A Stick in the Spokes

The Hobbesian world is one in which there are no laws, and everyone is free to run about doing God knows what to one another. We long ago escaped that unsettling situation, but we may, after a time, have landed right in another one. If having no laws is undesirable, mightn’t it be the case that having too many laws is also undesirable? All things are to be enjoyed in moderation, or so I have heard.

If there is such a thing as having too many laws, then I think we long ago crossed that threshold. If we haven’t, then the entire idea of a threshold becomes rather empty of meaning. It’s commonly pointed out that each of us breaks a couple of laws every day, without realizing it. One question, from Yahoo Answers (which is, I know, a veritable fount of truthfulness and sagacity), amusingly asks “what laws do non-criminals commonly break?” I suspect the answer involves squaring circles.

The point, of course, is that we are adrift in an endless sea of rules, policies, laws, regulations, dictates, mandates, and codes. We have too many laws, and too many lawyers. The law should act as the oil in the engine, keeping society running along with nary a tick. Instead, the immense and convoluted system we have in place acts, more often than not, as the stick between the spokes. Yes, I realize I just switched metaphors on the fly. You will get no apology from me.

I am currently reading Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World, which concerns itself with this whole notion that we might have too many laws. It’s a rather dense book and the going is slow. I will, however, have more to say about it at another time. Right now, my eyelids are drooping and I can hear my bed suggestively catcalling me. But consider the idea that we have too many laws. The sentiment runs contrary to our national instinct, which tells us that “there ought to be a law” whenever we come across a situation we find inappropriate  And that, at least, partly explains why we have so many laws, although it doesn’t quite answer whether such laws are unnecessary.

But I digress.










Burying My Head in Large Books

In my younger days as a freewheeling little child, I read often and widely, at least if you define widely somewhat narrowly. I appreciated children’s stories and young adult novels. Fantasy was especially to my fancy, and I devoured a slew of the classics, including Lord of the Rings and most of the posthumously published forays into Middle-Earth’s history, before I graduated 6th grade.

High school affected me differently than most, I think. Raging hormones and a sort of restless skepticism of authority can have a pestiferous effect on young minds, leading to all manner of debauchery and wickedness. For me, the debauchery and wickedness came later. My act of rebellion consisted mainly of me burying my head in large non-fiction books and learning about stuff. Why yes, my middle name is Guevara, and I probably should have led revolutions in exotic countries. Clearly. 

And so, I eschewed the whimsical, imaginative world of fiction and devoted myself assiduously to the quixotic task of figuring out this little thing called life. I am still, several years later, failing in that attempt.

It wasn’t until recently that I decided I ought to read less non-fiction and more fiction. I figured this would be best for my personality, which, having absorbed the dry prose of too many ponderous books, had become rather dry and uninteresting.

And that is where I stand today.

I’ve hit the ground running, so to speak, and am making good time in my effort to read more fiction. In fact, I recently finished Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser, which I found quite delightful. It is not the most exciting or exhilarating book in the world; indeed, there are a number of rough patches—those being tedious, dull, or desultory—I had to force myself through. However, Dreiser’s writing is rich; his command of the language, impressive. If you can lose yourself in his well-chosen words, his meticulously crafted sentences, you will find even the dull moments of the story worth getting through. Although my encomium is worth very little, I nevertheless recommend the book to you.

I now regret the long break I took from reading fiction. I cannot get those years back, but I can use my short summer break to play a bit of catch up. Of course, I haven’t abandoned my need for non-fiction. I also, around the same time, finished The Great Stagnation, which I referred to a post or so ago. It was short and thought-provoking and well worth one’s time, all of which is to be expected from Mr. Cowen.

Also, my personality, having once rivaled the lassitude commonly associated with the dead, is now full of life, energy, and verve. The wonders of literature, indeed.


Wooshed Right on Over

The end of a semester is always something of a harrowing experience. I refuse to believe that anyone enjoys the pressures of hastily finishing assignments and sleepless nights spent cramming for tests. But, then, perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned in the words hastily and cramming. If there is, it’s wooshed right on over my head.

Now that my days are as empty as the university classrooms, the question on my mind is whether I will find the motivation, the afflatus, to fill this blog with florid sentences composed of ostentatious words like afflatus…and ostentatious. Procrastination is lot like Whack-A-Mole, I’m convinced. There’s always something to procrastinate on, even if that something is exactly the thing you dreamed of doing while procrastinating, if you catch my drift. Now that I can no longer avoid homework, I find that I am tripping over myself to avoid other activities and goals, such as writing. What a terribly vexing cycle!

But I am off for now. My stomach demands food, and of all the things I feel compelled to procrastinate on, eating is not one of them.

Just About Everything In Between

As I type this, I am finding it difficult not to break down in tears of joy. Why? Because—and here the tears are nearly sloshing over the brims of my eyes—today is the last day of the semester. I have but one last paper to vanquish and I will be finished and ready to begin a longer overdue summer vacation.

What, you might ask (or you might not—your choice), are my summer plans? I intend to read, and to read obsessively. I fully intend to satisfy my rapacious desire for words by devouring, in no particular order, books on economics, books on society, books on the environment, books on words, books on fictional people and places, books on history, and books on just about everything in between.

I jumped the gun a bit and started my summer reading with Tyler Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation,” and mostly finished it in the span of about an hour. Cowen, a well known economist, packs a tremendous amount of information into a very short book, thereby fulfilling his mandate as a practitioner of the dismal science to maximize the value of his inputs.

And that, so far, is the extent of my summer schemes. I’m not sure my ambitious plan to read just about everything ever written will leave me much time for anything else. Still, when the days are hot, nothing appears more appealing to me than relaxing under the shade of a tree, book in hand. If my summer consists of nothing more, I will be satisfied.

