Multi-part question: Will you tell us about a time in your life when you were at a crossroad(s), what big decision you made and how you made the decision?
elledeau

My initial thought was that there just aren’t a lot of big decisions in my life where the outcome felt uncertain to me so I wouldn’t have much to say in response to this question. But, in thinking a bit more deeply about it, I suppose I’d say this is itself noteworthy enough for a response.

When I think of big decisions, I could point to choosing to attend one college or one graduate program over another; or to move from my first job at James Madison University to my current job at Nebraska; or to get married; or to have kids. All of these might be considered crossroads in my life.

But the choices I made in each of those cases felt like the obvious thing to do, both at the time and certainly upon later reflection. I never seriously considered going to grad school anywhere but at Duke once I’d been admitted and I visited. I never thought, after meeting my wife, that I wouldn’t end up marrying her. And so on.

I like to think that this is due to thinking things through in advance. In my writing on heroism, I often note that thinking ahead, planning ahead, is the best preparation for action. If you haven’t thought seriously about the kind of life you want to have lived, about the sorts of actions and choices that define who are you, you won’t be prepared to take action when it’s demanded of you, to make a difficult or dangerous choice when you come to a potential crossroads. I like to think that my crossroads moments haven’t felt so much like big decisions filled with uncertainty because I thought about what I wanted or what I hoped for well ahead of time and, when those moments approached, I had a very good sense of what I wanted to do.

# questions # raison d'être # education

It seems my blog turned 5 years old today!
Here’s what I wrote in my very first post five years ago:

I really don’t have the time to start blogging, but I’m being pushed in that direction. I’m not sure if this site will make things easier, more difficult, or something in the middle. More on that soon enough…

I didn’t end up posting a whole lot until November 2009; in fact, I think there are about as many posts in November 2009 as in all the previous months of 2009 combined.
Looking back at the archived posts from those first few months of blogging is a good bit of fun. If you’re a relatively new reader, I highly recommend browsing the archive; there are, at this point, nearly 4,000 posts of varying quality for your enjoyment.

It seems my blog turned 5 years old today!

Here’s what I wrote in my very first post five years ago:

I really don’t have the time to start blogging, but I’m being pushed in that direction. I’m not sure if this site will make things easier, more difficult, or something in the middle. More on that soon enough…

I didn’t end up posting a whole lot until November 2009; in fact, I think there are about as many posts in November 2009 as in all the previous months of 2009 combined.

Looking back at the archived posts from those first few months of blogging is a good bit of fun. If you’re a relatively new reader, I highly recommend browsing the archive; there are, at this point, nearly 4,000 posts of varying quality for your enjoyment.

(Source: secure.assets)

# tumblr birthday # tumblr milestone # Tumblr # internet # raison d'être

The Once And Future Chicken

Just for the next little while, I’ve changed the name of my blog from “Running Chicken” to “Ari Kohen’s Blog” … just to make it easier for people to figure out whose blog it is they’re reading and to then spell my name correctly when they quote me.

I’m thinking about possible subtitles now.

Maybe “The Blog of Ari Kohen” or “The Once and Future Chicken.” Some suggestions I’ve gotten already include “Chickens of Future Past,” “Kohen Blog,” and “The Kohen.”

# comedy # internet # raison d'être

Unexpected Gifts

This morning, after something like two weeks of working through it, I finished watching my grandfather’s Shoah Foundation video testimony.

Both of my grandparents were interviewed about their experiences back in November 1997, but I hadn’t seen either video. I borrowed copies of the DVDs from my parents last year, before my grandfather passed away, but I waited until my sabbatical so I could spend a serious amount of time with them.

I’m glad that I waited. These interviews are, not surprisingly, very difficult to watch. Even fifty or more years after the events, their emotions are right on the surface when they talk about their parents, their siblings, and the last time they ever saw them.

After nearly two hours of talking about unimaginable tragedy, my grandfather is asked about his life today. He says, “We have a nice, happy life here. Children, grandchildren. We are happy with what we got here.” The interviewer asks him if he has any anecdotes about his family that he wants to share and he proceeds to talk, for about five minutes, about my sister and me, telling a few stories from when we were little kids. It’s the only time, in two hours, that he smiles and laughs.

