Recently in Living Category

New Path on the Long Road

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After a substantive redesign with the help of Amy Grant at Lucid Digital Designs, the Long Road and my entire online presence has been moved to:


I invite you to continue the conversation over on that site.

This Day is Broken

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6/365: Grandparents Clock
Originally uploaded by cplong11
Today is Mack Brady's birthday; he would have turned 9.

His father has recently written eloquently, even in his grief, about the theological questions the senseless death of a young boy raises. For him, it is not a question of God's punishing anyone or of some grand divine plan, but of "the broken nature of the world."

This W. H. Auden poem captures that brokenness; so I offer it here in memory of a birthday that should have been welcomed by the palpable excitement of an energetic little boy ready to enter into his ninth year of life.

W.H. Auden, via http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/auden.stop.html

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

One Week

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Statuesque
Originally uploaded by Targuman
When the Collegian asked me to comment on the scholarship established in honor of Mack Brady for the article they published today, they could not integrate all I had written. 

This is what I wrote:

When you look at the striking photographs Chris Brady took of Mack and his entire family, you see a glimpse of the beautiful life that was lost, and of the love that endures. 

The entire Penn State community mourns with Chris and Elizabeth and Izzy. 

The soccer scholarship they have established will be a tribute to the energy, skill and passionate dreams of a wondrous little boy, and a lasting testimony to the enduring love our community feels for him and the Brady family.

* * *

Tonight marks the one week anniversary of Mack's death. Here are a few images by which to remember the love that endures:

 

The Press Enterprise

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West End of Bloomsburg, PA
Originally uploaded by colecamp
I have long had the vague idea that newspapers need to recognize that the core of their business is the business of their communities.

Sometimes the experiences of your friends have a way of making vague ideas poignant and concrete. 

Such is the case for me with my friend, Cole Camplese, and his experience with the Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg, PA.

The Press Enterprise is the local paper in Bloomsburg, a town that was hit last week with a devastating flood. 

Have you read much about it? No? Well, I would point you to the paper so you could learn more about the lives of those impacted by the flood, but if I did that, you would quickly come face to face with this:

Press Enterprise.jpg No, to learn about the flood from this paper allegedly dedicated to "Serving Bloomsburg," you would need either to subscribe or visit their Facebook Page, where you would find comments from Facebook users and the occasional link to the Press Enterprise itself; and if you would like to read the articles to which these links point ...  well, then you would need to subscribe.

Of course, you could also look at the images and stories gathered by individuals like Cole. 


These images and stories articulate well the business of Bloomsburg at the moment. And it seems to me that the business of a newspaper designed to serve this community should really revolve around the business of the community itself. While the newspaper did unlock its content during the flood and in its immediate aftermath; it has now closed itself off again from the wider community of communication that is the internet.

Cole has written an eloquent post about this on his blog, a post that should move the Press Enterprise to reconsider its business strategy.

But it is the strange tension in the name of the paper that I find rich with ambiguous meaning. At a time when the culture of printing is giving way to a new, more dynamic digital culture the very enterprise of the press has been called into question.

When we speak of the "enterprise" in business terms, we understand, as Dictionary.com says, "a company organized for commercial purposes."  But the most common meaning of the term is "a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy." I like that one. But it does not seem to be the meaning at play in the Press Enterprise.

Of course, we have been living since the invention of the printing press around 1440 in a print culture that has long been characterized by what might be called a logic of compression, impression and even repression. The printing press itself is an impressive machine designed to press information upon us, imprinting mass culture with the ideas, thoughts and values that have the imprimatur of the those with authority.  

The enterprise of pressing has been lucrative indeed.

But what might the press enterprise look like if we took seriously the common meaning of 'enterprise' as an important, difficult and bold endeavor? 

It would need to become something less depressing than the business of printing. It would need to be more attuned to the business of the community as the community engages in activities that make lives meaningful. It would need to become a curator, a collector, an open space of gathering, sharing, re-mixing and responding. 

It would need to relinquish its tendencies to impress, compress and contain. In short, the Press Enterprise needs to become a shared, community enterprise.

And if the newspaper business truly becomes the business of communities, I am confident it will continue to be lucrative as well; for people will come not to be told or imprinted upon, but because they find a place in which they can engage in a common enterprise about the business of their community.

Learning the Art of Relaxation

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STONE HARBOR, NJ - Just midway through my week vacation, I am beginning to learning the art of relaxation. 

