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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, September 17, 2011

International Literacy Day

For International Literacy Day on September 8, Susan Monroe and I prepared a September 7 essay that touches on local, state, and national as well as international dimensions of literacy.

7:29 am edt 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later, Living through History: The Problems and Promise of a More Integrated World

This morning, my three- and six-year-old children gathered with me to watch on TV the New York commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  The kids recognized President Obama but not former President Bush; the Obama presidency is the only one within their consciousness (though my daughter may now have forgotten, at age three she was aware of Bush and the 2008 election).  I showed the children several pictures of the World Trade Center towers online and explained the 9/11/01 attacks, including the planes that hit the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field, due to the heroism of passengers.  Yet it was impossible, without alarming the kids, to convey the magnitude of what had happened.  As delicately as possible, I suggested that 10 years ago we had lived through history – events students would explore for decades to come.  (The same may be said of subsequent developments, not only the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the rise of Homeland Security but also the financial and unemployment crises – not to mention global climate change, stark inequalities, and any number of other current events.)  We observed the 8:46 and 9:03 a.m. moments of silence.

Marking a decade since the attacks prompts reflections, as on September 11, 2010 and other anniversaries of 9/11.  I was in Manhattan that day in 2001, began the morning walking to my office on West 26th Street only to evacuate it within hours, with the burning towers a few miles south and smoke stinging the air.  Later, an interfaith vigil in the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine helped thousands of us adjust to the surreal shocks of the day.  We thought of the families who lost loved ones in the attacks; gave prayers of thanks for having survived; began to wonder what the days, months, and years ahead might bring to the U.S. and the world. 

A September 4 post below discusses Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.  One exchange from that play resonates on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Condemned, Claudio says: “The miserable have no other medicine/But only hope: I have hope to live, and am prepared to die.”  Duke Vincentio replies: “Be absolute for death: either death or life/Shall thereby be the sweeter.”

No one I know is “absolute for death.”  Still, having to some small degree “prepared” psychologically for the possibility of another terrorist strike (or for the far less remote possibility of injury, illness, violence to family or friends – and having continued to hear too often of real tragedies in that circle and especially the broader community), I do try more than before to cherish each day as “sweeter.”  Hope is medicine not only for the miserable but for everyone.

Last year, days before the anniversary blog post of September 11, 2010, a post on September 6, 2010 (“recognizing and defusing bigotry toward Muslims”) included mention of Eboo Patel, who spoke at Yale on the occasion of a 2008 Ramadan dinner in the spirit of the Interfaith Youth Core he leads.

In a June 2011 New York Times article profiling Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, he said, “You need a critical mass of interfaith leaders who know how to build relationships across religious divides, and see it as a lifelong endeavor.”

See also Eboo Patel’s series at the Washington Post, "The Faith Divide: What Brings Us Together and Drives Us Apart" – where an April 25, 2011 article records his statement: “Faith can either be a barrier of division, a bomb of destruction, or a bridge of cooperation. Our job is to make it a bridge of cooperation.”

In this vein, my wife and I recently learned of a book by Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Ours is a culturally interfaith, yet largely secular family (discussed for example in a December 2, 2009 post and in a commentary on the This I Believe website, "Cushioning Globalization through Global Families" in May 2006).  In our home, religion is often less apparent than nationality, with my wife a citizen of India and our having traveled there together, including with our children.  Still, their nationality is clear; they are U.S. citizens.  They will be able to choose their religion from an inherited combination of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Lutheran Christianity, and scientifically secular humanism in their extended family -- or to select something else.

A year ago, the blog post of September 11, 2010 recorded how friends had reclaimed that day by marrying, two citizens of the world – well aware of its pain and dangers – embracing their love and the future.

Last month, my wife and I (this time with our kids) attended another wedding, of a friend from India who is from a Hindu family.  She married an American man of Irish Catholic descent who has introduced her to Buddhism.  Toasting this happy couple was her warmly gracious ex-boyfriend, who is a Muslim from Pakistan and a scholar of religion.  A Tibetan Buddhist monk officiated.

In a January 25, 2009 post on “The Obamas, a Global American Family,” I tried to put such hybridity in context, in part by referring to a New York Times article days before.  (Now, in 2011, the Times has published a series of articles with the theme, “race remixed.”)

That January 2009 post also mentioned my own June 2006 essay that expanded on earlier This I Believe comments: “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.”

