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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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Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Dorothy Kruskal Brown, 1912-2010

Last September, I wrote of "Long-Term Care: Grandma at 97"; yesterday, she died.

The daughter of immigrants, Dorothy Kruskal Brown was born during the last year of William Howard Taft's presidency and lived through the first year of the Obama administration.  Her long life had many joys and blessings, and also considerable sorrows.  One couldn't hope for a better, more loving grandmother.

I last saw her a week ago, when she recognized my father and me and brightened at our visit, despite her gaunt, extreme fragility, as well as her confusion and hearing loss.  I kissed her hello and good-bye for what proved to be the final time.

Below is the obituary that will run in the Willimantic Chronicle for this displaced, nearly lifelong New Yorker.

Dorothy Kruskal Brown, born June 10, 1912 in New York City, died January 29, 2010 at Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.  She was the widow of A. A. Brown and the daughter of Miriam Jacobson Kruskal and A. Herman Kruskal.  Her son James William Brown predeceased her in 1951 at the age of six years; her sister Ruth predeceased her in 1955.  Survivors include: [two sons and a daughter-in-law, three grandsons and their wives, and four great-grandchildren], as well as nieces, nephews, and friends across generations.  Dorothy Brown was a 1934 graduate of Radcliffe College, PBK with honors in history.  After the death of James William she earned an M.A. in special education from Teachers College of Columbia University. Thereafter she taught autistic children as well as remedial reading. Following retirement she was an active babysitter for infants and toddlers.  She will be remembered as a person of exceptional generosity, integrity, warmth, humor, and wit. Donations in her memory may be made to the Dorothy K. Brown Fund at Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, 100 Warren Circle, Storrs, CT 06268.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Teachers Institute Update

With the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute’s 2009 Annual Report to be published this spring, reports from 2008 and 2007 (and earlier years) are available online:



An October 2009 news release issued jointly with the New Haven Public Schools addressed the curriculum units Institute Fellows wrote in 2009, in the context of a recent evaluation report about the Teachers Institute approach.

Finally, here is information on the
Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars for 2010, before tomorrow’s January 26 application deadline.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Blue State Defeats Red State: Basketball and "Irrational Exuberance"

It’s been a year since this blog addressed basketball, in a January 26, 2009 post about Jim Calhoun, Ray Allen, UConn basketball and the Obama inauguration.  Basketball returns here now because I was at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs yesterday among more than 10,000 fans who witnessed Connecticut defeat then #1-ranked Texas, 88-74.

To say “witnessed” might understate the collective role of the audience, who sometimes can marginally participate in a game and influence its outcome. One fan, one hundred fans, cannot make a difference.  Ten thousand can and did.

Each season is a drama, each game an act.  Yesterday’s theater featured – both among the frenzied fans and adrenaline-fueled Husky players – an extraordinary emotional charge.  The crowd and the team fed each other’s energy, eventually overwhelming ostensibly superior Texas with a tremendous surge of the UConn players’ skill and will.

John Wooden (whose teams won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA -- not to be confused with John Woodenlegs, quoted by Sarah Palin in a statement she mistakenly attributed to Wooden) sought to instill “competitive greatness.”  Yesterday’s second half exhibited that as UConn took over the game with inspired focus. 

After beginning the second half with a turnover that led to a Texas basket, the Huskies trailed by 10 points, 44-34, with 19 minutes, 51 seconds remaining.  An immediate timeout by interim head coach George Blaney – substituting for head coach Calhoun, away on an apparently stress-related medical leave -- settled the team.  From there, UConn overpowered Texas by a score of 54-30.

Today’s sports pages relate details, starting with Jerome Dyson, who had a career-high 32 points.  He said, “This is definitely at the top.  The fans today, I’ve never seen them like that before in my four years here. This is a great day. I haven’t been part of a big win like that since I’ve been here.”  He continued, “The crowd is what got us into it. Once we started making a big play here, a big play there and the crowd got going, the energy just went through us, and we kept it going.”  Blaney commented, “As loud as anything I’ve heard here in Gampel.”   New Haven Register reporter Dave Borges described a “raucous crowd.”  The Hartford Courant’s Mike Anthony "never heard a building get louder."

