Monday, January 26, 2009
Basketball , Politics, and Purpose
11:00 pm est
Sharing with President Obama
an interest in basketball – in my case, UConn and Celtics basketball especially – I noticed a couple of related
this January 22 column "Inauguration Inspires Calhoun" the Courant’s Jeff Jacobs describes the civic-minded and politically engaged coach of the UConn men’s basketball
team, Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun.
This January 22 Boston Globe piece, by Julian Benbow, features one of Calhoun’s greatest former players, now known as one of the NBA’s most professional
and best people, Ray Allen.
An October 2008 article, "Domestic Violence No Game," expressed concern about
the alleged conduct of a UConn player who was expelled before ever playing a game. This article should be understood in the context of Calhoun's,
his players', and the university's many significant accomplishments. The recent features on Calhoun and Allen
suggest this broader context.
. . . . .
been a fan of UConn basketball since the freshman year (1978-79) of Corny Thompson and Mike McKay just before the Big East
began -- those games in the old UConn Fieldhouse were a treat for a kid! -- I especially remember two games from the 1990s
as the best so far I have been able to attend in person:
1990 contest where the hitherto humble Huskies upset Georgetown (and Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo), transforming the
Hartford Civic Center crowd into a joyful thunder as UConn opened with a 14-0 lead;
*The 1996 Big East Championship game in Madison Square Garden where the Huskies shut out an Allen Iverson-led
Hoya team in the final minutes, culminated by Ray Allen's winning shot. (A friend had obtained seats so close to
the floor that we could observe the petitely powerful Iverson snacking on cookies nearby on the Georgetown bench.)
. . . . .
Of course, I
never got remotely close to the privilege of playing with or against Ray Allen at any level! But surprisingly,
there is just a degree of separation or two between his glorious basketball career and my laughable one.
A January 15, 1995 New York Times account cites Ray Allen’s role in a UConn victory over Big East rival Providence, led by a 6 foot 8
senior forward who, as a 6’5’’ high-school freshman, once goal-tended my shot in a 1986-87 game.
With that goal-tend, the future Providence player contributed one-eighth of my meager 16-point (1 point per game) total
as a varsity basketball player in 11th grade!
(I was more at my level the year before, averaging 10
per game on the JV as a sophomore on a – how shall we say? – talent-starved, victory-challenged team whose highlight
was its irrepressible coach, Stephen Hill.)
never much regretted passing up the chance to earn a second varsity letter in 1987-88, though the introduction of the three-point
shot in our league that year would have been tempting. Instead of riding the pine and having my shots goal-tended,
I opted that winter to volunteer in Nashua, New Hampshire and northeastern Connecticut for the nascent Presidential campaign
of Michael Dukakis. Twenty winters later, Nashua was again the destination on behalf of another primary
competitor, as mentioned in the January 20 post below. . .
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Obamas, a Global American Family
9:42 am est
This January 21 New York Times article
by Jodi Kantor vividly illustrated the compelling stories and pluralism of the Obama extended family:
"A Portrait of Change: In First Family, a Nation's Many Faces"
One could argue there is not only biography
and demography here, but also implications for both domestic and international relations.
A June 2006 essay asserted: “A happy consequence -- and a cushion --
of increasing globalization will be more global families. Call this intimate diplomacy. Countries including the United States
and Canada have long prospered through immigration. Further weaving together the planet's continents and citizens should
be our aim. Love and marriage -- the deepest forms of trade and investment -- complete the tapestry.”
Saturday, January 24, 2009
"Slumdog Millionaire" and the Many Indian Realities
10:11 pm est
Last night my wife -- who is from New Delhi and remains a citizen of India -- and
I saw "Slumdog Millionaire." The night before, a friend of ours had recommended it with the disclaimer that she
admitted a favorable bias: she knows the author, Vikas Swarup, of the novel
on which the film is based.
The movie is generating controversy. According to a Tribune Newspapers article by Mark Magnier, “The story of an impoverished street
child in Mumbai, which has won 10 Oscar nods, is a stereotypical Western portrayal, Indians say, that ignores the wealth and
progress their country has seen. . . . Even as American audiences gush over [the film] some Indians are groaning over what
they see as yet another stereotypical foreign depiction of their nation, accentuating squalor, corruption and resilient-if-impoverished
Having seen the movie last night, my wife and I can understand the criticism. But on balance we
liked and would recommend it – and wouldn’t want to reveal details to anyone who might see it. We'll
have to talk with friends and colleagues from Mumbai itself to get their views.
