Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama [Bryan]

As I was watching Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic convention tonight, I realized one important reason why I support Obama: he and his family are real to me in a sense that no other politician has been.

Michelle and Barack Obama both come from loving families. They both come from blue collar backgrounds -- their families worried about money and about paying bills, just like I do. From what I've seen and read, they believe in hard work, in being good parents, in going to church, in earning your own way, and in staying true and faithful to each other. They love language, education, and, of course, basketball. They are, in fact, the opposite of the "elitist celebrity" picture that their opponents try to paint of them. They are ordinary in a sense that seems very real to me.

Best part of the convention so far (I love it when little Sasha grabs the mike and goes off-script):

Best part of Michelle Obama's speech:

And in the end, after all that's happened these past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago. He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love.

And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own. And one day, they – and your sons and daughters – will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They'll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country – where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House – we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sadness is underrated [Bryan]

A recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education made the following point (ht: Andrew Sullivan):

I for one am afraid that American culture's overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society's efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?
This is something I've been thinking about for a long time. Obviously, feeling happy is a good thing, but what about feeling sad? One of the most interesting parts of Mormonism, for me, is its fundamentally tragic view, not only of life, but also of the afterlife. Good and evil, happiness and sorrow, must always exist together, because there is a necessary "opposition in all things." Even God cannot reconcile the competing contradictions and thus, in Mormon scripture, we find a "weeping" God. God is love, but loving means caring, and caring means as much sorrow as happiness. It seems to me that Mormonism does not promise so much a life that is happy, but a life that is full; not a pleasant life, but a rich life; not an existence of unending bliss, but of eternal creation. And creation is often born out of sorrow, like a heart-torn symphony.

So, next time you are sad, be happy that you are sad. A life without sadness is not a divine life. It is not even a human life. It is a life without love.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Our summer trip [Bryan]

We just returned from a short little summer get away. We headed south, stopped briefly in Cincinnati, continued on to Mammoth Cave National Park, and then on to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

Mammoth Cave was cool, both literally and figuratively. It has to be seen to be believed. We took two tours and only saw a tiny fraction of the cave. The huge dark caverns really stoke the imagination. Nora loved the caves and was interested in the different formations.

The Great Smoky Mountains humbled our western scenic elitism. The Smokies, while lacking the soaring rocky cathedrals, are in their own way just as pretty as anything out West. They are thick with plants and animals (we saw multiple deer, a fox, and a flash of bear). We stayed in Gatlinburg, TN, which is itself a fascinating place. Together with the nearby city of Pigeon Forge, the area is an odd mixture of Jackson Hole, Las Vegas, and Disney Land. I've never seen anything like it. We were lucky enough to find a great Cuban restaurant buried in the layers of stores, shops, and museums.

We also attended an inspiring 2-hour time-share presentation. We listened intently to their wonderful proposal before telling them to stick it and, oh, thanks for the free hotel stay. They assured us that they will have the last laugh.

For the kids the highlights were swimming in the hotel pools and eating more sweets than is normal. Wherever we went, Andrew had to stop and pick up rocks. He seems compulsive in that way.

Here we are on the "Purple People Bridge" in Cincinnati

Standing at the bottom of the famous "Frozen Niagara" formation in Mammoth Cave. (Apparently flash photography is okay.)

The "historic entrance" of Mammoth cave, looking out.

Historic entrance, looking in. You can feel the cool air blowing out of the cave like a giant air conditioning vent from a hundred yards away.

The family, showing off their "red tongues" from eating suckers.

I was able to see Sand Cave, where Floyd Collins died after getting stuck for 16 days. It was one of the first great media spectacles in America and it is a story that has intrigued me since I read about it as a boy.

I walked the entire width of the Appalachian Trail!

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains

Sharing a slurpee

Taking a tram ride.

My photographic masterpiece. Lots of interesting historical buildings to explore.