You might think this is the unexpected gift, those few minutes. And there’s no denying that I’ll watch him recounting those stories again and again for many years to come. The stories are ones that my grandmother always tells whenever she reflects on our childhood, but this time they are told by my grandfather; they are in his voice, with his laughter.

The larger gift, though, is really the entire two hours of testimony; it’s a tour of our family history and a permanent link to a past that could so easily be papered over or minimized with just a few words. When my children are older, I’ll show it to them to teach them this part of who they are and to connect them to great-grandparents for whom they, the next generation, were two of the most important people in the world.

# raison d'être # Holocaust # history

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

Duck of Minerva, a group blog filled to the brim with some of my favorite political scientists, is hosting its second annual Online Achievements in International Studies Awards and it seems that, like last yearI’ve been nominated in the Best Blog (Individual) category.

This is quite an honor and I’d be further honored if you’ll all decide to vote for me. One catch: You have to register to vote by email.

Even though the other nominees are surely more deserving of this award, I’m hoping that my audience — and the power of thousands of Tumblr users who generally seem to like to vote for things and can share this message far and wide! — will register to vote and overwhelm those more worthy bloggers to steal the prize for me!

This is what I get if I win:

You know, if half the people who read this actually register and vote for me, I’m a lock. So, please, help me out!

# political science # global affairs # politics # Tumblr # internet # raison d'être

reblogged from Ari Kohen's Blog
I’m spending the weekend trying to figure out if my grandfather attended the Vizhnitz “Beit Israel” yeshiva (pictured above) in his hometown of Vișeu or the Satmar yeshiva in nearby Sighet.
Stories in the family suggest the latter, but I can’t figure out why his parents would have sent him out of town when he could have remained at home.
This is part of a little side project of mine; I’ve just started working on a historical narrative about the first 35 years of my grandfather’s life.

I’m spending the weekend trying to figure out if my grandfather attended the Vizhnitz “Beit Israel” yeshiva (pictured above) in his hometown of Vișeu or the Satmar yeshiva in nearby Sighet.

Stories in the family suggest the latter, but I can’t figure out why his parents would have sent him out of town when he could have remained at home.

This is part of a little side project of mine; I’ve just started working on a historical narrative about the first 35 years of my grandfather’s life.

# history # Romania # raison d'être # religion # Judaism

The Top 5 Posts of 2013

As I did yesterday, I’m once again linking to the top blog posts of the year. These are the posts that drew the most unique eyeballs; the list doesn’t include the About page, where several thousand people each year go to find out whose writing they’re reading, the Ask page, where people write in with questions or to say kind and unkind things to me, or the front page, which is always the top draw since it’s the way that people access the site directly (rather than via some referring site).

Perhaps you missed some of these posts. Or maybe you just want to have another look since it’s been a little while. Feel free, of course, to share them with friends and loved ones because each click tells me that you’d like for me to keep writing these sorts of things.

Here, then, are the Top 5 most viewed posts of 2013:

#5. That time Ari Fleischer explained that he only donates to charity for the tax break and any changes to the tax code would mean he’ll donate less (1/1/13)

#4. “Whither Aristotle?,” a reflection on the decision of my colleagues to eliminate political theory as a subfield of undergraduate study in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska (10/3/13)

#3. That time when Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at the MLB All-Star Game and racists went crazy on Twitter because they assumed, wrongly, that Anthony wasn’t American (7/17/13)

#2. “Twitter Assassins,” in which a whole bunch of people went online to reflect on President Obama’s inauguration by calling for someone to assassinate him (1/21/13)

#1. That time when people vented their anger on Twitter and demanded a White History Month since February is Black History Month (2/1/13)

It’s been a fun and fascinating year of writing for me, full of arguments and thoughtful exchanges of ideas. I plan to have a brief reflection tomorrow that looks back at some of the things I learned from blogging this year and looks forward to 2014.

Thanks for reading, for engaging with my ideas, for sharing my blog posts with your friends, and for asking for my thoughts on issues or events as they’ve come up.

Happy New Year!

# Twitter # racism # internet # Obama # politics # MLB # baseball # sports # raison d'être # philosophy # Nebraska # teaching # education # political science # charity # music # holidays

The Top 10 Posts of 2013

In the last couple of days of 2013, by way of reflection on a successful year of blogging, I’ll be linking to my Top 10 posts of the year.