That June 2006 essay concluded this way:

“There is enough hatred and terror on earth. Military and economic strength are insufficient in combating these backward-looking dangers.  ‘Soft power’  matters, as national security specialist Joseph Nye reminds us.

Love is a form of soft power. It is a force for freedom. Its advance can help bring not only people, but also peoples, together toward peace.”

3:45 pm edt 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Persistence of Racial Inequalities

Rogers M. Smith, with Desmond S. King, wrote a recent New York Times op-ed on persistent racial inequalities, a topic of their new book on race and politics in the U.S.

It happens Rogers Smith wrote the 2009 report, To Strengthen Teaching: An Evaluation of Teachers Institute Experiences.

7:53 am edt 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Measure for Measure

Friday night, my daughter (though understanding little of the play) and I enjoyed an Elm Shakespeare production of Measure for Measure.  Nominally a comedy, it’s about justice, truth, deception, hypocrisy, abuse of power, honor, sexual freedom, love, commitment – serious subjects depicted with elements of humor.  The setting, outdoors in New Haven's Edgerton Park, contributed to the occasion.

Several of the play’s powerful passages prompted me to review the text, to consider their timeless resonance.  Those memorable passages include the following (quoted here with modern spellings):

Duke Vincentio of Vienna: “...Lord Angelo [the hypocrite] is precise/Stands at a guard with envy: scarce confesses/That his blood flows: or that his appetite/Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see/If power change purpose: what our seemers be.”

An exchange between Lucio and Isabella, urged to use her power: “My power? Alas, I doubt.”  He replies, “Our doubts are traitors [or “Doubt is a traitor”]/And make[s ] us lose the good we oft might win,/By fearing to attempt…”

Escalus, speaking of Claudio, condemned by Angelo to die for fornication: “Well: heaven forgive him; and forgive us all:/Some rise by sin, and others by virtue fall:/Some run from breaks of ice [or breaks of vice], and answer none,/And some condemned for fault alone.”

Provost to Angelo: “…I have seen/When after execution, judgment hath/Repented over his doom.”

Isabella: “…Oh, it is excellent/To have a giant’s strength: but it is tyrannous/To use it like a giant.”

Isabella: “…man, proud man/Dressed in a little brief authority,/Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,/(His glassy essence) like an angry ape/Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,/As makes the angels weep…”

Isabella: “Ignominy in ransom, and free pardon/Are of two houses: lawful mercy,/Is nothing kin to foul redemption.”

Claudio: “Death is a fearful thing.”  His sister, Isabella: “And shamed life, a hateful.”

Isabella: “…I have spirit to do anything that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit.”  Duke: “Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful.”

Duke, speaking of deceiving the abusive hypocrite Angelo: “…The doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof.”

Duke: “No might, nor greatness in mortality/Can censure escape: Back-wounding calumny/The whitest virtue strikes.”

Duke Vincentio: “He who the sword of heaven will bear/Should be as holy as severe;/Pattern in himself to know,/Grace to stand, and virtue go;/More nor less to others paying/Than by self-offences weighing./Shame to him whose cruel striking/Kills for faults of his own liking!/Twice treble shame on Angelo,/To weed my vice and let his grow!/O, what may man within him hide,/Though angel on the outward side!”

Isabella: “…Do not banish reason/For inequality, but let your reason serve/To make the truth appear, where it seems hid/And hide the false seems true.”

Mariana (speaking of Angelo): “They say best men are moulded out of faults,/And for the most, become much more the better/For being a little bad: So may my husband.”

Duke to Isabella: “What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.”

Maybe five or ten or twenty years from now, my daughter will see Measure for Measure again, admire the character of Isabella, and be reminded of when as a young child she saw the Elm Shakespeare version with her dad.  One can hope!

By coincidence, Measure for Measure figures in Joe College, a Tom Perrotta novel set in New Haven and New Jersey – that I read with appreciation last month.

12:25 pm edt 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Christine Alexander, Remembered

Today is the memorial service for the late Christine Alexander, who was founding chair of the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven and a driver of the Literacy Resource Center, as well as founding leader of New Haven Reads.  A June 27 blog post on the LiteracyEveryday site had noted:

News of Christine Alexander’s death has saddened the literacy community to whose work she was devoted as a leader since her arrival in New Haven in 1998.  Condolences to members of her family, who request that in lieu of flowers a donation of books or time as a volunteer be made to New Haven Reads.”

Subsequently, a July 17 article – among others in a literacy news and events list – described her “extraordinary life.”  We miss her.

7:32 am edt 

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