As a faculty member, when the semester of teaching is over, a span of summer begins in which time takes on a different dimension as research responsibilities press themselves upon you. The result is an expanse of unstructured time that needs to be given structure by disciplined research. Because we give ourselves that structure, faculty often develop a sense of never really "being off of work" even when we are on vacation.

That has changed somewhat for me since becoming an Associate Dean. When the semester ends, the structure of my work week remains largely unchanged - I continue to come to the office each day to meet and work with staff, faculty and students. The result is that when I take vacation, it really feels like time off. Of course, all the research pressures of a regular faculty member remain, which casts a shadow over every vacation.

This year, however, I have had some success in learning how to relax in this context. A few of my strategies are probably a bit counter-intuitive.

Keep in touch. Many people set up an automatic email message that says something like "I will be away from my email until x, if you have an emergency, please contact ..." I never do that, even on vacation. I know enough about myself to know that allowing email to pile up while I am away increases my anxiety. I am less relaxed in such situations. Rather, I check mail periodically, deleting things I don't need, delegating things to staff at work, responding briefly if possible or adding more involved tasks to OmniFocus, my To-Do list, for when I return. The result is a bit of time over vacation, but I save two or three days of being behind when I return. I am more relaxed when I take the time to do this.

Be unscheduled. The biggest challenge for me is to settle into being unscheduled. My days are hyper-scheduled, down to half-hour time periods. Even my unscheduled time has a research or administrative work schedule imposed on it by me to ensure I am maximally productive. On vacation, I find myself often trying to schedule the day: let's go to the beach in the morning, then do X for lunch, then let's go to the pool ... I simply need to let go of that compulsion to schedule, at least for a vacation like a week at the beach.

Attend to the Moment. During my work-a-day week, I have sought to cultivate the ability to attend to the moment and the task at hand. My Photo of the Day project has helped me practice attentive seeing. This week at the beach, I have relied on that practice as I listen to my daughters' stories, notice the play of light on the ocean, and enjoy the smell of the beach. I have written before about the beach as a liminal space and the details of life at the beach. One of the important reasons I try to practice the habit of being present to the moment is that the disposition is then there when you need it most: when vacation time slips slowly away and life appears to pass too quickly.

One of the reasons why these strategies work for me, I realize, is that I don't feel the need to separate radically from my working life when I am on vacation. I am lucky to have a career I love, one that feels more like a calling than a burden. This too, was a matter of intentionally attending to the course of my life, which I take to be one of the primary purposes of living a philosophical life.

Letting Jelly Dog Go

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Jelly Dog
Originally uploaded by cplong11
On Sunday, ArtGirl stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. I noticed two things: she seemed bigger to me and she was not holding her favorite stuffed animal, Jelly Dog.

It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.

For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.

Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.

To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first "tasted" by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly's mouth before eating it herself; every drink was "sipped" by Jelly before she drank it herself.

During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:

"I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real." Or: "What will happen to Jelly when I die?" Or: "I don't want Jelly to die."

So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was ... and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.

She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.

All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.

During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant and remarkable things.

She said:
"It doesn't feel right with him, but it doesn't feel right without him."

She said:
"I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again."

On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that "going cold turkey" was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.

ArtGirl told me: "Cold turkey is not for me."

But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said:

"I do want you to get him, but I don't want you to get him."


Jelly Dog with his Friends
Originally uploaded by cplong11
I understood perfectly and suggested that perhaps she needed a little back scratching to help her fall asleep tonight. So there we sat, me scratching her back, her missing Jelly, me thinking how I admired her process, and her falling asleep.

We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.

And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.

We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.

Prosthetic Gods

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iPhone
Originally uploaded by Florin Hatmanu
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes:

With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning (43).

The passage touches on something I have been thinking about ever more intensely as I consider how the technology I have integrated so completely into my life has changed the way I interact with the world and those I encounter in it.

To illustrate his point, in this section of Civilization Freud points to the motor, which extends the power of human muscles to move the body, and the telescope, which extends the power to see; and he mentions the camera and the gramaphone as fundamentally designed to amplify the power of recollection and memory.

As I have emphasized in a post entitled Brief Reflection on the Essence of Technology, the dialectical relationship between the technologies we create and our human creative capacities is complex.