This was a team victory, drawing not only upon Dyson and two other stars, Stanley Robinson and Kemba Walker, who scored in double figures along with senior stalwart Gavin Edwards, but also upon role players.  One story was Ater Majok, who is from Sudan and then Australia and showed great hustle in diving for balls and blocking shots.

Much has been made in sports columns about the pressures of coaching major college basketball.  Certainly coaches are expected to win and faulted if they don’t.  They are highly paid, often several times more than university presidents.  (Jim Calhoun’s salary elicited controversy last year.)

But real stress is when you lose your father at age 15 as Calhoun did (and why he is right to take seriously his own health), or evacuate your country to live for years in refugee camps, as Ater Majok did.  Stress is losing your job when you have to support a family, or not having health insurance when you’re sick, or praying for a soldier’s safe return from Afghanistan.  The catastrophe in already impoverished Haiti is of a different magnitude.

In these times of 10 percent official unemployment and far higher rates of youth unemployment, with government budgets at all levels straining to serve growing needs, sport can be a welcome diversion.  Yesterday, rooting on and watching the team win was exhilarating in person and a boon to members of “Husky nation” across Connecticut and beyond.  (My brother savored the news from India.)

In the January 2009 post (on "Basketball, Politics, and Purpose"), I recalled the “joyful thunder” in Hartford Civic Center in January 1990 when the “hitherto humble Huskies” stunned mighty Georgetown with a 14-0 opening run that signaled a new era in Connecticut basketball.  Already by 1990, I had been a fan more than half of my young life, with memories of late 1970s and 1980s trips to the old campus field house – capacity under 5000 but often loud – where I had also attended basketball camp for three summers.  Bonding with my father – and often too with my brother, mother, and friends – was an element of those experiences.   Countless hundreds of hours were devoted to playing basketball and watching UConn games together, even if winning could be elusive.  After years of mediocrity, the turnaround Jim Calhoun engineered was a marvel that no Connecticut fan should forget.

A pet peeve of mine is when fickle UConn fans, who take for granted the team’s recent success, carp about a loss here or there when they should have more serious things to worry about, or worse when they boo the home team, as on occasion has happened. No fan should boo his team.  Team sports are about unity, on the court or the field and with the fans.  If you take the time to care about any particular team, you should be loyal, or at least civil.  Sure, boo the referees if that’s cathartic.  (I admit to doing some of that, including yesterday!)  But cheer for your team.  You might even help along a victory.  It’s been frustrating to observe eroding support even in Gampel Pavilion (let alone in Hartford), where three years ago a complacent, distracted crowd let a long home-winning streak fall vs. Marquette.

Yesterday was different, a flashback to twenty winters ago when the state of Connecticut didn’t take winning basketball for granted, and a vocally supportive crowd consistently boosted the team. 

“Fan” is short for “fanatic”; anyone with a sense of proportion should recognize that to take much interest in a game is not purely rational.  According to Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs, “The fun returned to UConn basketball [yesterday]. And it returned with the kind of ear-splitting, second-half, national television rush that made everyone . . . remember why our state had made such an emotional investment in the first place.”  Said Jacobs, “Never has there been a louder, more exuberant” win than yesterday’s.

What Alan Greenspan might call “irrational exuberance” applied as fans clapped, cheered, shouted with delight.  During a 26-6 run that included steals, dunks, blocked shots, and an improbable desperation three-pointer, I became so enthused that I jumped off my seat and clumsily fell backward.  Fans in the next row helped me up.  Moments later, we were leaping up again and exchanging high-fives in the upper reaches of Gampel Pavilion.  The crowd continued to roar as the clock ticked down.  Below, the student section – which had anchored and stoked the cheering with chants of “Stand up, Gampel” – rushed the court to embrace the players.  Huskymania was back.  Connecticut blue had defeated Texas burnt orange.  For a couple of hours, problems were in retreat.

Best wishes to Jim Calhoun for his health.  Best wishes for everyone’s health.

. . .

Credit sources: Hartford Courant (Mike Anthony and Jeff Jacobs) and New Haven Register (Dave Borges) and their websites: www.courant.com and www.nhregister.com, along with www.youtube.com

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Domestic Violence, Again -- and How to Help

As a statewide task force examines ways to improve prevention and protection under Connecticut law and policy, cases of domestic violence continue to flare.

