but I cannot get access to WiFi on campus where I spend much of my time, and I can’t add calendar events locally on the device without WiFi access.
  • To add to the calendar woes, even if I have WiFi access, Google Calendar as optimized for the iPhone does not yet work with the iPoT. (I can’t help but hope this is just a matter of time.)
  • There is no ability to access descriptions of podcasts on the iPoT (or the iPhone). I find this ridiculous. It is as if they designed the device without having a human use it in real life.

OK, having unloaded some of that frustration, I should mention that I have never owned a handheld device with the beauty and functionality of the iPoT’s interface. The pinching, the flicking, etc. makes browsing the internet (when I have access) a real joy. I have even taken to reading Slate and the NYTimes on it as my preferred mode of interacting with these sites at home.

This interface and the device itself has enormous potential for teaching and learning. It would give students an easy way to edit, add and comment on blog posts from anywhere on campus (if the VPN issue is addressed). It allows for the viewing of enhanced podcasts, which look beautiful on the relatively large screen. My blog sites (The Long Road, CpL ePortfolio, my First-Year Seminar and my 20th Century Philosophy course) look wonderful on the machine and I anticipate that with MovableType 4.0, if you are to believe the boys at ETS Talk, my blogs and those of my students will be yet more accessible on the iPhone and iPot.

In all, I very much want to love this machine, but I can’t until some of the basic flaws are addressed. My hope is that they all can be handled via firmware or even software upgrades in the very near future.

Gifts of Nature from my Daughters

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments

There is a leaf in my book bag. I found it when I was standing in front of my class of first-year students, taking out my computer and books, preparing to teach. It brought me up short, made me stop for a moment to consider its singular beauty. On any fall day I would have walked over or stepped upon this leaf, not noticing it for the many others of its kind, and the hectic concerns of the day that press themselves upon me. But there it was, beautiful, brown and orange, veins running from the stem to the outermost edges. A wonder really, more wonderful still in how it found its way to my bag.
You see, I have been finding little gifts of nature in my pockets, on my desk, even in my shoes. It may be a stone, a shell, even a singular piece of mulch. What they all have in common is that Hannah or Chloe found it interesting and, thinking of their father, decided it was a perfect gift for me. Much could be said about the significance of such gifts, of how they signal the wonder of nature, or call attention to the singular existence of even the seemingly most insignificant things, but for me, it is enough to know that they were given to me by one of my little girls thinking of her Dad. There is no greater gift.

Don't be fooled again

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Today is Labor Day and there is short quiet before the storm of debate in Washington about the war in Iraq unleashes itself upon us. General Petraeus will give his assessment later in the month. The White House will deploy its propaganda machinery to instill fear in the population in an attempt to reinvigorate support for a failed effort in Iraq. The anniversary of 9/11 will again be manipulated for political purposes.
Before this storm of debate drowns the voices against the war in Iraq, we would do well to recall the August 19th Op-Ed article in the New York Times by seven soldiers operating on the ground in Iraq.
Since, however, this is a Times Select article and may not be accessible to all, I quote a few sections here to amplify in some small way, their thoughtful and courageous position:

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

They make a strong argument for stepping back from the counterinsurgency campaign as they conclude their argument this way:

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

For two of the seven authors of this article, Sgt. Omar Mora and Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, seeing the mission through meant their own death on Monday, September 10th.
For more on this, see:

The Content of Our Character

By | Politics, The Long Road | One Comment

Martin Luther King dreamed that one day people would be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If you listen to that speech again, it is difficult not to be moved by the notion that the United States as a country has established an ideal of equality and justice for itself; that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” We are a long way from such an uprising …
As we mark the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina, the disjunction between our ideals and our reality is ever more poignant. The plight of the least advantaged among us is ever more difficult. We as a nation should aspire to be judged by the content of our character, and our response to the disastrous storm, two years ago and still today, is a powerful testimony to our lack of character as a nation.
If we are to begin to live up to the ideals King himself understood America to have set for itself, we will need both vision and eloquence. I see and hear something of both here:

Richard Rorty

By | Academic, The Long Road | No Comments

This year witnessed the death of Richard Rorty, an important American philosopher and good friend to my own teacher, Richard Bernstein. I embed here a YouTube clip posted by my colleague at Penn State, Phillip McReynolds, who is working on a documentary entitled American Philosopher.

