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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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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai and My Family

My brother and his family, as well as my wife's family, live in India.  Terrorism has killed more people in that country than in any other besides Iraq since 2004 (and indeed more than in "all of North America, South America, Central America, Europe and Eurasia put together," according to this August 27, 2007 Times of India article with information to that point).  There is reason for grave concern -- both about personal security and about implications for foreign investment, tourism, and economic growth.  The prospect of inflamed India-Pakistan relations is particularly troubling.

Over Thanksgiving, our family gathered -- the day after the Mumbai attacks -- to reflect on our blessings, to share time together, and to hope that those attacks do not signal further escalation in violence in India and South Asia more broadly.  This past summer had already seen bombs in New Delhi neighborhoods, including a market place, my wife and I had been in three years before.  The Mumbai incidents have scores of direct and indirect victims -- Indian (mostly) and foreign, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Christian.  Comfort to their families.

Members of our family will continue to live in India, to do business there and to visit.  We may be shaken and are well aware of its problems.  But our faith in its strengths, its resilience and its future is powerful.   (This 2006 article may be of interest.) 
. . . . . 

Suketu Mehta had these thoughts in a New York Times op-ed:

November 29, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor:  What They Hate About Mumbai
"Mumbai, India, stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness. And this way of life appalls religious extremists."

Times reporters had the following November 29 accounts:

Violence Clouds India's Economic Future
"The terrorist siege is likely to threaten India's already murky economic future and thwart plans to transform Mumbai into a regional financial center, economists said."

Crisis May Shift India's Political Landscape
"Many expect the two-day siege of Mumbai to figure centrally in the coming national elections, with candidates making national security a priority."

9:11 pm est 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President-elect Obama, Resilient Democracy

It is just hours after the polls have closed, with Barack Obama having given his rousing yet sober victory speech, and John McCain his conciliatory remarks.  Both leaders evoked a spirit of unity that is both encouraging and necessary; it must be made real.  With the full scope of results state-by-state not yet clear, here are brief observations before I try to get a few hours of sleep.

How eight years have changed the nation's circumstances.  Eight years ago this fall, some 537 votes in Florida and a contested Supreme Court decision settled an election.  Illinois State Senator Barack Obama lost an uphill primary challenge to Congressman Bobby Rush.   Tonight, Barack Obama is not only a U.S. Senator but President-elect of the United States.  And rather than leave its electoral votes for the courts to decide, Florida has given President-elect Obama a margin of about 200,000 votes, out of a national margin of at least 5 million votes (and counting).  Time and elections, and the minds of free people, provide a marvelous corrective mechanism.  And as Abraham Lincoln rebounded from his defeat by Stephen Douglas, Barack Obama has shown extraordinary talents and growth, synchronized with the needs of his times.

What would Langston Hughes think tonight?  His poem "Let America Be America Again" has new meaning:  "America will be!"

2:00 am est 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voter 14 in Ward 10, Indoctrinating My Daughter

Arriving this morning at New Haven's Ward 10 polling place -- Wilbur Cross High School -- just before 5:40 a.m., I found a growing line.  By the time the doors opened at 6:00, several dozen of us were waiting.  I was voter 14. 

Now back home, as my three-year-old daughter eats breakfast before preschool, I will try to convey to her a measure of my excitement.  Maybe this Election Day will become one of her earliest memories, a favorable one to counter my own early memories of the Watergate hearings and Nixon's resignation!  She'll be wearing an Obama sticker -- not just any sticker -- to school today.  She'll have time enough to think for herself when she's a teenager, if not well before that!

7:31 am est 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Elections, Past and Present

On the eve of tomorrow's historic Presidential election, it's worth reflecting on previous elections.  For many of the millions of voters and volunteers, tomorrow promises to help redress not only electoral disappointments but profound misdirections of politics and policy that have affected people's lives.

For me personally, this is a moment to remember past elections, successful and not, in which I volunteered.  Some high and low points:

  • 1987-88 Dukakis in New Hampshire primary (won)
  • 1988 Dukakis in Connecticut primary (won)
  • 1988 Dukakis in general election (alas .  .  . )
  • 1990 Rosa DeLauro for Congress in CT (elected vs. Tom Scott of Milford), from office at the corner of Trumbull and State Streets
  • 1992 Rosa re-election (again over Tom Scott), as part of Clinton/Dodd/DeLauro coordinated campaign out of New Haven
  • 1994 Bill Curry for governor of CT (won primary, lost to Rowland in four-way race that also included Eunice Groark and Tom Scott)
  • 1998 Chuck Schumer for Senate in NY (elected against incumbent D'Amato)
  • 1999-2000 Al Gore in Presidential primary in New Hampshire (won against Bill Bradley)
  • 2000 Gore's general election campaign (of course lost Bush v. Gore decision and Florida's notorious "butterfly ballot") 
  • 2004 John Kerry's general election campaign, and America Coming Together canvassing in Pennsylvania (at least he won that state)
  • 2007-08 Barack Obama in the New Hampshire, CT, and PA primaries (one first-place finish and two seconds), and in New Hampshire as well as CT for the general election this fall . . .

Before this year, the peaks of exhilaration came in 1992: at the Democratic Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden, where I volunteered with the broadcast liaison group and had an advance copy of Bill Clinton's acceptance speech, embargoed before delivery, and then reveled with thousands of delegates on the convention floor as he gave that speech, punctuated with the dropping of balloons to the tunes of "Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow"; and that November, when he was elected and Rosa resoundingly re-elected.

Will tomorrow night rival those moments of youthful optimism, when I was months out of college?  Let's hope so -- even more now seems at stake.  Though the Cold War is now more distant, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons proliferation, increased terrorism, economic turmoil, appalling inequalities, myopic energy policies, and global warming are heightened risks.  We need inspiration, resolve, and (to the extent possible) bipartisan imagination to address the many challenges facing our country and our planet.  New leadership is coming, not a moment too soon.

A decade and a half ago, this opinion article expressed my own sense of possibility and contingency, which in their own ways many others in my generation felt.  For me at least, that sense of possibility has been stirred anew.  And the younger generation -- those now in their teens and twenties -- have contributed in fundamental ways to the new electoral reality, as they must do to helping to solve the myriad of problems this election is about. 

I'll be up well before 6 a.m. tomorrow to vote, as surely many neighbors will be, too.  Until then . . . 

7:42 pm est 

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