Regular Writing, Political Regulation, and An Irregular Preview

The only way I’m going to manage to post on a regular basis is by simply forcing myself to post on a regular basis, whether or not I have much of anything to say. I know this because I had a fantastic composition teacher as a freshman at Warren Wilson College who instructed me to write single page (or longer) non-fiction essays on topics of my choosing for every single class (and who, sadly, is nowhere to be found on the website (and, I am ashamed to admit, I can’t remember his name, so I can’t even mention his name in a display of appreciation)). It came to be very easy for me, but it was tough to begin with, and it has been tough ever since, to write on a regular basis. Somehow, I have the feeling that posting to my very own blog can provide the motivation I need to start writing on a regular basis again. We’ll see.

I should point out that, as an academic, I do write quite a bit on an irregular basis.

Anyway, here goes.

I was washing some dishes earlier and listening to ‘Marketplace’ on the local NPR affiliate and thought about responding to this bit by Marcellus Andrews on the immorality of capitalism and how it’s to blame for the Katrina tragedy. I suppose that’s as good a topic as any, so here are some selected quotes from the piece, which appear in italics, interspersed with my thoughts.

Katrina claimed so many because the people of Louisiana and the good ole US of A pretended that safety is a private good instead of a public good.

In this country, safety is just one more thing for sale if you have the bucks.

Craziness seduced us into thinking that way, despite the fact that no one of us is rich enough to buy a functioning levee system for a city of half a million people.

Is safety a ‘good’ at all? I suppose in relation to dangers like natural disasters, you could make the case that it is, but whatever problems arise from this are irrelevant to the failure of the levee system in New Orleans. In fact, the levees protecting New Orleans were designed to withstand a category three storm, and Katrina was category five. Someone(s), somewhere(s), made a (series of) decision(s) about precisely how to build the levees, and they simply were not built for a storm like the one that hit. It has nothing (directly) to do with philosophical considerations of economics and public vs. private safety.

Levees, schools, hospitals, police and highways are public goods that we buy together with our taxes because we use them together.

It’s not the case that everyone agrees that these are public goods that should be paid for collectively, and they certainly aren’t used equally by everyone, nor should they be.

We killed New Orleans when we turned our backs on the fundamental definition of economics as the accumulation of wealth in the service of freedom. A truly moral economy provides freedom from fear as well as freedom from nature’s wrath.

It’s delusional to think that ‘freedom from fear as well as freedom from nature’s wrath’ are attainable. Also, it’s not at all clear to me what Mr. Andrews believes ‘moral’ means, nor why something like an economy should, or how it even could, be ‘moral.’

Katrina also taught us that some things, like safety, community, and decency, can only be bought in bulk.

This goes against the premise laid out earlier in the commentary, it seems to me. Either safety can only be ‘bought in bulk,’ or it’s available selectively to those with the money to buy it individually. It can’t be both.

Clearly, Mr. Andrews is a proponent of plentiful social spending. He states as simple, unargued fact that schools, among other things, are a public good. I can’t help wondering, though, if more of New Orleans poor had had the opportunity to avoid the pointlessness of so much of public school by, say, getting more or less immediately marketable vocational training, would they have had the money to get out when the storm hit?


A preview of what’s (likely) to come:

– ruminations on how studying math (calculus, probability theory, differential and difference equations, linear algebra) has changed the way I look at the world, and how odd it has been to be more or less fully aware of those changes as they took (and continue to take) place

– weekly commentary on Spike TV’s awesome The Ultimate Fighter. Best. Reality show. Ever.

– continued attempts to keep this from being some kind of god-awful personal journal

– music commentary, discussions of music old and new, foreign and domestic, strange and disturbing

– political commentary and, probably, rantings as I continue to slide into the netherworld of classical liberalism (I like to laugh at myself as much as at anyone else, so why not?)

– ‘science’ posts, as indicated in my first post, wherein I present to the uninitiated that which I find so interesting about what I study. These will not be limited to hot-off-the-presses research, as I think some of the most interesting papers in my field (and likely in any field) are old ones. Foundational literature often has a sort of timelessness, and can provide new insights on repeated readings, so expect a discussions of a wide variety of old and new ideas regarding language, speech, percep … ah, read the earlier post (or the blog subtitle) and you’ll see what they’ll be about.

– thoughts on the history and philosophy of science

– commentary on books I read, as I read them, which will, in all likelihood, have much in common with the ‘to come’ items presented in the previous two bullet points

– corrections of things posted earlier. Like this:

When I wrote “spilling copious e-ink”, I should have written “spilling copious amounts of e-ink”. And it should have said “Okay, that’s probably plenty of links to pharyngula.”

That’s all for now.


One Comment

  1. Joshua
    Posted August 29, 2006 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I responded to this on my new blog. There should be a link in your “links” section, actually, since I use the same service you do. What can I say – I got jealous that I didn’t have one of my own! Will start work programming one for a private server this weekend, but for now this will do.

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