This 2006 account, “From New Haven to New Delhi,” discussed some contradictions and complexities of India.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
President Obama, His Dreams and Ours
10:55 pm est
Before the New Hampshire primary more than a year ago, I caught a ride from New
Haven with a neighbor. As we headed to Nashua to canvass, we discovered that each of us had read Barack Obama's
memoir, Dreams from My Father, and agreed most readers of that book would be inclined, as we were, to be sympathetic to his candidacy. (Weeks
later, there was a chance to test that proposition with another neighbor, who was persuaded to read the book before the Connecticut
primary and reported that it did propel her from an undecided voter into the Obama camp.)
That memoir evokes Emerson's 1837 observations in The American Scholar, in which he said that books
"are for nothing but to inspire." He continued, "Action is
with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into
truth." Further, "a man, rightly viewed, comprehendeth the particular natures of all men."
Himself a fan of Emerson, our new
President is a scholar driven to action (not "subordinate" in his case), and his books, speeches and example have
indeed inspired many. The introspection, struggles, and wisdom of his 1990s memoir hint at the promise which a decade
later stirred millions to invest their votes and their hopes in his election. Today's inauguration (following his
election discussed in early November posts below) officially marks his assumption of the enormous responsibilities before
him and our country.
Tonight I dug up the text of my July
27, 2004 letter (excerpted below) to then-State Senator Obama, on the occasion of his keynote address to the Democratic National
Convention -- and I pondered how much has changed in four and a half years. The global economic downturn, devastating
job losses and fiscal crises are especially striking. Continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are among numerous other problems
with severe human and dollar costs. To be naive would be dangerous. But change happens. That state senator
is now President of the United States. New leadership is here, along with what we hope will be invigorated bipartisanship
and civic fortitude among the "fellow citizens" our new President addressed today.
Early in another administration, this 1994 article reflected
my own early-twenties sense of contingency and cautious hopefulness about the future. Now, January 20, 2009, the inauguration of Barack Obama carries the dreams of generations of Americans -- and the
respect of much of the world -- forward to confront even greater challenges.
Over lunch today, my family gathered to watch the President's swearing-in, hear his speech and Elizabeth Alexander's
poetry. We video-taped the moment so that our three- and one-year-old children might someday have a memory of it.
Though I've still never met Barack Obama, it feels like I've
been acquainted with him remotely for more than a decade since reading his memoir. There are qualities evident in that
book to which we all can aspire and to which the nation subsequently responded. (Getting on his mailing list in 2004
led me to receive successive holiday cards with charming pictures of the Obama family that also promoted a sense of connection,
however remote in fact!) Character, candor, caring. Toughness. Principled pragmatism. A tolerance
for complexity combined with an ability to focus through it. Experience in overcoming adversity. Curiosity.
Seeing the best in others, finding common ground. It's that familiarity even in obscurity that's part of his
appeal to voters, that joins charisma to ideas.
Obama; it's a source of cheer to have you in this monumental job. Best wishes to you, your family, and our country.
As Lincoln wrote to Grant in spring 1864, “And now with a
brave army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.”
. . . . .
My July 27, 2004 letter
to then State-Senator Obama read in part:
"Several years ago, while in my mid-twenties, I was moved by and deeply impressed with Dreams
from My Father. . . . Tonight . . . your hopeful spirit and refreshing candor were inspiring. As someone
of mixed Jewish American and Protestant German immigrant descent who recently married an Indian woman of Muslim descent, I
also shared with my wife a sense of optimism tonight about your pioneering status as an American who can transcend the narrow
labels of religion, ethnicity, ideology, and national origin. As Thoreau wrote, 'It is never too late to give up
our prejudices.' Even your self-deprecating comment about the 'skinny guy' with a 'funny name' was
something with which I could identify! . . . Your record on — and obvious passion for — educational opportunity
is just one source of my enthusiasm about your promise as an American leader. . . "
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Day of Service, MLK Day
10:44 pm est
Devoting a day to service can be compared with designating a month to, say:
Blood donors and mentoring, respectively (January)
Black history (February)
Hispanic heritage (September 15-October 15)
Domestic violence awareness (October)
As one month is not enough and only begins to suggest the significance of such matters, a single day can scarcely
capture the value of service. Still, the symbolic power may be real and help to generate broader effects.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is,
'What are you doing for others?'"