These are the posts that drew the most unique eyeballs; the list doesn’t include the About page, where several thousand people each year go to find out whose writing they’re reading, the Ask page, where people write in with questions or to say kind and unkind things to me, or the front page, which is always the top draw since it’s the way that people access the site directly (rather than via some referring site).

Perhaps you missed some of these posts. Or maybe you just want to have another look since it’s been a little while. Feel free, of course, to share them with friends and loved ones because each click tells me that you’d like for me to keep writing these sorts of things.

Here, then, are the 6th-10th most viewed posts of 2013:

#10. That time the Republican leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives casually used an anti-Semitic slur during a debate on a bill (4/18/13)

#9. “Here We Are Now Entertain Us,” a manifesto against the whole notion of “edutainment”: that it’s equally if not more important for college courses to be entertaining than educational (5/13/13)

#8. “Althouse: The Clinton clot plot thickens… or thins… with anti-coagulants,” in which a Wisconsin law professor suggests that Hillary Clinton was probably faking a blood clot to avoid testifying about Benghazi (1/1/13)

#7. That time conservative pundit Erick Erickson made a whole bunch of claims about the “real” Jesus, who was wrathful, vengeful, and could definitely throw a haymaker (5/24/13)

#6. That time a graduate student at the University of Nebraska repeatedly used the n-word during a discussion on whether or not student government members should avoid using derogatory language and then tried to turn the whole ensuing mess into a free speech issue (12/3/13)

See you here tomorrow for the Top 5!

# raison d'être # Nebraska # Wisconsin # Clinton # Erickson # Twitter # racism # politics # education # Oklahoma # apology # terrible apologies # religion # Judaism # anti-semitism # internet

Sabbatical!

As of 8:34am on Monday, December 23 … I am on sabbatical!

My grades for this semester have been submitted; I’ve checked out an entire shelf of books from the university library; and my laptop is all charged up.

I feel so free, I almost don’t know what to do first.

But it’s time to learn some new things and write about them, which is one of the two things I love most about my job. So I’m going to just grab the first book I borrowed from the library — Jodi Dean’s Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies —and jump in.

# raison d'être # education # teaching # political science # philosophy # Nebraska

A Good Day

Today is my birthday and it’s been a good, low-key one.

I took my son to Omaha’s Durham Museum, which is a beautiful old train station now filled with trains (as well as other exhibits about Omaha’s (and Nebraska’s and the American West’s) relatively recent past). He watched the model trains on their tracks, walked through a bunch of retired train cars, ate a snack at the fully operational soda fountain, and played with a hands-on exhibit about how steam engines work.

After, we stopped for lunch at our local bagel place and he chatted with a girl from day care (out with her grandparents), the father of another of his friends, and a group of six grandmotherly women who sat at the table next to ours. Halfway through his lunch, he said (without any fanfare or even looking up from his plate), “This is yummy. I love you, Daddy.”

Hard to beat that.

# daddy blogging # raison d'être

The Academic Journal Tango

I had an amazing experience with a peer-reviewed academic journal this week that’s worth a mention because it’s funny and sad all at once … and it nicely describes the way things sometimes work in my profession.

I wrote what I think is an interesting paper with some of my colleagues. We sent it to a journal that puts out two distinct publications on the same topic. One focuses a bit more on the theoretical side of the research on the topic; the other focuses a bit more on the way research projects are designed and carried out.

First we sent it off to the theoretical publication. The editorial staff spent about a month with it and then wrote to us to tell us that it was a very interesting and important project but that it likely fit better with the other publication of the same journal.

So … we sent it off to the other publication. In about twelve hours, the editorial staff rejected the paper because, despite the interesting topic, it was “inappropriate” for their publication. Then — and here’s the best part — they recommended that we send it, instead, to the first publication that had, one day earlier, had rejected the paper and advised us to send it to this second publication.

Remember that these are twin arms of a single journal and that the stated purpose of the journal is to study exactly the topic that we are studying in our paper. Neither editor will even send our paper out for review … but both editors believe that our paper would probably be a very good fit for the other publication.

