The New Frugality

A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Cheapest Generation,” argues that millenials no longer want cars or houses. Working and middle-class people are beginning to realize what many rich people have known for a while: it is better to pay for access than ownership, especially when it comes to things that are not necessarily assets, but may be liabilities, such as cars.

There seems to be a minimalist movement afoot. Weʻve got the tiny house movement,* which shows people that more space means more electricity, more water, and that we donʻt necessarily need most of the stuff we own.

Tiny house in Denver, CO.

Weʻve got millenials living in cities (and consequently abandoning small towns), using public transport (think Portlandia), and sharing housing and just about everything else (Uber “taxis” are just one example). I see three reasons for this; first, they canʻt afford anything else (the average millennial 18-34 years old in Hawaiʻi made $34,000 last year, barely enough for rent), second, public transport and urban revitalization have reversed white flight to the suburbs, and third, the American dream is looking more and more unbelievable, that is to say, they donʻt believe in it. The resulting “sharing economy” is one of the only viable alternatives to straightforward capitalism to emerge since the failure of the communist experiment 25 years ago.

Tiny houses are often 150 to 200 square feet, on wheels because they donʻt meet building codes, and use composting toilets.

This bodes well for the environment, as people greatly reduce their ecological footprints. If you think this is insignificant compared with population growth, think again: the average American uses 20 times the resources of the average Indian, but has about a third as much population. This means the US has six times the ecological impact of India, despite its smaller population. Footprint matters. And the sharing economy is not backward-looking like the back-to-the-land movement, in fact (and this should be obvious) it relies on technology, mobile apps and the like. There is no longer a need for bulky file cabinets, CD, book, or even art collections (mine is on pinterest).

There is much more that can be done on the transportation front. The transportation minister of Copenhagen was on public radio a few days ago, and discussed a proposed new transportation system for the city based on access to multiple modes of transport. It may be an app in which you enter your destination and it gives you five possible routes using various modes (including bikeshares), and gives you the price. Some days you may want to ride public transit; other days you may need a van. One statistic stood out for me: a car represents $20,000-$30,000 of investment (more when you include interest), and sits idle in a parking space 97% of the time. He called that investment “Lazy money.” Through carsharing, the overhead costs of the car are spread among many users, and less parking is needed because the cars are much more often moving (and there would be fewer of them).

This method of using the pocketbook to argue against ownership of cars (which cost, on average, over $5000 per year to operate), is quite effective in my view: show people clearly how they are wasting their hard-earned money, and how it might be better spent elsewhere (perhaps on that college degree that more than two-thirds of Americans still donʻt have – but thatʻs another story entirely). This makes them ask themselves (it made me ask myself) “is what I need really to own a car, or to get places?”

If I bike to work, I wonʻt have to spend three hours in the gym every week, and Iʻll save $10 a day, or over $200 per month. On really bad traffic days in West Oʻahu it can take two hours to drive 10 miles (5 miles per hour) – I can go 15 – 20 miles per hour on a bike, some can go faster than that). I ran to work for six years in three different cities (Boston, San Francisco and Honolulu), so there are no mental barriers there for me, just logistics (do I ride with my laptop? what about dropping off kids? – to name only  two obstacles), but these arenʻt insurmountable.

It is this kind of win-win situation that, if supported by infrastructure, makes for viable revolution in the way we live and impact the planet. Thrift was an American value more than a century ago, but it was subverted by the consumer economy. In Hawaiʻi, urban revitalization seems underway for better or worse. Perhaps a silver lining in the hyper-capitalism we find ourselves in is that this reliance on overconsumption will undercut itself, and allow people to reinvest their assets into things that matter: education, health and the next generation.

* Tiny houses have been proposed as a solution for houselessness in Hawaiʻi, and  are beginning to be used in other cities: see Civil Beat, “The Little Solution to the Big Housing Crisis.”


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International Law: A Primer

Iʻve written about the Law of Occupation recently, but what of international law in general? Specifically, how “real” is it? And why should states obey international law? These questions were the subject of an issue of International Legal Theory journal in 2005. Enrique de Revago Bustamante a Peruvian legal scholar introduced the concept and origin of international law:

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which put an end to the Thirty Years’ War, marked the birth of modern international law, giving rise to the so-called collective treaties and organizing multilateralism (as opposed to the bilateralism that had previously dominated treaty law until that time).

As to the question “why obey?” he quotes Rivero (1947):

The nation is not alone. A few others coexist with it all over the world … Force, however, is not a principle of constructive of human coexistence … under the shadow of peace, the awesome concept of the international community begins to take shape, broadening the horizon of harmony to the outer reaches of the earth. Treaties ban conquests and frontiers are discussed on conference tables rather than on battlefields.