Freud articulates something of this complexity when he writes:

Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times (44).

As I think about how I use those technological tools that have become adjunct to my body - my iPhone and increasingly now, my iPad - and I consider the extent to which I rely on an application like Evernote or even Things, my advanced ToDo app, I realize the degree to which these devices and applications allow me to focus on what is important to me because they augment the power of my memory - or should I say they deteriorate the power of my memory by taking over the very task of memorization for me? 

The difference seems to be diminishing....

And yet, Freud's reminder that "present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character" (45) gestures to the core of the issue: what is it for a prothetic god to be happy? This is, of course, the age old question of human happiness in the robust, Greek sense of a life well lived.

How can we use the technologies that use us to live a fulfilling human life? How do prosthetic gods become blessed?

My great hope is that posing the question and turning attentively to it is itself the beginning of a way of responding that is able to set us on a path toward a life well lived.

Reference
Freud S, Strachey J, Gay P. Civilization and its discontents. W.W. Norton; 1989. Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=DOGQDHo8ihIC&pgis=1.

Light in Motion

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Four Running 2
Originally uploaded by cplong11
My father taught me to appreciate the subtle joys of photography back before everything went digital. In our basement darkroom, we used to develop the black and white photographs we took with his Canon AE-1.

I still love to take pictures and have begun to organize my Flickr page to showcase some of them. My family remains the central focus of my photographic life, although on Flickr I only share those pictures with my friends.

Increasingly, however, I have been trying to take more of what my Dad and I used to call "Artsy-Craftsy" pictures - that is, pictures that are taken exclusively for their artistic value as opposed to those that are taken as mementos of an historical moment. Of course, such historical pictures, if they are good, will have artistic value. Recently, though, I have rekindled my interest in photography as an outlet for whatever modicum of artistic ability I may have.

Here I share a slideshow of some images I took of light in motion over the Fourth of July holidays. For those of you viewing on an iPhone or iPad, I include the link directly to my Light in Motion set on Flickr.


Playing in the Waves with My Daughter

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Jumping a Wave
Originally uploaded by Christopher Long
MYRTLE BEACH, SC

She is uncertain, but brave and increasingly confident. The waves are not huge, but to her six-year-old self, they must be daunting. Even so, we venture out, her to test her courage, me to support her effort.

They come in rhythm, the waves.

We call the easy ones "rollies" as my Mom called them with me and her dad with her. The bigger ones we eye with concern, deciding if they will require a lift from me or if she can negotiate them herself.

She has recently learned to hold her breath under water, a great advantage for this game, yet a cunning one as it can lead to overconfidence.

We roll with the waves. As each one rises, she teaches me something of her growing ability to navigate the world. 

At first, she requires constant contact, holding my hand and reaching for me as the waves approach. Slowly, but more quickly than I anticipate, she ventures further away. She grows in confidence, yet remains always within reach.

I learn my job: to be present to her, to the oncoming waves, and to the moment; to lend a little courage, to praise a wave well ridden, to hold and lift when necessary.

Floating with her in the waves, an intricate dialogue emerges between us as we learn by touch and talk and silence who we are and how we are to be together.

On Hearing Oneself Through Others

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One of the more important of the many unexpected benefits of producing the Digital Dialogue is the feedback I have received from friends who listen.  In a strange way, the podcast offers me some distance on myself such that I am able to hear certain suggestions and comments about how I "appear" in public in a less defensive way.  This strikes me as an important insight directly related to the question of the excellences of public dialogue.  Appearing in public, appearing to someone allows you to be reflected back to yourself in ways that are revealing.  If this reflection can be faced, it opens up the possibility of self-transformation through/with others.

Let me be more concrete: in the course of a discussion about the sound quality of the podcasts, I have solicited feedback from those I trust.  My wife, Val, of course, is my most trusted advocate, adviser and critic, so it was important to hear her suggest the difference between my philosophy persona and my more informal and relaxed persona.  We had discussed this issue before, particularly as she began, early in our relationship, to come to hear me give papers or lectures.  It is not that I am a different person, but that I have a way of talking when I am in my teaching or professional mode.

Allan Gyorke has made a similar point to me in email:

When your podcast starts, I've seen you take on a very scholarly persona that is very intense and quieter (Dr. Christopher Long) than the person you are when we were brainstorming about your video and playing around (Chris).

