Philosophy is a human activity requiring a heightened sensitivity to the world we inhabit and an ability to respond to complexity with nuance and a sense for what is just.

The Long Road is an attempt to blog a philosophical life.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.