Clingmans Dome lookout. Ellie is standing on the far right. This is the third highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Great Smoky Mountains, Clingman's Dome

Great Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap

Newfound Gap

The Great Smoky Mountains have the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen. Gentle cascades over rugged rocks surrounded by verdant green.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's different being a guy [Bryan]

I've been sporting a goatee all summer, as I do most summers. This year was my best goatee yet -- thick and, if Ellie is to be believed, kinda sexy. Yesterday, though, it was itchy and I was tired of it, so I shaved it off. Also yesterday, Ellie went out and got a fairly dramatic haircut. She had about five inches of hair cut off. Both of us, then, changed our physical appearance in rather substantial ways.

We went to church today and I wondered if anybody would say anything to us. Ellie, of course, received countless positive comments -- "Oh, I love you hair, you look so cute" type of thing. But me? Not one comment.

Now, I don't really care that people didn't notice or didn't say anything; in fact, I'm glad. This does show, unsurprisingly, the difference in the things people focus on when it comes to men and women. I'm sorry for you ladies who are always under the microscope of physical appearance. Um, let me know if I can do anything.

Friday, August 08, 2008

What the stars mean to me [Bryan]

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!" -- Emerson

To be alone in nature, for Ralph Waldo Emerson, is to be instructed by a silence: a silence that speaks and also a silence that questions. Emerson finds in stargazing the ultimate form of silence: "If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches." Stars are, in fact, the most antisocial of things; we cannot pull them down, we cannot use them, we cannot exploit them. They must be left in undisturbed oblivion. Like the objects of our unrequited love, they ignore us and we worship them. They shun us, and in them, we find solitude.

In our failure to connect with them, though, they help us to connect with each other. As I look at the stars tonight, I might see the summer constellations: Ursa Major, Minor, Draco, Scorpio. I see a human-imposed order that brings me into an ancient human community. Perhaps the silence of solitude is about recovering these ancient whispers, these voices that speak from the dust to modern consumer culture. The hushed voices that speak are, to me, the timeless mythologies of human past. I not only think of the arrogant Orion and the victimized Pleiades, however, I also think of the stories of my own ancestors — Mormon pioneers trying to make a new life for themselves, traveling under the broad sky, huddled under these same night lights. My thoughts turn to people who were closer to the land than I am, closer to hunger, to cold, and to world of death. In wilderness, I hear more clearly the language of those who have gone before, a language obscured by the shoutings of modern society.

The stars have tried to make me a better person. “All things are moral;” writes Emerson, “and in their boundless changes have an unceasing reference to spiritual nature.” “Who can guess,” writes Emerson, “how much firmness the sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? how much tranquility has been reflected to man from the azure sky, over whose unspotted deeps the winds forevermore drive flocks of stormy clouds, and leave no wrinkle or stain?”

The stars have taught me to agree with Emerson. At the high elevation and dry air of the deserts of Southern Utah, the stars perform a breathtaking dance. Laying on my back in a sleeping bag, surrounded by family and friends, I learned from them, and I continue to learn through memory. It was not so much a package of ideas that were delivered to me, but a positioning, a situating. Looking at the vastness of space, I pondered the huge spaces that I could not control, that persisted through time, and that were indifferent to my existence. No matter what I did, the stars would always be the same. As with Emerson, the stars awakened in me “a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible.”

But with this inaccessibility and changelessness, the stars do not tell me, as they have told others, that I am nobody, an inconsequential speck in an infinite universe. I am that, I admit. At the same time, though, experiencing this grand vastness while being surrounded by loved ones, I realized that, while a speck, I am a speck in a particular place. In such a vast and empty universe, my existence seemed to matter all the more to those people in that place. In showing me what I could not do, the stars reminded me of what I could do; in showing me who I was not, they showed me who I was.

Since I moved to the cloudy and populated Midwest, I admit that I have come to miss my unrequited lovers. My boyhood was haunted with stars: whether they we framed by alpine meadows or by the red rock of Southern Utah, they were always there, always the same. I know they are still up there somewhere, beyond the lights, noise, and smog. They wait patiently until I return again to the places of my youth, and I find them there. I will greet them, and they will be the same no matter how much I have grown and changed. They will be the same through my successes and mistakes. The stars for me have come to symbolize the constant, committed, and universal. The stars speak of moral commitment: of keeping promises, of being a loyal friend, of integrity, and of fulfilling my responsibilities. No wonder the great spokesman for universality — the philosopher Immanuel Kant — was filled with wonder at two things: the moral law within and the starry sky above.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