It turns out, however, that this issue is becoming more complex for me as I turn my attention to my new role as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts.  Not only do I need to think about how Chris relates to Dr. Christopher Long, but now too, we have this new fellow, Associate Dean Long.  Of course, these three are also related to the person I am as a father and husband. 

We have an ongoing discussion of these various identity questions on my little blog about blogging, Mapping the Long Road, and more questions are being raised in my mind than answers...

Listening: Barb and Jan on Phil and Soph

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TheFamily.jpgThis Thanksgiving we decided to participate in the spirit of the National Day of Listening.  My cousin, Marjorie, and I sat down with our mothers, Janet Filing and Barbara Almstead, to ask them about their experiences growing up.

We came up with a few questions, but it was most interesting to hear where the conversation led Mom and Barb as they remembered their parents, Philip and Sophia Filing.

Although some of the stories we heard, we knew, there were others that were new to us and even to Jan and Barb.  In the process, I think we learned a lot not only about the history of our family, but also about the relational dynamics that made our mothers who they are.

Listen to Barb and Jan talk about Phil and Soph here.

Below are pictures of Phil and Soph (left) and Aunt Ro, Phil's sister, with Phil and Soph (right).

PhilSoph.jpg
RoPhilSoph.jpg

When the Berlin Wall Fell

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Zeitkarte.jpgTwenty years ago today, I can remember the buzz that spread among my American student colleagues at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna when we learned that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear. 

Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course.  The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don't always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)

BerlinWallPiece.jpgTwo and a half weeks later, many of us were on a train to Berlin to witness first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.

I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation.  His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc.  It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.

id1.jpgAs I think back on those days, I am once again made aware that ideas have the power to transform reality. 

But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989.  To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.

And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.

LwCH 1A: First Snow 2009

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TreeSplit.jpgWe woke this morning in a cold, dark house as our power had gone out early in the morning. As we made our way downstairs, we began to realize that the power outage was only the first of our morning surprises.

During the night, the heavy snow from the earliest snowfall on record in State College had caused a huge tree in front of our house to fall on the beautiful maple tree that sits in our front yard. The tree that fell was split at its base, having collapsed under the weight of the snow.

In falling, the tree not only crushed the maple, but came within about 10 feet of hitting the roof of the house just above the girls' bedroom. After taking stock of the damage, the girls and I returned to the house to check on Val who has not been feeling well for the past few days.

TreeDown.jpgSchool was canceled, because State College Area School District was without power as well. Without heat or power at home, we did our best with breakfast and, making sure Val was tucked warmly in bed, we ventured downtown where I was schedule to receive a flu shot.

By the end of this strange and somehow beautiful day, we found ourselves at the doctor's office with Val, where we thought we would try to capture something of the day's events using my iPhone as a voice recorder.  Here is the podcast we recorded.


For Chloe on Her First Day of Kindergarten

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Dear Chloe:

Chloe to School.jpgToday you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.

Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.

So, you are ready for this journey.

As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.

Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.

I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.

Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.

Love,
Dad

Exhilaration

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knoebelride.jpg I begin with this picture because it captures something of the exhilaration we experienced in two very different ways over the past two days.

On Saturday we visited three local farms as part of the 2009 Centre County Farm Tour (for a pdf version of the brochure, click here.) I wrote about our experience on the farm tour in 2007, and this year again, we were amazed by the beauty of the land, the importance of the work and the spirit of the farmers whose work on the land sustains us. 

Beiler.jpgThis year we visited Beiler Farm, a beautiful Amish farm in Spring Mills, PA. There a family of 9 runs a dairy farm. We were taken around by one of the middle sons, Ruben, who was an expert tour guide, and his sister, Martha, who was a knowledgeable, caring and thoughtful young woman. 

Chloe and Hannah enjoyed, in particular, jumping on the trampoline with Martha, one of her sisters, and two of her brothers. For Val and me, it was an important opportunity to expose the girls to a way of life with which they are not familiar. They had many questions about how the Amish live and we were happy to answer what we knew and research what we didn't. I remain in awe of the life they lead, recognizing at once its nobility and its difficulty.

Stone Meadow.jpg
We then visited Stone Meadow Farm in Woodward, PA, where Brian Futhey produces raw milk cheese and grass fed beef. He is committed to the sustainable practices of rotational grazing, stream bank fencing and making excellent cheese from the most natural sources.
 