A recent murder-suicide in West Haven involved a man who had been arrested for abusing his wife, who had just obtained a protective order; he evidently killed her and then himself, orphaning their young children.  Arielle Levin Becker’s January 18 Hartford Courant article quotes Sandra Koorejian of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.  Abbe Smith’s January 19 New Haven Register account quotes Erika Tindill of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, of which DVSGNH is a member.

Other recent domestic violence reports included  this January 19 Register story about a man who was taken into police custody “after he allegedly shot at his ex-girlfriend” while “the woman’s kindergarten age son was in the car.”  A couple of weeks earlier, there was news of former Bush Administration lawyer John Farren’s abuse of his wife in New Canaan, with Sandra Koorejian interviewed by WTNH Channel 8's Jocelyn Maminta:

 “‘The way we counsel victims is that, if the offender is unwilling or unable to accept any responsibility for their behavior, then the behavior is going to continue, you can not solve the problem yourself,’ Koorejian explained. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call toll free 1-888-774-2900.”

Channel 8’s Crystal Haynes interviewed Koorejian in November 2009 about how “Domestic violence cases are on the rise in Connecticut . . . some legal experts are blaming the economic conditions.

Both Sandra Koorejian and Erika Tindill have been cited in various posts to this blog, including in the summer and fall of 2009, most recently on December 1.

A January 19 Courant article discusses a task force on domestic violence – described in the December 1 post to this blog -- that

“plans to meet at the state Capitol on Jan. 25 to address the issue. Members are awaiting more information about the case before deciding if they will look into the matter themselves.  ‘I'm sure we will look into some of the issues that stem from this case,’ [State Rep. Mae] Flexer said. ‘This incident demonstrates why the task force was created in the first place.’  [State Rep. Karen] Jarmoc said the group plans to put together a series of recommendations for the legislature to consider when it goes into session in early February. The proposals could include more funding for police departments and emergency shelters, better education about teen dating violence in high schools and a call for enhanced communication between court officials and law enforcement agencies. But the task force also will have to weigh the price tag for such proposals, Jarmoc said.”

 “Better education about teen dating violence” is one key.  According to Grace Merritt’s January 6 Courant article citing a 2007 State Department of Public Health survey, in Connecticut, “13.4 percent of students reported being hit, slapped or otherwise hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend, compared with 9.9 percent of students nationally.”  It’s hard to know to what extent these figures suggest a more severe problem in our state or, rather, more awareness and reporting.  Either way, the incidence of such violence is substantial enough that it needs addressing.

Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven – a United Way-affiliated organization – is a lean operation but, amid growing demand for its services, always in need of funds.  Those services include a shelter for women and children, an emergency hotline, court-based advocacy, counseling, transitional housing, and preventive public awareness. 

Sandra Koorejian tells me, “During the first quarter of this fiscal year--July through September--DVS served 2,739 women, men and children--a 13% increase over the same period in 2008. Shelter occupancy has more than doubled. State and federal revenues are flat and could be cut.”  With budget mitigation plans uncertain, “DVS is vulnerable.”

Milford businesswoman Louise Hebert is among the beneficiaries and champions of the kind of services that DVS provides.  A survivor of domestic violence herself , she is outspoken about the organization's value and avenues for progress.  She is involved in a March 6, 2010 fundraiser that is one way to help Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven to break the cyle of violence that afflicts every community's families and children.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teachers Institute Seminars for 2010

A recent event featured Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars for 2010, and information before a January 26 application deadline. 

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Early Learning, Valued by Police

In his January 17 letter to the editor of the New Haven Register, “Early learning helps stem crime, too,” Police Chief James Lewis wrote:

“I was interested in the article ‘Preschool learning is what counts.’ Offering an early introduction to learning through school readiness programs helps young children reach their potential in school. As a police officer for almost 40 years, I know that early learning opportunities for at-risk kids from birth to age 5 also reduce the odds they will commit crimes as adults. Research backs that up. In Michigan, researchers tracked children in high-quality preschools and their peers left out of such programs. By 27, the at-risk children not in the program were more likely to be chronic lawbreakers than similar kids who received high-quality early education. The children left out were also more likely to be arrested for drug-related crimes as adults.

Chief Lewis referred to a January 4 New Haven Register article.