Somewhat Hectic

Absence, so they say, makes the heart grow fonder. This is an empirical statement, and, thus, falsifiable. Clearly, I am in the process of testing this claim.

I shan’t keep you long; I am merely checking in. A lot has happened since I last posted, if you hadn’t noticed. New budgets have been released, terrorists acts have been committed, and digital currencies have been thoroughly investigated by the media. Two of those are overblown, and the other is a demoralizing tragedy. Blogging may stop, but the vicissitudes of the human experience never do.

Personally speaking, this time of the year is always somewhat hectic; the end of the semester is nigh, and the list of papers and projects I need to complete stretches sky high. It would dubious of me to promise much blogging before finals are over, but I do hope to write a bit more consistently once the semester has been successfully vanquished and put behind me.

Until next time.

Running in Place Slowly

I want to make a brief note of this, and return to it at a later time, possibly tonight.

As time has gone on, we in the economically developed world have become more accustomed to choice in our day to day lives; indeed, we demand choice, and find ourselves flummoxed and frustrated when our options are limited. Some economists have argued that we have too much choice in our lives, and that we’d all be better off without so many damned soda options, or whatever. As someone afflicted and struggling with chronic indecisiveness, I can sympathize with this theory.

One area, however, that has been slow to develop in terms of choice has been education. The battle over school choice, through vouchers, education credits, and so on, has been a slow one, and probably best characterized as running in place with a strong wind at one’s back—there’s forward motion, but it’s pretty underwhelming.

Well, thanks to a recent court ruling, that wind may be redoubling its efforts. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of Indiana’s school voucher program, and this is being hailed as a great victory for the school choice movement, which it undoubtedly is.

Like I mentioned, I’ll come back and look at this in greater detail. If you have any thoughts on the matter, don’t hesitate to jot them down.

Wagging Their Fingers

For all the hoopla over Barack Obama’s optimistic campaign slogan, most people find the idea of change troubling. The familiar is, well, comfortable, and few are willing to intrepidly cast off into the unknown. One of the best examples of this skittishness is the history of technology. From the moment we humans decided to leave the trees, we’ve been tinkering and scheming like a bunch of mad monkey scientists, discovering new avenues through which to improve our lives.

These avenues, however, have met resistance from many, to say the least. I’m quite sure an embarrassing number of our ancestors remained in those trees, wagging their fingers disapprovingly and pontificating on the disastrous results that were sure to follow from living on the ground. Thankfully, nobody listened to them, and one suspects that even the most strident naysayers took their chances once it became clear  that one could fall asleep on the ground and not worry about falling off in the dead of night.

Unfortunately, naysayers are a persistent bunch, and one can easily find them, so many tens of thousands of years later, still raising a conniption over all sorts of beneficial technologies. Take, as a salient example, the controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). I will, of course, grant that the idea of fiddling with our food’s genetics sounds somewhat worrisome, but it’s really much ado about nothing; the evidence—the actual, peer-reviewed evidence—solidly suggests that the fuss over GMOs is quite without warrant. We’re afraid of this new technology because it’s new, different, and outside of our comfort zone.

Science writer Matt Ridley perceptively points out that

Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers.

However, as he goes on to say, new technologies tend to get overwhelmingly bad press; the benefits are tossed overboard, while the downsides (true or not) are hoisted to the top of the mast. This, of course, only reaffirms the initial qualms people experience from the unknown. It’s a rather vicious cycle.

I bring all this up because I just came across an insightful post on the bad science behind the anti-GMO movement. It’s rather long and science-y, but well worth your time. The author’s frustration is palpable in the last few lines, which I will leave you with in a attempt to get you to read the whole article.

This is what is so annoying about anti-GMO paranoia. It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech.


Not a Quotidian Exercise

Unsurprising to me, and probably everybody else who has given thought to this matter, I have failed in my goal of blogging in a dedicated manner. Spring break is nearly over and I have nothing, as far as this blog goes, to show for it. What a dismal legacy I leave behind!

And yet, I do have this blog; I am rather fond of not just the title, but the theme as well. I might as well keep it going, for those rare moments of inspiration and clarity.

Welcome, then, to the next phase of this blog, in which, similar to the last phase, I intend to make blogging a quotidian exercise, only to succumb to laziness and distraction. I promise I will post again—but for health’s sake, don’t hold your breath.

An Introduction By Way of an Explanation

There are many reasons why people start blogs. I think we should be honest and admit that narcissism is probably very high on that list. Nobody is immune from that affliction, and anyone who says otherwise is probably looking to sell you something.

I am not, I can assure you, in the market to sell anything to anyone (least of all on a free blogging website), and I’m happy to confess to a certain amount of vanity on my part in starting this blog.

That said, I am also happy to report that this blog’s inception was motivated by more than my ego. Seeing as I am now, finally, on Spring Break, I am going to consider this my Spring Break project. I have a long, tired, and thoroughly depressing history of starting blogs, doing next to nothing with them, and then abandoning them with, well, reckless abandon. It turns out that blogs don’t write themselves, and tend toward disorder without an intervening hand from time to time. Entropy, you know?

My goal, then, will be to diligently and studiously maintain this blog for at least a week, until school kicks into high gear once again. Now, you may be a  bit underwhelmed by the rather modest nature of my commitment. This is a fair point. Just know that I am aiming for quality and quantity here, and that means posting multiple times a day, with decent material each time. The biggest problem with my other blogs was probably not the quality of my posts, but, rather, the frequency with which I posted—in other words, sporadic and sparse.

Will I achieve my goal of consistent output? I cannot say, but I am inclined toward pessimism. At the very least, I will have written one post by the end, and that will have been enough to satisfy my narcissism, if nothing else.