He spoke to us about the ways he works with the natural rhythms of the animals to produce cheese and beef. I very much admire his commitment to farming in ways that facilitate a symbiotic relationship between the earth, the non-human and we human animals.

Fiedler.jpg
Finally, we visited the picturesque Fiedler Farm in Aaronburg, PA, where they have a beautiful summer kitchen and a nice little yurt at the top of the property. Val and Hannah are walking up to the yurt in the picture here.

Fiedler Farm is part of a community of farms participating in the Groundwork Farm Community Supported Agriculture.

On Sunday, we went to Knoebels Amusement Park with my step brother's family, Tom, Amina, Aaron and Danny. The picture with which this post began was taken there. Increasingly Chloe and Hannah are venturing on to more dynamic and scary rides and I, their father, am compelled to join them. It is a happy compulsion and we had a great time just screaming at the top of our lungs and challenging ourselves to try rides just at the boundary of our comfort level. 

It is exhilarating to watch as they grow into the world, learn about the earth that sustains us and risk new endeavors. This fall Chloe will begin Kindergarten and it will be a transition for all of us. Hannah is already expressing a worry about going to pre-school without her big sister.  Val and I are already a bit nostalgic that this phase of Chloe's life is coming to an end, but we are excited that she will soon begin the exciting adventure that is her formal education. As for Chloe herself, she seems for the moment the most at home with the whole idea of beginning school.

These exhilarating weekends are all the more precious in the wake of the recognition that they are fleeting.

With this in mind, I end with this picture, for it seems to capture something of the more nostalgic side of the exhilaration we felt this weekend.

Fiedler Hannah.jpg

1969

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Today marks the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The event itself seems, from this distance, to have marked the end of an era of tumultuous creativity and violence in American culture and politics.

The New York Times has documented the year in pictures, video and audio here. For me this feature offers a glimpse into the powerful forces at work in the world into which I was born that year.

It was a year of hopefulness, as marked by the lunar landing, Woodstock, John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "bed-in", the beginning of the US withdrawal from Vietnam, and the premier of Sesame Street.

It was a year of hatefulness, as marked by the Stonewall riots, British troops arriving in Northern Ireland, the secret US bombing of Cambodia, Nixon's "Silent Majority", and the Charles Manson killings.

It is unclear to me how much progress we have made in the course of these 40 years to allow  our hopeful spirit to eclipse our hateful tendencies. Yet to look at the earth from the moon is to be made aware of how small and tender our little planet is. It is to be reminded that we borrow this beautiful place for but a brief period. From that distance, the sources of hatred appear diminished, the power of hopefulness augmented. 

On this 40th anniversary of that image and the perspective it offers, may we be reminded that hatred corrodes our relationships with one another and erodes our planet, while the best stewards are those who cultivate community in a spirit of hope.

A Spiritual Voice in New Media

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TedBlog.jpg
The social web is frequently moving, often inane and continuously ongoing. Its voices reflect the beautiful diversity of the human experience.  

This week another voice was added to the discussion; it is the voice of my step-father, Ted Loder, long-time senior paster at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) in Philadelphia, writer of many books of prayers, poems and dramas, and dynamic preacher.

I grew up listening to his thoughtful, provocative and poetic sermons, challenged by their demand to attend to the divine at work in everyday doings, humbled by their appeal to a deeper mystery than can be adequately articulated, and inspired by their call for and commitment to social justice. 

Although I have never been able to embrace the dogma of Christianity, the roots of my philosophical thinking were nourished by those sermons and my deep commitment to seeking justice in relation was and continues to be cultivated by the dynamic spirituality of Ted's work and words.

So, I am very happy to announce that Ted has started a blog in which he will continue to put words to the mystery of God's ways. When you have a moment, click over to his blog to hear what he, in his unique theological voice, is saying. 

The social web is enriched by his contributions.

Local Eating, the Finnish Tart and the Fourth of July

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ChrisGirlsParade.jpgOver the weekend we celebrated the Fourth of July in local style here in State College. 

The day began with a wonderful children's parade of bikes through town to the local Central Parklet, where we ate watermelon, sang songs and danced. 

Afterwards, we had a great lunch at Irving's, where they are very conscientious about buying and supporting local food. 

Valshop.jpgWe returned home and Val made a meal with local food bought at the State College Farmer's Market and delivered from our Howard's End CSA


After dinner, we headed out to the fantastic fireworks display put on by the all volunteer Central PA 4thFest.

