An example of why direct democracy is problematic

“Polls suggest voters may actually be confused about the two measures; a Capitol Weekly survey in late October found that while 92 percent of voters who identify as anti-death penalty say they plan to vote for Prop 62, “40 percent of those same anti-death penalty voters are casting ballots for Proposition 66.” Californians could conceivably vote “yes” on both. If both measures pass, the one with the most “yes” votes wins.”

–Liliana Segura, “NO CLOSUREEnd the Death Penalty or Speed It Up – California Faces Opposing Ballot Initiatives” on The Intercept

Social Warfare Is About Status, Not Money


“Voting is no longer the test of inclusion. What is happening in the rich democracies may be not so much a war between the haves and the have-nots as a war between the socially advantaged and the left-out. No one who lives in poverty would not trade that life for a better one, but what most people probably want is the life they have. They fear losing that more than they wish for a different life, although they probably also want their children to be able to lead a different life if they choose.

Of the features of modern society that exacerbate that fear and threaten that hope, the distribution of wealth may not be the most important. Money matters to people, but status matters more, and precisely because status is something you cannot buy. Status is related to identity as much as it is to income. It is also, unfortunately, a zero-sum game. The struggles over status are socially divisive, and they can resemble class warfare.”

–Louis Menand, “Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today” in The New Yorker

Anew Hoy

Tuesday was the last day of the NYC school year. So closes my seventh year as a teacher, and with it, my final day in the classroom (for the foreseeable future).

That unobtained position I wrote about earlier that had so gripped my psyche (that it nearly rendered 2015 pallid in memory) has now come to fruition after a year’s delay. It is with both eagerness, and some trepidation, that I step into this new chapter in my career. Eager, because I am ready to undertake a new challenge, and trepidation, because I’m entering an entirely new realm of bureaucracy and politics I’m unsure yet how to navigate.

It was difficult to say goodbye to students and teachers yesterday. There were a few moments when even this unfeeling creature nearly choked up a bit. I will miss my school very much. I know how fortunate I was to be able to work there. My coteachers are remarkable people and I enjoyed learning from and working with them. I formed a close professional bond with my 8th grade coteacher, Richard, who is truly one of NYC’s best English teachers. In fact, I nominated him last year for the Big Apple Award, and he was a finalist (I think it was bullshit he didn’t win it). I learned what masterful, engaging teaching can be from being in the classroom with him each day.

So yes, I’m damn well going to miss my school.

In other news, I have been practicing playing tabla daily since January, and taking a class every Thursday. I’ve brought an old REI backpack I hadn’t used since California into commission as my tabla subway carrier. 

Learning tabla was just what the doctor ordered–it helped me pull through the grim vestiges of winter and rediscover the joy and discipline in learning something new. My greatest sorrow is that I waited so damn long to get started.

My teacher flatters me that I’m learning more quickly than most other students he’s had–but I imagine he tells that to all his newbies to encourage us to continue. I take a group class, which started with only me and one older Japanese gentleman, but is now expanding to include brand spanking new students, which helps me to feel even better about myself since I’m now 6 months up on them.

Shit, has it really been 6 months?!

The Federalist #25: Hamilton on the Militia and the Limits of Legislation

Due to my workload during the school year, I’ve had to drop blogging except for occasional instances on my other blog, but due to the lovely three day weekend bestowed by our observance of Veteran’s Day, I have a chance to return to The Federalist Papers. Appropriately enough, in this one, Federalist No. 25, Alexander Hamilton discusses the limitations and dangers of maintaining local militias.

However, the most interesting point Hamilton makes here is a broader appeal to the limitation of legislation. I may be misreading this a bit, as I am pulling it out of context, but I’ll leave that up to wiser readers to decide:

Here I expect we shall be told that the militia of the country is its natural bulwark, and would be at all times equal to the national defense. This doctrine, in substance, had like to have lost us our independence. It cost millions to the United States that might have been saved.. . . the bravest of [militiamen] feel and know that the liberty of their country could not have been established by their efforts alone, however great and valuable they were. War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice.

All violent policy, as it is contrary to the natural and experienced course of human affairs, defeats itself. . . .

. . . nations pay little regard to rules and maxims calculated in their very nature to run counter to the necessities of society. Wise politicians will be cautious about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be observed, because they know that every breach of the fundamental laws, though dictated by necessity, impairs that sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country, and forms a precedent for other breaches where the same plea of necessity does not exist at all, or is less urgent and palpable. [bold added]

This point of caution about the limitations of legislation made me think of a passage I just read in a short book called The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.

