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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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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Right to Live v. The Right to Carry and Traffic Guns

This February 20 New York Times editorial was persuasive:
Editorial:  Two Early Tests on Guns
The Obama administration should reverse a policy that allows loaded firearms in parks and repeal an amendment that denies police information about guns used to commit crimes.”

My maternal grandfather was an avid hunter who owned many rifles and once brought his Colt 45 revolver along on a 1970s camping trip in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, to protect my brother and me (then about age six and seven) from the potential threat of a grizzly bear.  For my 11th birthday, my grandfather gave me a .22 caliber rifle.  My father once shot a deer, and to this day, my parents' freezer often contains venison from deer shot on their or nearby land.  This is to say that I am not opposed to hunting or gun ownership per se.  Hunters and other sportsmen are often dedicated custodians of the land and advocates for environmental protection.

But broader use of concealed weapons is dangerous, and national parks should be free of loaded firearms.  Police also need more access to data in order to focus on criminal trafficking and use of illegal guns.

On our honeymoon in northern California a few years ago, my wife and I encountered a strikingly hostile man (and his similarly charming, foul-mouthed wife) on the winding roads between Muir Woods and Muir Beach.  They tailgated us mercilessly for driving slowly on those treacherous and unfamiliar roads before finally passing us illegally when the road briefly straightened, about a quarter of a mile before our shared destination: the parking lot at Muir Beach.  Then, when I confronted them in the parking lot about the tailgating and passing maneuver that could have caused an accident (all in the interest of saving them a minute or so), the man leapt out of his car and into my face, practically foaming at the mouth and viscerally berating us for driving cautiously.  I remember vividly a sense of gratitude that the man was not armed, for he seemed the type who might have resorted impulsively to using a gun if given the chance.

The recent New Haven incident described here is an illustration of the risks of gun proliferation.

This 1999 op-ed argued for reasonable gun control: “The pervasiveness of handguns, combined with the extreme insecurities or delusions of troubled individuals, should make us wary.”

5:41 am est 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Congress

"History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas."

President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress tonight was memorable.  Amid his grand themes of addressing employment, education, energy, health, debt, and security, a few salient points: 

  *the balance of education resources, reform, family and individual responsibility

  *shutting off the TV and video games; instead, reading to kids

  *the example of Leonard Abess Jr., a bank executive who shared his wealth with colleagues who helped earn it.

Theodore Roosevelt encouraged us "to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure."   Barack Obama has big ambitions and seems prepared to endure some failures in the pursuit of great gains, at a momentous period in history.

10:50 pm est 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Many Indian Realities (continued)

On the day "Slumdog Millionaire" is predicted to win best picture, here's an update to the posts of January 24 and December 11 below.  To accompany those thoughts, let's juxtapose several articles that together evoke the promise and progress -- as well as the problems -- of India:

Op-Ed Contributors:  Taking the Slum Out of 'Slumdog'
"The squalor in Dharavi depicted in 'Slumdog Millionaire' is unjust. To understand such a place solely by the generic term 'slum' ignores its complexity and dynamism."

Op-Ed Columnist:  No Way, No How, Not Here
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN , February 18, 2009
"The defiance of Islamist terrorists by Indian Muslims stands out against a dismal landscape of Sunni Muslim suicide murderers who have been treated by Arab media as 'martyrs.'"

Op-Ed Columnist:  Yes, They Could. So They Did.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN , February 15, 2009
"In New Delhi, it was refreshing to meet idealistic young people who are not waiting for governments to act, but are starting their own projects and driving innovation."

T. Friedman here cites the work not only of two “recent Yale grads” but also of the Indian Youth Climate Network.

Attack on Women at an Indian Bar Intensifies a Clash of Cultures
By SOMINI SENGUPTA , February 09, 2009
"A mob attack on women drinking in a college-town bar is laying bare the limits of freedom for young Indian women."

From IndiaPost.com, here's a review of Daughters of India, a book by Stephen P. Huyler.  According to the reviewer, Prem Souri Kishore, Huyler “is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to benefit numerous organizations that work to empower women including the Global Fund for Women, the Self Employed Women’s Association and Fold Arts, Rajasthan.”

5:28 pm est 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Investing in Connecticut's People, Land, and Character

Tom Condon’s February 8 Courant column argues “The Time’s Right for Preservation.”

Lise Hanners of the Nature Conservancy made a similar case in this December 21 piece.

This February 6 New York Times article documented progress toward the statewide goal of preserving one fifth of Connecticut’s land as open space.  According to that article by Gail Braccidiferro:

“The purchase of the 143-acre [Sunrise] resort moves the state closer to its ambitious goal of owning and preserving about 10 percent of Connecticut’s overall area as public recreational space in the next 14 years. Cyndy Chanaca, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Environmental Protection, said that the state’s overall open-space goal is to protect 21 percent, or 673,210 acres, of Connecticut’s land by 2023, with private and municipal land trusts and environmental groups owning what the state does not. She said that the state was 72.1 percent of the way toward its goal, with 485,817 acres having been designated as state or local open space.”

More than $1 million of the funds for the purchase of the Sunrise Resort (in East Haddam) came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has been chronically exploited in recent years, with dollars diverted from their intended purpose: matching funds that states and localities commit to conservation.

William Cibes and Ned Lamont argued February 1 for a “smart growth, pro-growth strategy” – of which preservation of open space should be a part.

Cibes, Lamont, and others (including Heidi Green of 1000 Friends of CT and Shelley Geballe of Connecticut Voices for Children) are members of a group behind "Prosperity for All: A Blueprint for Connecticut's Future."  Another member of the group is Matthew Nemerson, who promoted an energy tax toward competitiveness in this December 28 piece.
. . . . . 

The sale to the state of development rights is one of the preservation routes that Tom Condon mentions in his February 8 column and which organizations like the Working Lands Alliance and Connecticut Farmland Trust support.  In the summer of 1985, I worked throwing hay for the farm of Walter Stone Sr., who sold his development rights to the state (as a Middletown farmer recently sold his development rights) and thereby did a service to his northeastern Connecticut community beyond his many years as First Selectman.

Of course, funds are especially limited now with the bleak fiscal constraints Connecticut is under.  Yet investing in education, health, transportation, open space preservation, and housing does not have to be a zero-sum equation.  Effectively targeted measures can prepare our state and its people for a more promising future.

The growing momentum for sensible regionalization of services is encouraging; it can save money and impede sprawl. 

The New Haven Ecology Project, Solar Youth, Urban Resources Initiative, and New Haven public schools such as Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet connect local natural and human resources.

ConnPIRG and Environment Connecticut are among other worthy organizations deserving mention here.

This 1995 and this 1996 opinion piece discussed related issues.

9:54 pm est 

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