Utopian as this may sound, much of what Rivero presaged in 1947 has come to pass. I noticed when I was involved in international human and indigenous rights movements that those who moved in those circles had a certain vocabulary which was shared across national boundaries and used in international forums. The term international community was often used, and this was quite surprising to me, have come up think of the international realm as one of conflict. In fact, one of the problems we may be facing is that Rivero’s idea is too true – international consensus may have overcome national autonomy to too great a degree in the form of international trade agreements. These actually produce so much consensus across national boundaries they undermine democratic processes within countries. Be careful what  you wish for.

Harold Koh of Yale summarizes state obedience to international law thus:

Most compliance comes from obedience. Most obedience comes from norm internalization. Most norm internalization comes from process.

Norms are a major feature of international law and regimes. In my study of the “Indigenous rights regime” (James Anaya’s book formed the backbone of my paper), the idea of norms was central – to make a certain behavior normal is more effective than coercion. The norms of human rights have largely taken hold in the international community despite resistance and claims that they are laden with Western values and a disguised form of (neo)colonization.

Another emerging idea is that of “compulsory” international law. The idea itself seems quixotic, but in fact it already exists. While leftists decried the rise of the World Trade Organization, a silver lining was overlooked – its enforcement power. If trade regimes can have “bite” (in the form of fines), so then can humanitarian or state-centric regimes. In other words, the mechanisms already exist (or are beginning to) to enforce punishments for violations of international law. We are at the point, nearly, of having to ask if we in fact have too much  international law. Iʻm not suggesting we do, but simply raising a question that hasnʻt been raised in this light.

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[Avoiding] The Perils of Nationalism

Some who have an understanding of world and European history are wary of Hawaiian sovereignty because it does not seem to acknowledge the perils of nationalism. And make no mistake – it is perilous. But it may not have to be. As with religion, many invoke nationalism as the cause of wars, arbitrary detention and genocide, and rightly so. Even nonviolent national liberation movements like that in India have used right-wing economic policies that did not match their liberated political narratives.

Ours must be a mindful nationalism, and perhaps the word nationalism should be jettisoned altogether. Despite the numerous violations of Hawaiian nationality, a fundamentalist response that justifies violence (even symbolic violence) must be avoided. This avoidance will not, as some may claim, weaken the movement – it will strengthen it through the support of those who have seen the pitfalls of nationalistic fervor. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good (but not perfect) model for a nonviolent approach.

The Commission allowed catharsis, through reenactment of Apartheid atrocities, but not revenge. It is not a perfect model, because it did not address the underlying economic disparities upon which Apartheid was based – black South Africans remain among the poor, and economic segregation replaced racial segregation.

East Timor is another example of a successful deoccupation. With a lot of help from the UN over a decade, the new country Timor Leste was able to achieve peace and stability (and even some prosperity) emerging from a violent Indonesian invasion and quarter-century occupation. Life is not perfect – they have a major spousal abuse problem and itʻs questionable whether a free press exists there, but relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste are fairly good, and Timorese are more angry at collaborators than at Indonesia itself.

It is this line of thinking that attracted me to Kaleo Patterson and Haʻaheo Guanson’s reconciliation approach. Ultimately, after all deoccupation and decolonization (if thatʻs the right term) are done, we all have to live together.

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Reflective Practice #1

This series of posts are part of my professional development at Kamehameha. Itʻs important to reflect on oneʻs teaching practice in order to improve no matter how much one knows and how long one has been at it.

My students this year have so far been, well, (whatʻs the best way to put this?) subdued. It is as if they are watching a screen when I teach, and as much as I try to engage them, they tend to remain passive. This is not necessarily a criticism, just a description, but it is a challenge. This challenge has a silver lining, however: it makes me “up my game” in terms of presentation. If they’re going to be fairly passive, Iʻm less inhibited in being extremely animated, which is usually a weakness for me – I normally tend to let the ideas speak for themselves.

Time is another major issue. As a semester course, Hawaiian history teachers are always in a race to finish the content. We have a common final, so falling behind without catching up is not an option. This rushed environment lessens the chances of engaging in meaningful discussions on deep historical topics. Often, it’s difficult to get students to a point where they know enough to engage in such a discussion. I’m experimenting with “flipping” the classroom to free up time – more on that as the experiment progresses. Because retention is a serious issue (or the inability to retain, to be precise), much of class time is used for repetition. By the time a student takes the final exam, for example, it should be the seventh time theyʻre seeing the material: 1) the reading, 2) the quiz, 3) the notes, 4) review for the test, 5) the test, 6) review for the final, 7) the final.

Over the past year, our Hawaiian history team has has many serious discussions about exactly what it is we expect them to leave our classes knowing. We are at the point of not assuming that they will even remember taking the course at all (I have met graduates who don’t remember taking Hawaiian history – not my former students I might add). So the details of exactly how we present nuanced topics pale in comparison with the need to impart some basic understandings.