What’s lost is the willingness of people to make judgments in situations that are not formulaic but are messy and human, and then to trust each other to make the best calls we can. As Philip Howard has argued powerfully, in a society that over-relies on laws and rules to govern everyday interactions—one where much is prescribed and proscribed and “what is not prohibited is permitted”—people forget how to exercise both rights and responsibilities.
What’s lost, in short, is citizenship.
Hamilton’s point about militias has faded with relevance, but his point about the limitations of legislation remains salient to our time.

The Decline of Wikipedia

“As commercial websites have risen to prominence, online life has moved away from open, self-governed crowdsourcing communities like the one that runs Wikipedia, says Clay Shirky, a professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. Shirky was one of the biggest boosters of an idea, popular during the previous decade, that the Web encouraged strangers to come together and achieve things impossible for a conventional organization. Wikipedia is proof there was some truth to that notion. But today’s Web is dominated by sites such as Facebook and Twitter, where people maintain personal, egocentric feeds. Outside specific settings like massive multiplayer games, relatively few people mingle in shared virtual space. Instead, they use mobile devices that are unsuited to complex creative work and favor neatly self-­contained apps over messier, interconnected Web pages. Shirky, who is an advisor to the Wikimedia Foundation, says people steeped in that model will struggle to understand how and why they should contribute to Wikipedia or any project like it. “Facebook is the largest participatory culture today, but their mode of participation is different,” he says. “It’s aggregating rather than collaborating.”

Gardner agrees that today’s Web is hostile to self-organized collective efforts, likening it to a city that has lost its public parks. “Our time is spent on an increasingly small number of increasingly large corporate sites,” she says. “We need more public space online.” In fact, Gardner is leaving the foundation at the end of the year in search of new projects to work on that very problem. She contends that even with all its troubles, Wikipedia is one of the Web’s few public parks that won’t disappear.”

The Federalist #23: What Modern Writers Mean When They Say, “Keep It Simple,” Dude

Desperate ScribblingSpeaking of bullshit and Alexander Hamilton. . . When I commenced exploring the Federalist Papers, I noted that the language can be at times dense and opaque. In #23, Hamilton must have shifted back into bullshit mode, as he squeezed out the following bollocks. In addition, note the frequent insertion of breathy commas:

Every view we may take of the subject, as candid inquirers after truth, will serve to convince us, that it is both unwise and dangerous to deny the federal government an unconfined authority, as to all those objects which are intrusted to its management. It will indeed deserve the most vigilant and careful attention of the people, to see that it be modeled in such a manner as to admit of its being safely vested with the requisite powers. If any plan which has been, or may be, offered to our consideration, should not, upon a dispassionate inspection, be found to answer this description, it ought to be rejected. A government, the constitution of which renders it unfit to be trusted with all the powers which a free people OUGHT TO DELEGATE TO ANY GOVERNMENT, would be an unsafe and improper depositary of the NATIONAL INTERESTS. Wherever THESE can with propriety be confided, the coincident powers may safely accompany them. This is the true result of all just reasoning upon the subject. And the adversaries of the plan promulgated by the convention ought to have confined themselves to showing, that the internal structure of the proposed government was such as to render it unworthy of the confidence of the people. They ought not to have wandered into inflammatory declamations and unmeaning cavils about the extent of the powers. The POWERS are not too extensive for the OBJECTS of federal administration, or, in other words, for the management of our NATIONAL INTERESTS; nor can any satisfactory argument be framed to show that they are chargeable with such an excess. If it be true, as has been insinuated by some of the writers on the other side, that the difficulty arises from the nature of the thing, and that the extent of the country will not permit us to form a government in which such ample powers can safely be reposed, it would prove that we ought to contract our views, and resort to the expedient of separate confederacies, which will move within more practicable spheres. For the absurdity must continually stare us in the face of confiding to a government the direction of the most essential national interests, without daring to trust it to the authorities which are indispensible to their proper and efficient management. Let us not attempt to reconcile contradictions, but firmly embrace a rational alternative.

I trust, however, that the impracticability of one general system cannot be shown. I am greatly mistaken, if any thing of weight has yet been advanced of this tendency; and I flatter myself, that the observations which have been made in the course of these papers have served to place the reverse of that position in as clear a light as any matter still in the womb of time and experience can be susceptible of. This, at all events, must be evident, that the very difficulty itself, drawn from the extent of the country, is the strongest argument in favor of an energetic government; for any other can certainly never preserve the Union of so large an empire. If we embrace the tenets of those who oppose the adoption of the proposed Constitution, as the standard of our political creed, we cannot fail to verify the gloomy doctrines which predict the impracticability of a national system pervading entire limits of the present Confederacy.