The book to which many of those who appear in this clip refer is:
Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Rhythms of Fall

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments

In the distance is the sound of drums and horns. The high school band has begun to practice again behind the football field where young men run and tackle, drilling for the new season. The band’s music is punctuated periodically by the short, sharp whistle of the football coach barking out discouraged words designed to encourage.
Fall is on its way.
The construction that closed streets all summer has suddenly disappeared as the town prepares for the arrival of 40,000 students. The quiet lifts and a fresh spirit of energy descends upon this college town.
The days are shorter, the nights cooler. It is time to begin again. But as we begin, I take a moment to remember a beautiful summer …

The Farms of Centre County

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments

The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) sponsored its second annual Centre County farm tour today. My family, along with our neighbors, the Erickson’s (with whom we share a summer share at the Village Acres Farm CSA and a dedication to supporting the local farming community), spent the day visiting four beautiful farms.
Common Ground Farm
There is a difference between driving by or flying over a landscape and seeing it from the perspective of those who work in intimate connection with it. Since moving here three years ago, the topography and spirit of the landscape in Centre County has become an important part of my life. There is a beauty to the light here as it plays in the foothills of the Allegheny mountain range that often gives me pause. It is a welcome interruption. However busy, stressed or otherwise preoccupied, I find myself brought up short by the beauty of this place, made to feel the presence of a Nature larger than my preoccupations.
Today, we visited Common Ground Farm, Full Circle Farm, Goot Essa Farm and Mountain View Farm. Each place had a special feel of its own, but what struck me everywhere is the dedication of the farmers, their shared love of the land and their deep commitment to working with nature in a sustainable way. I am grateful to live in a place that takes the idea of sustainable agriculture seriously and has such dedicated people working to produce food that is healthy for the environment and for us humans who are its stewards.
For a slideshow of our tour, click here.

Congress in Fear

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Last week I wondered whether Congress would have the courage to pursue the question of impeachment. This week we received the unequivocal answer: no. In fact, not only will the Congress not pursue the national inquiry the framers envisioned, but they passed legislation to grant further powers to an executive branch with a long history of abuse of power.
The issues surrounding the updating of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are complicated. For a thoughtful analysis of the process that led to the bill signed into law this week expanding the government’s power to eavesdrop without warrants, see Patrick Radden Keefe’s article in Slate Magazine, entitled “Wiretap at Will.”
I was happy to see that Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama both voted against this legislation, disappointed that both of our senators from Pennsylvania lacked the insight and courage to vote nay. Of particular concern, of course, is the use of that ancient strategy of tyrants to appeal to fear in attempting to appropriate ever expanding authority.

A "National Inquest"

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In the Federalist Papers #65, Alexander Hamilton articulates the “true spirit” of the institution of impeachment written into the constitution. Article II, section 4 of the United States Constitution, puts the question of impeachment in stark and striking terms:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The precise meaning of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” remains vague enough to allow each generation to decide for itself its precise meaning. Hamilton, however, gives us a sense of what the framers thought of the institution of impeachment. He writes:

The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.

The question of impeachment is couched in terms of violated trust, of misconduct and of injuries done to society itself. The offense is not criminal, but political: it concerns the well-being of the community of citizens. Hamilton writes that the “true spirit” of the institution of impeachment is to for it to be “a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men.” The impeachment process seems to have been seen as vital to the long-term health of the Republic.

The institution itself appears to have been based on a deep belief in our capacity for self-examination, in our willingness to face up to the ramifications of our own decisions and inquire into the conduct and performance of those we have elected. Impeachment does not imply constitutional crisis, rather, it is one of the ways the constitution itself seeks to safe-guard the society against its own poor judgment.

Thus, it is to that branch of government allegedly most alive to the interests and will of the citizenry (the House of Representatives) that the founders gave the “the sole power of impeachment” (Article I, sec. 2, clause 5).

Of course, Hamilton recognized that undertaking such a serious, but necessary because palliative, endeavor would be difficult and take courage, for, as he writes, the prosecution of impeachments “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.” A concern for the seriousness of the question of impeachment and for the dangers endemic to the passions it agitates led the framers to consider the Senate as the proper place for a tribunal that would be “sufficiently dignified” and “sufficiently independent.” As Hamilton puts it:

What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?