A related organization is Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

The Perry Preschool project in Michigan was the subject of this radio broadcast:


The Perry Preschool study also was cited in the following account:

2008 September 2 New Haven Independent "Preschool: Public Policy Gets Personal, Early Childhood Resources and Research"

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Preschooler Pat-Downs, Redux

A January 2 post to this blog mentioned "Preschooler Pat-Downs" of my 4-year-old and 2-year-old children -- twice each, with metal-detecting wands -- in London's Heathrow Airport. 

A January 14 New York Times article by Lizette Alvarez provides context:
Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List
“Since Michael Hicks was 2, he has been frisked and his family delayed at almost every airport they have entered.”

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Pursuit of Peace

Today would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 81st birthday.  King was born in 1929, considerably after such other major 20th century figures as JFK (1917) and Nelson Mandela (1918).  King's assassination in 1968 deprived the country and the world of a leader who might otherwise still be contributing to events.

President Barack Obama, in his superb speech last month accepting the Nobel Peace Prize 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s prize, evoked King's words in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

"I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the . . . 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

These words about striving for self-improvement and societal improvement have resonated since I first encountered them in fall 1987 and quoted the same passage on my high school yearbook page.

Then, the Soviet Union still existed, the Cold War dominated, and Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.  The Iran-Iraq War (in which the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein's Iraq) neared its conclusion, and the U.S. supported the Islamic Mujahadeen -- which included Osama bin Laden -- against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

If our problems today are different and the world no less turbulent, there are causes for encouragement, not just despair. 

In his Nobel speech, Barack Obama spoke of Gandhi’s and King’s “fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”

President Obama continued, “For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.”

No one should take for granted Obama's election as President, his accomplishments so far amid the extraordinary adversity he  inherited, and the continuing potential for his presidency to be significant.  He is part of a legacy of fitful human progress he now is helping to shape. 

Inspired by King among others including anonymous everyday doers, President Obama concluded his December 2009 Nobel address in a way that allowed for the kind of calamity that has since befallen Haiti, and how humanity must now respond:

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.  Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mentoring, Youth Development, and Learning Beyond School

A January 4 post mentioned that January is National Mentoring Month and indicated a few related resources.  Mentoring is often a dimension of other out-of-school learning and youth development programs, such as those listed below.

in New Haven:

Boys and Girls Club of New Haven

Citywide Youth Coalition



Solar Youth



Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL)

Citizen Schools

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Mentoring Month 9:01 pm est 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Return from India, Air Safety and Preschooler Pat-Downs

The attempted Christmas bombing of an Amsterdam to Detroit flight is leading to new restrictions on air travelers.  My family experienced this -- at least ostensibly -- increased scrutiny this week in departing Delhi and passing through London’s Heathrow Airport en route to Newark.

According to this New York Times article , “Though passengers arriving from Frankfurt passed speedily through customs at Kennedy Airport in New York, they said that in Germany the security was intensified. ‘I really was surprised,’one passenger, Eva Clesle, said about the level of scrutiny in Frankfurt, adding that officials had inspected backpacks by opening ‘every single zip.’”

“Every single zip” was not inspected December 30 at Heathrow, where though my wife was required to unzip the main compartment of her carry-on backpack, undetected were cartons of milk in another section of the backpack.

Also noteworthy:  Our children, ages 4 and 2, were patted down twice each as they went through security checks at Heathrow, in addition to having their shoes removed.

The next day, back home in New Haven, the kids had incorporated these security precautions into their play.  Brother and sister spontaneously were patting each other down, blissfully unaware of the real dangers behind the arguably absurd examination to which they had been subjected.

. . .

A few recent news items:

*December 26 AP story:

 “More than 40 people are feared dead after a bridge collapsed while under construction in western India,” 170 miles from Jaipur. “Police were investigating the cause of the accident and have arrested two project managers on charges of culpable homicide. . . . They work for South Korea's Hyundai Engineering and Gammon India. The two companies were jointly building the bridge.”

*January 2 AP story:

 “Four trains collided Saturday in two separate accidents caused by dense winter fog in [Uttar Pradesh in] northern India, killing 10 people and injuring 47 others. . . . Fog also delayed dozens of domestic and international flights in and out of New Delhi.”

*NPR’s Scott Simon has apparently been in Delhi recently, as reported on today's Weekend Edition Saturday:

“The U.S. government has issued a warning for American citizens on travel to India, because of instability in the region.”