I have particular things I want students to leave with and retain: if you can only remember one date in Hawaiian history, for example, it’s Jan 17th, 1893, the date of the overthrow. If you can remember two, remember 1778, the year of Cook’s arrival. If you it’s three, remember 1843, the year of Hawaiʻi’s recognition in the Family of Nations. More is better, but I constantly reiterate these basic understandings. I’m not even sure if this is best practice, but students do seem to retain these dates throughout the duration of the course.

Closing questions:

What are best practices when it comes to retention and balancing rote learning, skills and higher level thinking?

And how do these best practices change with student’s changing abilities (generational changes like “21st century learners” and “digital natives”)?

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Why Hawaiian Sovereignty Transcends Left and Right

Recently, on the program Democracy Now, host Amy Goodman and celebrity Leftist intellectual Cornel West made fun of Hawaiian claims to continued independence:

AMY GOODMAN: It might make many Hawaiian separatists happy to believe that Hawaii isn’t a part of the United States.

CORNEL WEST: That’s true. That’s true.

West has gained attention of late as a critic of Barack Obama, saying that the African-American left expecting in him John Coltrane, but got Kenny G. If the sovereignty movement canʻt depend on the left, on whose support can we depend? This predicament is the result of the unusual relationship between Hawaiians, their historical circumstance, the left, the right, and the relation of each to law and power. Thanks mainly to Noam Chomsky, the left has a strange relationship with international law in particular. After decades of sarcastic remarks about how world powers, especially the US, should follow international treaties and convenants, but do not, the left is left with a jaded attitude towards the very concept of international law, which, in many ways, is anathema to American exceptionalism. In a kind of provincialism, the right simply refuses to acknowledge any authority in international law, as if the world consisted solely of Hollywood, Wall Street, a few Main Streets, the Rust belt and the Bible belt. Their authority lies in power, its projection, and the rightness of their religion and values.

The Hawaiian cause treads a delicate course between these views, taking the rights-based approach of the left and the realism (i.e., the idea that states are the primary actors on the world stage) of the right. The independence wing of sovereignty rejects the jaded view of the left on international law and the provincialism of the right – on the latter point, much of the movement is about rethinking Hawaiians’ place in the world by changing vocabulary (deoccupy vs. decolonize, seized lands vs. ceded lands, etc.). Add the well-meaning support of Native Americans, helping us to “untangle” the complex web of Hawaiian sovereignty, and the situation becomes even more convoluted (an exception is Mohawk radio host John Kane, who gets it).

This predicament simply means that Hawaiians do not fall easily into ready-made categories, not even “native” ones, and that the need to educate a broader public is implicated. This is no easy task, but one that requires media-savvy and a well-scripted message. Iʻll be working on this message over then next few months.


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Get a PhD—but leave academia as soon as you graduate


Just a thought..

Originally posted on Quartz:

Enrolling in a PhD program is, from an economic perspective, a terrible decision. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just don’t let it ruin your life.

Here’s how that could happen: After nearly 10 years in graduate school and substantial debt, you still end up a part-time or adjunct professor (and still in debt). According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these jobs make up 76% of the academic labor force, pay less than $3,000 a class, and lack benefits and job security.

Here’s how to avoid that predicament: Contrary to what they tell you in graduate school, the world outside the ivory tower isn’t so bad. And so the minute you get the PhD, you must leave academia.

I’d have earned more money if I did an MBA, but going to graduate school was the best thing I ever did. I went in ambivalent about…

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Many philosophers had scattered interests and wrote on diverse topics, but Foucault, despite his massive erudition, really had only one interest: power. His work forms one of the most systematic explorations of a topic that any philosopher has produced. He looked at the power of norms, in other words, what is considered normal and abnormal – as a gay man, he had a particular interest in the latter. By examining forms of abnormality – criminality, insanity, sexual deviance, ill health – and how they changed over time, he theorized they ways in which power functions as a form of control over populations and individuals.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the prestigious College de France, where he was not required to teach, but only to do research and give a series of public lectures each year.

Michel Foucault was born in 1926 in Poitiers, France, the son of a doctor. His father wanted him to become a doctor as well, and their somewhat strained relationship seems to have left traces in his work and life. He sat for the entrance exam to the prestigious Ecole Normal Superior, and at first failed to gain acceptance (he was 101st – only 100 were admitted!). He studied for one more year and placed fourth on the exam (placing first was the feminist philosopher Simone de Bouvior). At the Ecole Normal Superior, he was influenced by Freidrich Nietzsche, who remained influential throughout Foucault’s career. Foucault said that Nietzsche had gotten right the centrality of power in human affairs.

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