on the one hand and on the other


On the one hand, I feel a tad sheepish that I have planned such an easy Christmas for myself at work. It’s in keeping with trying to balance my energy in the job so I can keep doing it and not retire. That was a theme for me after vacation this year. So my plan for Advent and Christmas was all pretty easy for me.  Conducting the choir music is something I enjoy doing but the big part of the task is helping singers interpret music beautifully and effectively. This is not pressure for me. I think I’ve scheduled some good music this season but it is mostly unaccompanied.

Image result for the thing gif addams family

On the other hand, we have had a year. In March, my Mom died. Then in late September Eileen’s Mom passed away. I develop a nasty rash (which is still with me in an abating  manner). And I was diagnosed with melanoma. If  I had done my usual pattern of continually challenging myself in my work, I would have been much more of a mess right about now. So easy is good. And I haven’t given up on challenging myself, just trying to be sensible at the age of 67.

Another Christmas is here and I continue to feel very lucky. When I mentioned to Eileen that I hadn’t been able to get her gifts for Christmas she pointed out that my diagnosis was gift enough for both of us. That’s true.  Everybody dies, but it’s nice to have my future back open again instead of contemplating mortality with such clarity.

And  of course my reading and contact with music continues to provide incredible satisfaction for me.


I finished reading through the library’s copy of the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly. I’m glad I looked through the hard copy of this magazine. I was seriously considering subscribing but found that most of the articles didn’t interest that much.

However, I read all of the articles about “Is Democracy Dying?”

For what it’s worth here are links to them with my own annotations.

Yuval Noah Harari on Why Technology Favors Tyranny – The Atlantic Monthly

1. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.
2. For centuries, chess was considered one of the crowning glories of human intelligence. AlphaZero went from utter ignorance to creative mastery in four hours, without the help of any human guide.
3.Two particularly important nonhuman abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updatability.
4. A facade of free choice and free voting may remain in place in some countries, even as the public exerts less and less actual control.
5. the increasing efficiency of algorithms will still shift more and more authority from individual humans to networked machines.

Yoni Appelbaum: Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy – The Atlantic Monthly

“Democratic government, being government by discussion and majority vote, works best when there is nothing of profound importance to discuss,” the historian Carl Becker wrote in 1941. But in the polarized political environment of 2018, the stakes seem incomprehensibly high. For Democrats and Republicans alike, abiding by the old rules can seem a sucker’s game, an act of unilateral disarmament. Norms are difficult to enshrine but easy to discard. Every time Trump does something that just isn’t done, he all but guarantees it will be done again in the future.”

The Constitution Is Threatened by Tribalism – The Atlantic The Atlantic Monthly

“As professors specializing in constitutional law and comparative politics, we’re often asked whether there’s another country that could serve as a model for the United States as it attempts to overcome its divisions. We always respond no—America is the best model.

For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities. In the United States, you can be Irish American, Syrian American, or Japanese American, and be intensely patriotic at the same time. We take this for granted, but consider how strange it would be to call someone “Irish French” or “Japanese Chinese.”

James Madison’s Mob-Rule Fears Have Been Realized – The Atlantic Monthly

1. Madison referred to impetuous mobs as factions, which he defined in “Federalist No. 10” as a group “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Factions arise, he believed, when public opinion forms and spreads quickly. But they can dissolve if the public is given time and space to consider long-term interests rather than short-term gratification.
2. Plato’s small-republic thesis was wrong. He believed that the ease of communication in small republics was precisely what had allowed hastily formed majorities to oppress minorities. “Extend the sphere” of a territory, Madison wrote, “and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.” Madison predicted that America’s vast geography and large population would prevent passionate mobs from mobilizing. Their dangerous energy would burn out before it could inflame others.
3. Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob. Inflammatory posts based on passion travel farther and faster than arguments based on reason. Rather than encouraging deliberation, mass media undermine it by creating bubbles and echo chambers in which citizens see only those opinions they already embrace.

We are living, in short, in a Madisonian nightmare.

Simon Johnson: The Quiet Coup – The Atlantic May 2009

A quote from this 2009 article was side barred. It interested me enough to bookmark for future reading.

Stephen Breyer: American Courts Can’t Ignore the World The Atlantic Monthly

There seems to be some very clear thinking in this article. Here are my annotations.

1. Sometimes I think of political leaders as boat passengers who climb onto the deck and, to avoid seasickness, pretend to steer the heaving vessel.
2. The examples I have discussed suggest three general conclusions.
2a. First, it is often helpful to look at globalization and localism not as warring values but simply as common phenomena
2b. The legal examples suggest that there are many different ways to deal with international challenges and circumstances. [SJ note: Interpendence]
2c. Third, and finally, my legal examples suggest the importance of looking to approaches and solutions that themselves embody a rule of law. To achieve and maintain a rule of law is more difficult than many people believe.
3. We do not have to convince judges or lawyers that maintaining the rule of law is necessary—they are already convinced. Instead we must convince ordinary citizens, those who are not lawyers or judges, that they sometimes must accept decisions that affect them adversely, and that may well be wrong. If they are willing to do so, the rule of law has a chance

For my generation, the need for law in its many forms was perhaps best described by Albert Camus in The Plague. He writes of a disease that strikes Oran, Algeria, which is his parable for the Nazis who occupied France and for the evil that inhabits some part of every man and woman. He writes of the behavior of those who lived there, some good, some bad. He writes of the doctors who help others without relying upon a moral theory—who simply act. At the end of the book, Camus writes that

the germ of the plague never dies nor does it ever disappear. It waits patiently in our bedrooms, our cellars, our suitcases, our handkerchiefs, our file cabinets. And one day, perhaps, to the misfortune or for the education of men, the plague germ will reemerge, reawaken the rats, and send them forth to die in a once-happy city.

The struggle against that germ continues. And the rule of law is one weapon that civilization has used to fight it. The rule of law is the keystone of the effort to build a civilized, humane, and just society. At a time when facing facts, understanding the local and global challenges that they offer, and working to meet those challenges cooperatively is particularly urgent, we must continue to construct such a society—a society of laws—together.

Woodrow Wilson on Inefficiency in American Democracy The Atlantic Monthly March 1901

The Breyer article had the following Wilson quote as a sidebar from the article linked above. Wilson is not my favorite leader. He did damage with his racism. But I like this quote anyway.

“we have looked upon nothing but our own ways of living, and have been formed in isolation. This has made us—not provincial, exactly: upon so big and various a continent there could not be the single pattern of thought and manners and purpose to be found cloistered in a secluded province. But if provincial be not the proper word, it suggests the actual fact. We have, like provincials, too habitually confined our view to the range of our own experiences. We have acquired a false self-confidence, a false self-sufficiency, because we have heeded no successes or failures but our own.”

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