Fog and haze were substantial as my family flew out of Delhi on December 30 – just two days after we traveled by second-class train from Jaipur to Delhi.

Evidently we were fortunate to depart Delhi when we did, and to have traveled safely by train from Jaipur on the 28th.  May others – Americans, Indians, everyone – be safe in this new year. 

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Departing India

Happy new year to readers of this blog!  I am recovering from jet lag following a December 30 flight from Delhi via London and Newark that returned my family to New Haven yesterday.  Before posting more tomorrow about that, today I wanted briefly to record our last couple of days in India.

On December 28, we left Jaipur by train in the evening and arrived in Delhi around 11 p.m.  

December 29 daytime was absorbed with packing and visiting with a family with a 3rd-grader daughter and 7th-grader son.  He told us of his morning "tuition" small-group prep classes in math, science, and English before he attends the second shift at his regular school from 1 to 6 p.m.  (The students were on break during their winter holiday.)

As afternoon turned to evening (with a couple of power outages that are the routine, given an overstrained energy infrastructure), we walked from my wife's parents' Faridabad apartment to a nearby mall.  The walk, through what has been a slum and is rapidly becoming a middle-class residential neighborhood, was a rare opportunity during what has been an overly car-dependent and traffic-ridden trip.  It will be a significant boon to Faridabad, and to the entire Delhi region, when the Metro commuter rail is completed.  So far, only a few Delhi neighborhoods are served by the Metro, whose construction has been evident all over town (and has temporarily worsened the already major problem of road congestion.)  The sleek Faridabad mall, like the Noida one described in the December 21 post below, was comparable to an urban or small suburban mall one might find in the U.S.

In the evening, we had dinner at the apartment of longtime family friends of my wife and her parents.  The host couple, Fawzia Mujib and Farhan Mujib, are both physicists.  Farhan Mujib, however, retired from physics some years ago to pursue artwork, including collages, full time.  (He is also an accomplished cook!)  Another guest was N.C. Saxena, now a UNICEF consultant cited in this October 8, 2009 New York Times Magazine article by David Rieff on "India's Malnutrition Dilemma." Other guests included N.C. Saxena's wife and their daughter and son-in-law (both of whom are involved in business ventures while the parents of four boys -- her business is baking "karma pies"), as well as a husband-and-wife team of biological scientists from Bangalore's Tata research institute.

The next morning, the 30th, we left Faridabad for the Delhi airport.  The drive highlighted Faribad's flourishing real estate sector; we passed numerous new developments and signs for "Flats, Flats, Flats."  Through the hazy fog and thick traffic, we saw the remains of an ancient fort near signs related to construction of the Delhi Metro train.  One sign included these pithy lines of encouragement and understatement:

"Be a Part

To Build the Nation,

Inconvenience Regretted"

These words reminded me of another sign spotted by a Metro construction area the previous week:

"Work in Progress for Better Tomorrow" (sic)

India is a great nation with many "inconveniences."  Work is in progress for a better tomorrow.

. . .

A few miscellaneous observations about the India trip not already mentioned above or in earlier posts below:

In the Indian newspapers during our stay, there was ferment over the Copenhagen Summit, education policy, the Commonwealth Games (whether Delhi’s infrastructure and security measures would be ready by October 2010), and police abuses.  India’s vigorous press is a clear strength, an area of advantage over China.

We also visited with a friend who works for Wipro’s handheld computing division, someone who travels frequently throughout India and beyond.  He described the choking pollution around Bangalore, the high-tech city to the south in the state of Karnataka.  According to him, it’s far worse than in Delhi, which for several years has required many vehicles to use compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel.   The Delhi Transport Corporation touts itself as "the world's largest eco-friendly CNG bus service." 

Regarding Bangalore, this December 9 New York Times article by Vikas Bajaj was interesting:
In India, Anxiety Over the Slow Pace of Innovation
“Indians fret that Bangalore, and India more broadly, will remain a low-cost satellite office of the West, rather than a hotbed of entrepreneurship.”

Still, the science and technology prowess of India is considerable.  To take one example, the pharmaceutical industry, this May 2007 article explored “The Indian Advantage,” how “Major drug companies in the West are expanding their research programs in India.” 

. . . 

An earlier trip to India informed the following piece that appears elsewhere on this website:

2006 September "From New Haven to New Delhi: Globalization and Its Human Scale"

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