# education # political science # philosophy # raison d'être # comedy # sadness

Now that my second book’s been published, I guess it’s officially time to start working on the next one.
This new one’s going to be much more closely related to my first book, on human rights, and to a separate research project of mine on Holocaust education, than to my just-published book on heroism.
There’s pretty much nothing like staring down a dozen gigantic library books on a topic you’re excited to start learning about.

Now that my second book’s been published, I guess it’s officially time to start working on the next one.

This new one’s going to be much more closely related to my first book, on human rights, and to a separate research project of mine on Holocaust education, than to my just-published book on heroism.

There’s pretty much nothing like staring down a dozen gigantic library books on a topic you’re excited to start learning about.

# raison d'être # human rights # Holocaust # Romania # history # literature

I’m very excited to announce that my new book is out; you can now get your very own copy!
If you happen to work at or attend a school or university, you might recommend to your librarian that they purchase a copy or two for their collection.
For those who are interested in purchasing their own copy, I happen to have a discount code for loyal Running Chicken readers. Please send me a note here or by email to get 30% off.
Here’s the publisher’s quick description:

The idea of heroism has become thoroughly muddled today. In contemporary society, any behavior that seems distinctly difficult or unusually impressive is classified as heroic: everyone from firefighters to foster fathers to freedom fighters are our heroes. But what motivates these people to act heroically and what prevents other people from being heroes? In our culture today, what makes one sort of hero appear more heroic than another sort?
In order to answer these questions, Ari Kohen turns to classical conceptions of the hero to explain the confusion and to highlight the ways in which distinct heroic categories can be useful at different times. Untangling Heroism argues for the existence of three categories of heroism that can be traced back to the earliest Western literature – the epic poetry of Homer and the dialogues of Plato – and that are complex enough to resonate with us and assist us in thinking about heroism today. Kohen carefully examines the Homeric heroes Achilles and Odysseus and Plato’s Socrates, and then compares the three to each other. He makes clear how and why it is that the other-regarding hero, Socrates, supplanted the battlefield hero, Achilles, and the suffering hero, Odysseus. Finally, he explores in detail four cases of contemporary heroism that highlight Plato’s success.
Kohen states that in a post-Socratic world, we have chosen to place a premium on heroes who make other-regarding choices over self-interested ones. He argues that when humans face the fact of their mortality, they are able to think most clearly about the sort of life they want to have lived, and only in doing that does heroic action become a possibility. Kohen’s careful analysis and rethinking of the heroism concept will be relevant to scholars across the disciplines of political science, philosophy, literature, and classics.

I’m very excited to announce that my new book is out; you can now get your very own copy!

If you happen to work at or attend a school or university, you might recommend to your librarian that they purchase a copy or two for their collection.

For those who are interested in purchasing their own copy, I happen to have a discount code for loyal Running Chicken readers. Please send me a note here or by email to get 30% off.

Here’s the publisher’s quick description:

The idea of heroism has become thoroughly muddled today. In contemporary society, any behavior that seems distinctly difficult or unusually impressive is classified as heroic: everyone from firefighters to foster fathers to freedom fighters are our heroes. But what motivates these people to act heroically and what prevents other people from being heroes? In our culture today, what makes one sort of hero appear more heroic than another sort?

In order to answer these questions, Ari Kohen turns to classical conceptions of the hero to explain the confusion and to highlight the ways in which distinct heroic categories can be useful at different times. Untangling Heroism argues for the existence of three categories of heroism that can be traced back to the earliest Western literature – the epic poetry of Homer and the dialogues of Plato – and that are complex enough to resonate with us and assist us in thinking about heroism today. Kohen carefully examines the Homeric heroes Achilles and Odysseus and Plato’s Socrates, and then compares the three to each other. He makes clear how and why it is that the other-regarding hero, Socrates, supplanted the battlefield hero, Achilles, and the suffering hero, Odysseus. Finally, he explores in detail four cases of contemporary heroism that highlight Plato’s success.

Kohen states that in a post-Socratic world, we have chosen to place a premium on heroes who make other-regarding choices over self-interested ones. He argues that when humans face the fact of their mortality, they are able to think most clearly about the sort of life they want to have lived, and only in doing that does heroic action become a possibility. Kohen’s careful analysis and rethinking of the heroism concept will be relevant to scholars across the disciplines of political science, philosophy, literature, and classics.

# political science # philosophy # raison d'être # heroism # Homer # Plato # literature

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