NaturalFireworks.jpg
While the 4thFest display was amazing, we were also treated to natural fireworks as the sun set behind Beaver stadium prior to the start of the celebration.

Here is Val with the girls in a picture that captures something of the beauty of that most beautiful day.


LwCH 14: Stone Harbor 2009

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OC Merry.jpgI have finally processed the footage from this year's vacation in Stone Harbor and produced a video available here:


In the video you will see much splashing in the pool, reminiscences of last year on the Outer Banks, NC, a few birthday wishes and a photo slideshow of our time in Stone Harbor this year.  I think it captures something of the wonderful time we had this year. 

Front Page Coverage

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Yesterday we were all at the State College Summer Music Festival doing some listening and dancing.  The Centre Daily Times was there to cover it.  Front page, above the fold, pretty impressive:

front_a1.jpg

Time Wastes Too Fast

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As his wife, Martha, lay dying at the age of 34, Thomas Jefferson and she took turns copying out by hand this passage from the Laurence Sterne novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman.  Martha wrote:

"Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen, the days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return more--everything presses on--

Thomas completed the passage:

"--and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.


* * *

Today, Chloe drew this picture of our family:

LongsByChloe.jpg
And the rapidity of Hannah's pen made this:

Hannah Pen.jpg

Herb Garden

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HerbReady.jpgOn this Father's Day, I felt compelled to see a project to completion. 

Much of my academic life involves projects that take a long time to complete. Last week I spent an entire day trying to get one short paragraph of an essay to say what I wanted it to say. So, I don't often have a chance to see a whole project come to a completion in a single stroke. 

Although I don't much like yard work, the one thing I do like about it is that there is a project to be done, you spend a little time doing it and you can see the results immediately. I needed that today.

I mowed the lawn, which was fine.  But I also wanted to complete a larger project that had been hanging over my head for a while: the herb garden off our kitchen. 

Val has taken her cooking to another level, using mostly local products and being very mindful of where our food comes from and how it to prepare it in the most nourishing way. We are members of the Howard's End CSA, which has been providing us with excellent local produce and fruit.

HerbPlant2.jpg
So an herb garden was the next logical step. Above is a picture of the garden finally ready for plants. Over the past month or so, with the help of a generous neighbor, Neil, and two excellent diggers (Chloe and Hannah), we cleared out old roots, tree stumps, weeds and moved a few rhododendrons to achieve that herb-ready landscape.

Today we added excellent free local compost from one of the State College Borough parks and headed off to Tait Farm for the herbs. 

There we bought Sweet Basil, Oregano, Italian Parsley, Curly Parsley, Sage, Vietnamese Coriander, English Thyme, Chives, Dill. We also have a beautiful Rosemary plant that was given to us by our neighbors, Neil and Julia.

We also planted seeds for some Mesclun Lettuce and Swiss Chard. Finally, we tried to add a little color to the garden with some California Poppies and Cosmos.

My favorite two things about the garden right now is that it is finished and there are no weeds.  I hope that we will be able to keep up with it this year as we try to connect in new ways to the earth, the seasons and the place we inhabit.

HerbPlant.jpg

Leaving the Beach on a Sunny Day

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STONE HARBOR, NJ Last night's violent storms have given way to one of those crisp, clean, beautiful days at the New Jersey shore. Now, however, it is time to sweep the house, pack the swimming suits and the car; it is time to begin the journey back home.

Another long anticipated week at the beach has run its course; but we have renewed connections with one another, with the sand and sun, with the clouds, rain and the energy of the earth. Next year, the we all will be older, different, exposed longer to the love and hate of the world.

For now, the sun shines beautifully as we pack, grateful for another year together.

On Turning 40

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SH09.jpgSTONE HARBOR, NJ Today is my 40th birthday: I feel the curvature of the arc of my life, the contour of its trajectory. As it begins, I hope, to press toward its apogee and ultimate return, I sense at once the bodies that influence its course and the direction toward which it tends.

Now more than ever, I am aware of what I can and cannot control. The way I relate to others, but not their responses; the integrity of my decisions, but not their consequences; the living attention I invest in my kids, but not the arc of their lives...

SH09 Laugh.jpgAs I turn 40 today, I pause to appreciate this before I return to running with my kids and laughing on the beach ... if the sun decides to burn through the clouds over which I have no control.

