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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in India

My family marked Christmas today in Jaipur, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan (population 64 million), which further west borders on Pakistan.  It's been an unconventional holiday, to say the least, but perhaps appropriately so given the participating family members -- who combine Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu as well as Christian backgrounds.

Our eclectic crew departed Delhi yesterday by train, enjoying “second-class” service to Jaipur.  Our only disappointment was that the train windows were too dirty to see clearly enough to take photographs of the countryside, which alternated between bare dry terrain and irrigated fields of mustard and of wheat.

We then spent Christmas Eve in a Rajasthani amusement park where my daughter and I rode a camel, dancers performed in colorful garb, and waiters nearly forced us -- amusingly and indigestibly -- to eat well past the point of satiation.  The latter scene was reminiscent of an old Saturday Night Live episode in which diners are told the deal is not how much you want to eat but literally how much "you can eat"!

Today we saw a centuries-old fort and hilltop barrier that resembles the Great Wall of China.

Stark are the arid, in some cases desert conditions of Rajasthan and the region’s dependence on irrigation.  It’s obvious why camels – still working on the streets of Jaipur itself – have been historically valuable animals here.

Safe Water Network  is a Connecticut-based organization whose areas of work include Rajasthan.

. . .

This Christmas week has included improbable images of snowmen (in a hotel display) and Santa-mask-wearing Delhi street hawkers.  We’ve seen hints of opulence in a brief hotel stay, as well as overwhelming evidence of the surging middle-class: new cars and motorcycles, cell phones and cyber cafes, gleaming malls, students in uniform, and advertisements for new apartments, hospitals and business schools. 

Even more salient, though, are the enduring ravages of poverty and inequality in this country where 4 in 10 children are underweight at age 5 – 500 percent worse than the comparable figure in China – and the literacy rate is just 61 percent.  

Begging is a substantial part of the informal economy, with organized crime often involved.  Recognizing this, my wife – a Hindi/Urdu speaker whose hometown is New Delhi where she has witnessed the begging phenomenon for years– and I have tried to inure ourselves to the appeals of beggars.

In only two cases has she relented.  While in Delhi, my wife was haunted by two young girls, sisters of about ages 6 and 2, outside a Nehru Place café.  Losing her own appetite, Sahar asked the 6-year-old if she was hungry and then walked across the plaza to buy her a healthful vegetarian meal.  Fending off dogs, the girl ate readily and attempted to feed her sister.

Today in Jaipur, after lunch -- in effect, our Christmas dinner -- we encountered a frail young mother holding her baby outside a restaurant.  My wife asked whether her baby was hungry and gave a liter of milk to the woman, whose sorrowful face indicated that cash was really what she was seeking. We were left contemplating the disparities and dilemmas of the global economy, and the elusiveness of facile solutions.

(Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has helped popularize various proven mechanisms of international charitable assistance and microenterprise, to supplement aid and trade efforts of governments.)

. . .

Last year, this blog's December 26, 2008 entry (archived toward the bottom of this website's home page) chronicled reflections on Christmas in Malaysia.

Also archived on this website is a January 24, 2009 entry on "Slumdog Millionaire and the Many Indian Realities."

11:52 am est 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gandhi in Delhi

Today I visited the site of Mahatma Gandhi's last days and 1948 assassination, after having begun reading his (1925) autobiography.

The site takes visitors from the room in which he spent his final months, along the path of his final steps, to where he was murdered by a Hindu extremist.

Signs on that path bear several passages of Gandhi's own words, including these evoking today's continuing tensions and violence in South Asia and elsewhere:

“My patriotism is not exclusive, it is calculated not only not to hurt any other nation but to benefit all in the true sense of the word.  India’s freedom as conceived by me can never be menace to the world.”

Visiting the site is a powerfully solemn experience.  It resonated with my reading this week of his autobiography, subtitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

Among the many memorable passages is this one (from page 155 of the 1993 Beacon Press paperback), where Gandhi writes:

"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings."

5:36 am est 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Three Indian States, One Day

Yesterday, I arrived in India for the first time since 2005.  My wife -- a citizen of India -- had traveled there days earlier with our two young children.  A friend of hers took us for a daylong drive.

Even on a Sunday, greater New Delhi was bustling and traffic considerable, exacerbated by construction associated with the Delhi Metro train and facilities for the Commonwealth Games (scheduled for October 2010).

Our drive around the region offered an opening (albeit mostly superficially road-side) glimpse at three of India's some 28 states:

*Delhi itself (population 17 million, twice that of New York City), the city-state that is the nation’s government capital (with west coastal Mumbai  the financial and Bollywood capital in the state of Maharashtra).