McCain Romney-izing Obama [Bryan]

John McCain is recently doing the same despicable thing to Obama that he did to Mitt Romney. Remember when McCain said that Romney had proposed a "timetable for withdrawal," when in fact this was demonstrably false? Somehow, these elections are never about McCain's own ideas, because he never has any. Somehow, they are never about his own character: they are never about his scandal-plagued past, about his cheating on his disabled wife with his wealthy trophy girlfriend, or about his foul mouth and unhinged temper. To win, McCain just has to say something catchy and dishonest, trust that the media won't call him on it much, and then pretend to be the "straight talker." Judging by recent polls, it seems to be working. Wake me up on November 5th -- I can't bear to watch us elect another jerk like this again.

By the way, when Romney was debating McCain, conservative writer Mark Levin had this to say about McCain in the National Review Online. Substitute Obama for Romney, and he could have written the same thing all over again.

I have spent nearly four decades in the conservative movement — from precinct worker to the Reagan White House. I campaigned for Reagan in 1976 and 1980. I served in several top positions during the Reagan administration, including chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese. I have been an active conservative when conservatism was not in high favor....

I don’t pretend to speak for President Reagan or all conservatives. I speak for myself. But I watched the Republican debate last night, which was held at the Reagan library, and I have to say that I fear a McCain candidacy....

Let’s get the largely unspoken part of this out the way first. McCain is an intemperate, stubborn individual, much like Hillary Clinton. These are not good qualities to have in a president. As I watched him last night, I could see his personal contempt for Mitt Romney roiling under the surface. And why?....To the best of my knowledge, Romney’s ads have not been personal. He has not even mentioned the Keating-Five to counter McCain's cheap shots. But the same cannot be said of McCain’s comments about Romney.

Last night McCain, who is the putative frontrunner, resorted to a barrage of personal assaults on Romney that reflect more on the man making them than the target of the attacks. McCain now has a habit of describing Romney as a “manager for profit” and someone who has “laid-off” people, implying that Romney is both unpatriotic and uncaring. Moreover, he complains that Romney is using his “millions” or “fortune” to underwrite his campaign. This is a crass appeal to class warfare. McCain is extremely wealthy through marriage. Romney has never denigrated McCain for his wealth or the manner in which he acquired it. Evidently Romney’s character doesn’t let him to cross certain boundaries of decorum and decency, but McCain’s does.....

Even worse than denying his own record, McCain is flatly lying about Romney’s position on Iraq. As has been discussed for nearly a week now, Romney did not support a specific date to withdraw our forces from Iraq. The evidence is irrefutable. And it’s also irrefutable that McCain is abusing the English language (Romney’s statements) the way Bill Clinton did in front of a grand jury. The problem is that once called on it by everyone from the New York Times to me, he obstinately refuses to admit the truth. So, last night, he lied about it again. This isn’t open to interpretation. But it does give us a window into who he is

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Astronomy Update [Bryan]

It has been a good week for astronomy in Columbus, at least if you are interested in Jupiter. Tonight served up a great view of the four Galilean moons, and even with my little two-inch telescope I could see the north and south equatorial zones on Jupiter itself. Exciting stuff.

Friday, August 01, 2008

More recent photos [Bryan]

Andrew making another "cute choice."

Here is a sandbox I built for the kids. The craftsmanship thereof is exceedingly fine. Notice the luxury features, including seats and a holder for the umbrella. I felt very manly buying lumber at Home Depot.

Just tonight, we made our yearly trek to the Ohio State Fair. Here we are with a gaggle of ducks. (Are a bunch of ducks a "gaggle"?) Highlights of the fair this year included: a pig race, a great petting zoo (Ellie petted a yak), fried mashed potatoes on a stick and deep-fried macaroni and cheese (we didn't try them), the butterfly house, the piglets, and the beavers in the Ohio wildlife exhibit.

Nora absolutely loved the rides -- she beamed the whole way through.

Andrew also loved the rides, but Ellie not so much. Andrew's expression, when he is enjoying something, is deadly serious.

Here I am at the petting zoo with a 156 year old tortoise.