Today it is unclear whether the House of Representatives has the courage to adopt articles of impeachment against Vice-president Cheney and President Bush, nor if the Senate has the confidence, maturity and integrity to prosecute an impeachment trial with impartiality between the individuals accused and we, the people.

Hamilton and his colleagues trusted that posterity would somehow find the courage to apply the medicine, however bitter, that would preserve the health of the Republic when its chief executive officers abuse and violate the public trust.

The question of impeachment is a political question in a larger sense than the so-called “politics” that reigns in Washington. It concerns the well-being of a community that finds some of its core values – individual rights, the just treatment of others, the balance of powers in government – threatened by the very ones who pledged “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The decision as to whether to pursue the question of impeachment ought to be made with sober seriousness, not with an eye to the short term political expediency of a single party or a specific candidate, but with the long-term prosperity of the community as the sole and guiding consideration.

In this light, it is difficult to argue against the urgent need for such a “national inquest.”

Below you will find some articles on the issue that will be updated over the course of the next few months as the national discussion of impeachment continues.

Passing Moments

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

AVALON, NJ – This is a place of liminal passages: the pines give way to dunes, the dunes to sea, the sea to the horizon and an openness of possibility. The elements too pass into one another: heat and humidity give way to rain, wind and storm, now it is cool and calm again, just the sound of the waves, returning, one after another, from the horizon of possibilities.
The threshold is a place of passing, it joins by dividing.
Here too, there is the passing of the generations. Two grandmothers pass on stories, the wisdom of those who came before handed down in a touch, a game played in the waves, the caring cut of watermelon. Two little girls grow into themselves in an old beach house that must still remember the laughter of another girl, now lost. Yes, this is a place of passing, and our time here too is passing, and yet, in so passing, we contribute to the life of this beautiful place.
If life itself is a sort of passage, a path or set of paths, it is marked by moments of poignancy that make up a landscape of memories. Chloe and Hannah, in hats, dancing on the porch … the sky at dusk, a beautiful purple-pink … two grandmothers laughing with their grand-daughters … Hannah in the waves … Chloe laughing with her mother and dancing in the sand … the hydrangea in bloom … holding hands on the beach, watching our daughters …
To see the a slideshow of our time in Avalon, click here.

Imitation and the Power of Story

By | Living, The Long Road | 2 Comments

In the Poetics, Aristotle says:

To imitate is co-natural to human-beings from childhood and in this they differ from other animals because they are the most imitative and produce their first acts of understanding by means of imitation; also, everyone delights in imitations. (Poetics 1448b7-9)

I delight in the imitations of my daughters. I am sure this delight is rooted in the recognition that, as Aristotle says, their imitations are their first acts of understanding, their first attempts to feel their way into the world. But my delight is also an immediate response to their delightful ways of encountering the world.

Hannah is quite the mimic. This morning I awoke to “Daddy. Daaady. Com’on Daddy” and heard an echo of my own repeated calls of “com’on Hannah” on our walks though the neighborhood. Chloe too, with a roll of her eyes, mimics her mother’s playful manner of mockery and shows that she too is hard to impress.
As we were leaving for the grocery store today Chloe and Hannah were going around saying “we’re outta here” after I must have said something to that effect. Part of what makes such mimicry so delightful is that it is like the gift of a mirror that allows you to see yourself differently.
But Aristotle does not have in mind only this sort of mimicry, but also the imitation that belongs to the telling and performance of stories, to the representation of actions in the world of human affairs. And it is here, in the telling and retelling of stories, that Hannah and Chloe clearly seek to find their ways into the complex world of human community.
Strangely enough, they both seem obsessed with stories of tragedy and redemption. Hannah likes to tell this story: “Guy … hit … fall down … Mommy … home,” which, roughly translates as:

Hannah was at the library when a boy hit her and she fell down. The boy’s Mommy made him say he was sorry and then told him they were going home because he was not playing nicely.

We retell this story often, and there is a satisfying sense of justice in it.
DSC_0033.JPGFor her part, Chloe has a battery of stories she wants to hear repeatedly throughout the day. There is the story of Joe Pa who broke his leg while coaching, went to the hospital, but is getting better and, as she often adds, “he’ll be all ready for the fall.”
Or the story of Uncle Hank who was hit by a car when he was a boy, went to the hospital, but recovered in time. Or that of the “old lady” who fell down at a wedding we attended in Chicago last fall and who I helped up to a chair (we tend to leave out the part about her being drunk!). She was taken home and recovered. Or the story of her friend who fell down the stairs of his porch, went to the hospital, but had no significant injuries.
Clearly, there is a theme here, and it has something to do with her attempt to understand human hurt and the capacity for recovery. My first hope for these two little ones is that they never know such hurt, but recognizing this as impossible, my second hope is that a resilient capacity for recovery sustains them through long lives.