Happiness is Love

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The title of this post comes from George Vaillant, the director of one of the longest running longitudinal studies of physical and mental well-being that has ever been undertaken. My attention was drawn to him and his study by Josh Miller after he posted a link on Facebook to this article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the Atlantic (thanks Josh).

Researchers at Harvard have been following 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930's and who are now in their 80's. I embed the video of Vaillant talking about the study because it affirms two things I have always tried to embody in my life.

First, in the video, Vaillant says of the study:

"The take home lesson is to always enjoy where you are now."

A simple lesson, a difficult task. But the study offers a view of each concrete life in one sweep, not as a series of moments, but each as a kind of whole.  In this it is akin to great literature. To see the whole of life in this way is to be reminded of its brevity, and of its incalculable depth.

Second, Vaillant says, "Happiness is love, full stop." Here too is something decisive, for to enjoy where you are now is at its core to respond each moment with living attention to those with whom your life is made meaningful. 

Happiness is not an individual achievement, but a cooperative activity rooted in engaged encounters and animated by love.


Fragility and Resilience

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PittZoo.jpgIn that moment of silence before the crying starts, when your heart stops, you can only hope it is not too bad, not that bad.

Today on the "tickle bed" Hannah fell into the headboard and we had one of those moments.

Today as Chloe talked to her Nana on the phone, she fell and we had another.

Hannah's nose was bruised, but it seems OK. 

Chloe scraped her thigh, but not too badly.

Yet for me, these two moments were palpable reminders that in a moment everything can change. The fragility of life announces itself to me in the gut as a poignant nausea. It is related to that feeling of vertigo that comes when I focus too intensely on the finitude of my life, of Val's and especially of Hannah and Chloe's.

Even so, as I looked at Hannah's nose, red and flattened, as I held her crying, I was brought back to another moment, to an early moment with her, when her nose seemed strangely similar, when she too was crying ... it was shortly after her birth and I was holding her, trying to comfort her as she was being rudely measured and poked by nurses and doctors ensuring that all her parts were in order.  I remember feeling that she was so small but so strong, so resilient. 

I rely on that resilience; I have faith in it even as that lingering nausea reminds me that there will be things from which I cannot protect them, ultimate things no one can avoid. In the meantime, however, there are the hugs, a bit of ice, a smile through tears, a princess band-aid and the tenacious courage to go on.
 

A New Phase

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As I grow older, I realize more and more that a life is made up of lives, that an individual life involves phases linked yet distinct.

With the approach of my 40th birthday in May, the submission of my second Aristotle book manuscript to Cambridge University Press, Chloe's pre-registration for Kindergarten, Hannah's hard earned successes in moving out of diapers, Val's exciting new adventures with art, bread making and living locally, it seems that a new phase is upon us.

Often the phases of my life have been marked by a shift in location. This new phase, however, involves a deepening relationship to this place: this house, this town, this state, and indeed, now even, to this country.

Spring is upon us; it is again the time of imagination.

And I imagine my way into this new phase of life, where relationships deepen, research stretches in new directions, new opportunities open. 

And again I am aware of how fulfilling it is to be right here, now, with these people: family, friends, colleagues.

Cultivating New Ecological Habits

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After listening to this week's New Yorker comment podcast entitled "Economy vs. Environment" by David Owen, I was struck by three things. 

First, economic prosperity is dirty.  Owens says that "the principle source of [hu]man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity."  The advantage of the current economic downturn is that it has slowed the carbon clock a bit.

Second, new technologies won't solve our global warming problem.  As Owens suggests, getting increased miles to the gallon is no help if it encourages people to drive more; having electric cars will not help if the electricity is produced by fossil fueled power plants and if we continue, as he writes, "sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful."

Finally, the real solution to the energy and global warming crisis lies in the transformation of human habits.  Our habits must change. We must cultivate more sustainable ways of acting and thinking, habits that allow us to live in a more symbiotic way with the planet that sustains us.

To begin, let's figure out how to live closer to where we work.  Let's ride public transportation when we can, even if it is inconvenient.  Let's convince our political representatives that it is in our best interest to pay for and otherwise support things that cultivate habits that support a more symbiotic way of living in the world.

If economic flourishing is going to promote ecological prosperity, the new, green economy will have to serve a whole new set of human habits oriented toward a mutually sustaining relationship between the world and its human co-habitants.

