All Encompassing

In the Constitution’s Commerce clause, the Congress is granted the power

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

In the same document’s Fifth Amendment, the Federal government may not confiscate property:

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The 14th Amendment extends this prohibition to the States.

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

Both the Commerce clause and the takings clause are perverted by the field of economics. The Constitution grants specific, limited powers, or forbids infringement of the citizen’s rights and privileges. Government’s scope is limited. Economics takes as its subject the full compass of human activity. By interpreting “commerce” as any economic activity, or “public use” as any economic benefit, the intent of the Constitution is reversed: the power of the government becomes unbounded.

It is not solely the Court’s responsibility to interpret, or misinterpret, the Constitution. It is also ours. If we permit our representatives in Congress assembled, or in our State and local assemblies, to engorge the government on our rights, we have only ourselves to blame.


The Wikipedia discussion of these topics is excellent.

Use Case for Inconsistent Identification Schemes

This raised quite a few interesting consumer technology questions. Ordinarily, for example, one needs a credit card (and good credit) to secure a cell phone. “The Amish pay in cash,” explained the merchant, who, along with most Amish-friendly shopkeepers, didn’t want his name used. “We normally ask for a driver’s license for the purpose of identification when we activate cellular service – of course, the Amish don’t have driver’s licenses. They weren’t able to get phones for several months, since we weren’t allowed to open accounts without driver’s licenses. So we had to make a policy change to accommodate them. We ended up asking for another form of identification. But the Amish don’t believe in photography, so we couldn’t get a photo ID. Eventually we told them to get Pennsylvania state IDs without photographs.”

I guess there will be exceptions to the REAL ID Act.

The Plain Folk and Telephony

Look Who’s Talking,” by Howard Rheingold (Wired, vol. 7, no. 01, January 1999), is a very interesting piece on the response of the Amish to technological changes. He writes,

[A] dispute over the role of the phone was the principal issue behind the 1920s division of the Amish church, wherein one-fifth of the membership broke away to form their own church.

They are selective in their choice of tools. Like Luddites, they often characterized as being against the new because it is new. Instead, the Amish ask what effect a particular tool will have on the community.

“When the telephone first came out here, people put them in their homes,” explained Moses. “But they were party lines. One time a woman overheard two other women gossiping about her. She objected. That wasn’t what we wanted for our families or our community, so the bishops met and home telephones were banned.”

I had heard the same story from several other Amish – in fact, this story seemed to be a key part of community mythology. A writer named Diane Zimmerman Umble, who grew up in Lancaster County and had family roots in the Plain orders, traced the story to its origin, a 1986 memoir written by an Old Order Amishman born in 1897. As a graduate student, Zimmerman Umble started investigating Amish community telephones for a course on contemporary social theory, and ended up writing a book on the subject, Holding the Line: The Telephone in Old Order Mennonite and Amish Life.

The Amish consideration of the social effects of tool use reveals that we’re often inconsiderate in our use of tools.

How often do we interrupt a conversation with someone who is physically present in order to answer the telephone? Is the family meal enhanced by a beeper? Who exactly is benefiting from call waiting? Is automated voicemail a dark hint about the way our institutions value human time and life? Can pagers and cell phones that vibrate instead of ring solve the problem? Does the enjoyment of virtual communities by growing numbers of people enhance or erode citizen participation in the civic life of geographic communities?

Places I’ve Lived

Where I’ve lived has informed what I like in a place.

  • Providence Forge, Virginia
  • Loveland, Ohio
  • Monterey, Virginia
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Annapolis, Maryland
  • Hampden-Sydney, Virginia
  • The Bronx, New York
  • Shrub Oak, New York
  • Ossining, New York
  • Yorktown Heights, New York
  • Mahopac, New York

How I’ve moved around has as well. When I was younger, I was driven in a car; I have fond memories of the wayback of a station wagon. But what sticks in my mind is walking or riding my bike.