On the day we recognize
his birthday, some service activity is appropriate. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be at New Haven Reads, whose Book Bank and tutors are assets to our community.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Coffee for Blood
7:55 pm est
Nicholas Kristof’s recent column, "Bleeding Heart Tightwads," argues – in citing Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks – that “if liberals and moderates gave blood
as often as conservatives . . . the American blood supply would increase by 45 percent.”
Let’s take that as a personal challenge. One reason I
was careful not to enter malarial zones during a recent trip to Malaysia was in order to stay on schedule as a blood donor
to the American Red Cross. Blood donors have intrinsic motivation for giving; it's an easy way to help someone else.
During January -- National Volunteer Blood Donor Month -- Dunkin' Donuts is offering an additional
incentive: a coupon for a pound of its coffee to any blood donor. Sign up to bleed, and then to replenish
with caffeine what Gen. Jack D. Ripper from “Dr. Strangelove” might call your “precious bodily fluids”!
To donate blood through the
American Red Cross, individuals must be at least 17 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in general good health.
To make an appointment: call
1-800-GIVE LIFE, or go online at the American Red Cross.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Return from Malaysia
8:20 pm est
My wife, our two children, and I treasured seeing Malaysia with my parents-in-law,
a rare opportunity for us all to be together (only the second time, after a trip to India almost four years ago, that we have
visited them, as they more often come to us in the U.S.). This has likely been a once-in-a-lifetime trip. For
our three-year-old daughter, the highlights have been seeing and touching animals including an elephant (which we rode), two
pythons, a crocodile, etc.
She and we also enjoyed the ferry rides between
the Malaysian peninsula and Langkawi Island, though there was some confusion in Kuala Perlis about which ferry to take, at
which gate. Evidently most Westerners and many other tourists fly from KL, or elsewhere, to Langkawi. We seemed
to be the only Westerners on the much lower-budget ferry -- which interestingly featured rows of seats recycled from old airplanes
-- though there were many Europeans and other Westerners among the tourists once we reached Langkawi. (My wife, a citizen
of India, might rightly object to being lumped in as a "Westerner," but she is now a permanent resident of the U.S.
as well as a parent of two children who are U.S. citizens of mixed heritage!)
A man in Langkawi reported that there were many fewer Russian visitors in December 2008 than a year earlier, due
to the steep decline in the Russian markets.
A memorable global moment
occurred on the island when I struck up a conversation with a teenager from Finland who was wearing an Obama "HOPE"
t-shirt that his mother had brought from New York.
. . . . .
The Emirates airline staff are impressive in the many languages they collectively speak, including Arabic, Spanish,
Portuguese, German, Tagalog, Swahili, and others besides English.
Also worthy of mention is the Dubai airport, which we passed through a second time on our return to New York's
JFK. As in Kuala Lumpur, there was the paradoxical juxtaposition of, say, decorated Christmas trees and caroling about
snow with fully veiled women in an Islamic culture where the weather is always warm.
Even more than KL and not surprisingly in a place where monarchy and commerce meet, Dubai seems essentially about
money -- brand-conscious consumerism amid gleaming, climate-controlled spaces and stores. It makes for a curious few
hours and as a walkable airport mall does as a diversion beat the more mundane traffic-clogged strips so typical of the U.S.
But I'm not much of a shopper, period -- certainly not of luxury goods. At any rate, I would rather be shopping
at Trader Joe's or Shaw's -- or better yet, Nica's or Romeo's at home in New Haven!
The new year arrived as we traveled all day. Flying northwest from KL, we experienced the dawning of 2009 in
multiple time zones, economy class with alternately sleeping, crying, and smiling kids. From the beginning of our trip
in the a.m. of December 31 in Perlis, through the drive 300 miles south to KL, the flights to Dubai and on to JFK and then
the driving of a rental car back to New Haven, we have been on the road or in the air approximately 35 of the past 40 hours.
We have no regrets!
Best wishes for the new year, amid a troubling economic
and security situation that calls for better and more widely shared fortunes at home and abroad. . . .