Teaching with Google Tools

By | Technology, The Long Road | No Comments

I am beginning to think about the significance of RSS feeds and how they might be used in teaching. Google has a number of tools of potential importance for teaching. For example, the Google Reader allows me to aggregate blog posts from my students. The advantage of the Google Reader is that I can post feeds directly to a website. So, for example, if I want students to look as a specific story, I can add it to my shared feeds and add the code to my blog, website or even ANGEL. It would look like this:

The nice thing about this is that I can alter the content by sharing and unsharing items in the Google reader. I can imagine using it to call students’ attention to specific issues, and to have them call my attention to things of importance to them.

Jocasta and the Lieutenant General

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In the June 25, 2007 edition of the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reports on the report General Taguba filed chronicling the “systematic and illegal abuse” of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and its initial reception at the Pentagon. Soon after the first complaints of abuses, Hersh reports that Joseph Darby, a military policeman gave the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division a CD full of images of abuse and a video. Taguba himself reported that “he saw ‘a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.'”
One need not watch this video to apprehend the profound significance of this event and the troubling symbolism of the image: an American soldier, clothed in the uniform of American hegemonic authority, sodomizing a female prisoner. If it would not do violence to the horrible suffering of that singular female prisoner, it would not be difficult to see this image as a symbol of the profound American failure to date in Iraq.
What is more troubling still is our unwillingness, still today, to deal with the truth of this image. We remain like the lieutenant general of which Taguba speaks who, when urged to look at the photographs, responds “I don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”
This unwillingness to look as a response to a horror that has already taken root in one’s consciousness is, in fact, a time honored human tactic of delusion. In Oedipus the King, Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother and wife, has a similar response as she begins to recognize the horrible truth of her life–that she has married and bore children to her own son. She tells Oedipus, who himself remains tenacious in his pursuit of the truth, “Pay it no attention. Do not even wish to call to mind mere foolish, futile words … if you have any care for your own life, don’t search this out.” (King Oedipus, 1056-1061, from Sophocles: The Theban Plays, trans. Ruby Blondell, Newburyport, MA: Focus Classical Library.)
We Americans seem today to remain like Jocasta and the Lieutenant General. Indeed, we have internalized Jocasta’s advice to Oedipus: we do not even wish to call to mind such words and images that will reveal the truth of who we have become.
But the lieutenant general’s words already reveal too much, for the decision not to look is, in fact, a choice to collude in the abuse, in the full range of violence endemic to our actions in Iraq. It is a responsibility we all now bear, even those of us who never supported the president or his disastrous war, even, indeed, those of us who try to seek the truth by looking at and thinking through the implications of the images that find their way to us despite ourselves.

Community Supported Agriculture

By | Living, The Long Road | 3 Comments

Last weekend my family participated in the annual Strawberry festival at the Village Acres Farm, where we are members of their community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
As you can see, the strawberries were beautiful, and my daughter Hannah loved them. We all enjoy the healthy organic food that comes from this beautiful farm.
But what we most enjoy is the sense that we are supporting our local community of farmers, that we are engaged with the environment and community in which we live and that we are afforded an opportunity to experience the cycle of life that brings different food to us at different times of the year.

About the Long Road

By | Announcement, The Long Road | 2 Comments

The title of this web log is more than a play on the name of its author. It refers specifically to Socrates’ insistence in the Republic (at 435d and 503c-d) that the path to truth, the path of genuine philosophy, is a lifelong endeavor oriented by the insistent desire to pursue truth, justice and beauty in a world that all too often shows itself as false, unjust and ugly.

Philosophy is not an academic discipline; it is deeply human activity that requires a heightened sensitivity to the world we inhabit, a commitment to engage honestly the people we meet, and an ability to articulate thoughtful criticism with an eye toward the true, the just and the beautiful. This web log endeavors to give voice to a philosophical life in its rich complexity.

To that end, you will find here information for my students and my philosophy classes, but also reflections on my family, politics, technology and other issues that present themselves as worthy of reflection.