*Haryana (population 23 million), where my parents-in-law – after two decades in Delhi proper – now live in the city of Faridabad just outside Delhi.  According to a December 11 NPR story on the Haryana city of Gurgaon:

“India is the planet's fifth biggest carbon polluter. Even with its vast population, its per capita emissions are many times lower than the West. As India's economy grows, so will its pollution. India's government has announced measures to combat climate change. But some question whether it can carry them out. The city of Gurgaon has become the front-line in a battle between government and growth.”

Faridabad exhibits similar infrastructure and environmental challenges, though it is more residential and less corporate and technology-oriented than Gurgaon.

*Uttar Pradesh (UP), of which we drove through a sliver, the booming city of Noida.  With an estimated population of 190 million, UP is larger than all but five entire nations!  It would rank 6th, just behind Brazil and ahead of Pakistan.  UP includes Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located), the financial center Kanpur, the court city Allahabad, the Muslim university city Aligarh, and the ancient city Varanasi (also known as Benares).  It happens my brother has lived on and off in UP’s capital city, Lucknow, for years. 

Another major UP city is Noida, growing rapidly with the larger metropolitan Delhi region.  Via an impressive new highway to a Noida mall, the “Great India Place Big Bazaar,” we observed a monumental project that UP Chief Minister Mayawati – a leader of the nation’s Dalit outcaste group – is developing on what formerly was green space.  Her critics fault her and her party for alleged corruption, including bribes from developers.  We and our children were disappointed to discover what had been a Noida park with a playground was off limits, under transformation into a golf course, despite the presence already of another golf course nearby.

At the Noida mall, our friend’s young son and our own children were treated – if that’s the word – to the Indian version of McDonald’s.  The mall and the McDonald’s exhibited an adaptive international commerce.  The Indian menu, with no beef of course, featured the “chicken maharajah mac” and otherwise largely vegetarian choices (I had a paneer salsa wrap – not bad).  As we sat in the food court, we observed American wrestling – presumably Linda McMahon’s product – on a large-screen TV, near women in saris and a group of teens enjoying a mall outing as many of their U.S. counterparts do. 

Let’s trust that, in the global exchange of culture and commerce, McDonald’s and televised wrestling are not the best of the U.S. exports to India. . .

11:52 pm est 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Policing Me in My Neighborhood

Tonight, a police officer stopped and questioned me blocks from my house as I was walking home around 10:30.

As his cruiser approached Livingston Street from Whitney Avenue, he slowed the car and called out, "Can I talk to you?"  He asked what I was doing and where I was going.  When I replied "walking home from work," he asked -- with some suspicion -- where I work.  When I said "downtown," he asked where.  I told him which building near the Town Green.  I asked whether he was looking for someone in particular -- whether to be alert for a person of a specific description.  He said I fit the description: "a white male wearing a dark coat." 

In the freezing night, I was also wearing a dark winter hat and haggardly sporting a ten o'clock shadow -- evidently, a suspicious figure on solitary streets.

The officer was doing his job; his conduct seemed professional and legitimate, even if it left me a bit unsettled.  He let me go after I offered to produce identification.  That offer apparently defused the situation, and he never learned my name -- or the ironic fact of my participation in the East Rock neighborhood's Community Management Team, a main purpose of which is to promote crime awareness and prevention.

. . . 

Having attended the October 15 presentation that New Haven Police Chief James Lewis, District Manager Lt. Thaddeus Reddish, and other members of the NHPD made at Celentano School (for a joint gathering of the Newhallville and East Rock management teams), I’m disappointed  Chief Lewis will not be remaining beyond his soon-to-expire contract.

I respect the service of the great majority of police officers and myself once experienced a (not too) violent crime on a Brooklyn subway years ago.   A NY Daily News column recounted "Crime and Apathy on the D Train"  in spring 1996.

11:45 pm est 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Academic Rigor, Writing Papers in High School

According to Jay Mathews of the Washington Post in his November 19 article on "High School Research Papers: A Dying Breed":

"The leading U.S. proponent of
more research work for the nation’s teens is Will Fitzhugh, who has been publishing high school student papers in his Concord Review journal since 1987."

. . .

This blog's June 11 entry mentioned the Concord Review, Will Fitzhugh, high-school term papers, and the documentary film "Two Million Minutes."

In a post called, "Varsity Academics® in History, Writing, and Beyond," I mentioned having renewed my subscription to the Concord Review.

This journal is part of a larger effort to promote "varsity academics," with academic pursuits and ambition – including the writing of serious high-school term papers – intended to achieve equal status with athletics in U.S. high schools.

Related projects include the National History Club and the National Writing Board.

The June 11 post credited these ideas to Will Fitzhugh, who wrote this May 25 article.