Brave Hellos Turning All Goodbye

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Today is John Updike's birthday

Today a friend presented me with a little gift of one of Updike's poems. It reminded me again how important now is. I knew that, of course, but one must always be reminded of it; one counts on one's friends for that.  

So, here is the poem, retyped for the pleasure of it, but available also here:

Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children

They will not be the same next time. The sayings
so cute, just a little off, will be corrected.
Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in
the more securely to the worldly buzz
of television, alphabet, and street talk,
culture polluting their gazes' dawn blue.
It makes you see at last the value of 
those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells
of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces
like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)
who knew you from the start, when you were zero,
cooing their nothings before you could be bored
or knew a name, not even your own, or how
this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.

-- John Updike

Magnanimity

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I have just finished listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the Lincoln Presidency, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  Although the book takes a largely uncritical view of Lincoln's political wisdom, it was compellingly told and insightful.  What struck me most was the political power of magnanimity. Goodwin does not make this point explicitly, but it seems to me that the central friendship of the book, that between Lincoln and his political rival turned close friend, William Henry Seward, was rooted in the core virtue of magnanimity which both men embodied.

The magnanimity of Lincoln was revealed repeatedly throughout the story as Lincoln confounded rivals who under-estimated his ability to navigate the world of human politics.  It was what allowed him to tolerate General McClellan's repeated challenges to his judgment and authority during the early stages of the war.  It was what enabled him to draw on Salmon P. Chase's extraordinary ability to raise money for the war effort as Treasury Secretary even as Chase opposed him for the Republican nomination in the 1864 election.  In these and many other cases, Lincoln acted always in a thoughtful, even manner, never allowing his anger to cloud his judgment or his understanding of the forces that animated his opponents. 

William Henry Seward's magnanimity was of a slightly different sort: he seems to have been free of pretty resentfulness and vindictiveness. After losing the 1860 Republican nomination for President, which everyone expected him to win, Seward was able to find it within himself, despite this disappointment, to campaign vigorously on Lincoln's behalf in 1860.  Many credit speeches he gave on Lincoln's behalf for the ultimate Republican victory that year.  He then accepted Lincoln's nomination of him as Secretary of State (does this story sound familiar?) and became one of Lincoln's closest friends and most important political advisors.

Perhaps the strong friendship between these two men was rooted in the shard virtue of magnanimity.  What strikes me as worth holding always in mind is that magnanimity requires a great deal of ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one's way in the position of another in order to gain insight into what animates that person.  From this perspective, those initial impulses toward anger dissolve and new possibilities open for more productive modes of response.  I will recall Seward and Lincoln as I make my way through the politics of the academy and everyday life, remembering not to respond in anger, but with empathy and magnanimity, for it is at once ethically generous and politically, far more effective.

Two Little Moments

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I just wanted to pause to note two small moments that occurred as we watched the inauguration unfold on TV as a family on Tuesday.

As Val and I were focused on the inauguration, Hannah was hard at play with her dolls. As we were waiting for all the dignitaries to be seated, I turned to Hannah and noticed her holding two dolls in her hands; she was making them jump up and down.  They were chanting "OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA."

Then there was Chloe who said as she sat on my lap watching the 21 cannons saluted the new President and the crowd going wild: "Daddy, the whole world is shaking."

To which I could only reply, "Yes, Sweetheart, it really is."

Chloe at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Just before the new year, we took Chloe and Hannah to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Chloe, who is obsessed with everything that has to do with art, was beside herself with excitement.

Once I told her that artists sometimes bring a sketch book to sketch the works of great art in the museum, she insisted on bringing one.

Below are a few examples of her work in the light of some of the European masters:
Chloe Aliza Long (age 4)
Van Gogh, Sunflowers (1888 or 1889)
Above (left), Chloe takes inspiration from Vincent Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers painted in1888 or 1889.
Léon Frédéric, The Four Seasons (Autumn), 1894
Chloe Aliza Long
Above (right), Chloe depicts Léon Frédéric's The Four Seasons (Autumn) from 1894.
Chloe Aliza Long
Paul Cézanne, Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise (Landscape, Auvers), 1873
Finally, Chloe drew Cézanne's 1873 Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise (Landscape, Auvers).

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:

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.

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

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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.

Long Time

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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. 

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.

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.
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