That post concluded separately:

For a provocative math- and science-oriented take on U.S. education in global context – especially how high-school students spend their time in different countries – see the documentary "Two Million Minutes."  

. . .

Three related resources on this website: 

2008 January 2 New Haven Independent "The Roots of Rigor: Early Learning, Reading, Teacher Quality"

2005 Fall Concord Review Society “Raising Expectations for Teachers and Their Students”

1988 Volume 1 The Concord Review "The Abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison"

1:36 am est 

This I Believe: Love Without Boundaries

NPR’s "Beyond Black and White"  series is worth a listen.

One of the stories in that series treats a new book called Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed-Race America, by Mike Tauber and Pamela Singh.
Other resources:

The Mavin Foundation “helps build healthier communities by raising awareness about the experiences of mixed heritage people and families. [Its] projects explore the experiences of mixed heritage people, transracial adoptees, interracial relationships and multiracial families.”

An October 9, 2009 New Haven Independent article addressed related issues in a local high school classroom.  (The third comment posted at the bottom of that article contains information about pertinent curriculum units that New Haven teachers have developed as Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellows.)

A few recent New York Times articles examined intercultural relations in South Korea and experiences of children of mixed ethnic and national origins:

Baby Boom of Mixed Children Tests South Korea
By MARTIN FACKLER, November 29, 2009
“Migrant women from poorer parts of Asia have helped fuel a South Korean baby boom but brought concerns about assimilating the offspring of mixed unions. . . . More than one in nine children could be of mixed background by 2020, demographic researchers say. The trend is even more pronounced in rural areas, where most of these marriages take place. Among farming households, 49 percent of all children will be multicultural by 2020, according to the Agricultural Ministry. . . . the biggest threat to the mixed children is that they will be ostracized in a society that began grappling with ethnic diversity only when labor shortages forced South Korea to accept foreign workers in the 1990s. The risk has been underscored by recent studies showing that the children of mixed marriages are more likely to be the victims of domestic abuse or bullying in school.

South Koreans Struggle With Race
By CHOE SANG-HUN, November 2, 2009  
“South Koreans were taught to take pride in their nation's ‘ethnic homogeneity,’ but in the past seven years the number of foreign residents has doubled.”

Ward Helps Biracial Youths on Journey Toward Acceptance
By JOHN BRANCH, November 9, 2009  
“The Steelers' Hines Ward, the son of a Korean mother and an American father, provides support to biracial youths in South Korea who are often ostracized for their mixed-race heritage. . . . Eight boys and girls, between 16 and 21, were visiting Ward from South Korea, where people of mixed races are considered everything from a curiosity to an abomination. . . . They are part of a generation caught between yesterday’s racism and tomorrow’s acceptance.

. . .

New Haven-area writer Chandra Prasad edited and contributed to Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience  http://www.chandraprasad.com/Mixed.php.  It’s an illuminating collection; read it!

. . .

I first wrote about related issues in a commentary on the This I Believe website,  "Cushioning Globalization through Global Families" in May 2006.

This blog’s January 25, 2009 entry on “The Obamas: A Global American Family” observed that a 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"

According to my January 25 post, “One could argue there is not only biography and demography here, but also implications for both domestic and international relations.”

A June 2006 essay that expanded on the This I Believe comments had similarly 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.”

11:27 pm est 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Domestic Violence, Task Force Toward Action?

As the Hartford Courant continues to make coverage of domestic violence a new priority since the related killing of a Fox 61 TV colleague, the Connecticut legislature has established a task force to address the issue. 

Advocates hope this signals momentum toward stronger laws, enforcement, and funding to prevent this problem, punish its perpetrators, and protect its victims.

October 3, September 24, and earlier posts to this blog concerned domestic violence and men’s crucial role in breaking the cycle of abuse.

Now, two December 1 Courant articles highlight this task force and a family’s  call for reforms.

Erika Tindill (who was mentioned in August 17 and July 18 posts to this blog) of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence was quoted in Josh Kovner’s December 1 article on the task force.

In Kovner’s words, advocates spoke of “a public health emergency, one that has to be fought with public-awareness campaigns, programs that reach boys in grammar school and a sea change in attitudes about victims.”  The aim should be to involve teenage boys, husbands, boyfriends and fathers who aren't abusers in order to reduce domestic violence.

Erika Tindill: “Most batterers are men, but the vast majority of men are not batterers. Men need to be involved in community outreach in meaningful ways.”

. . . 

Find resources at the Courant’s "Overcoming Battered Lives" blog and Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven -- a United Way-affiliated organization now mounting a holiday appeal for much-needed funds.

11:23 pm est 

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