February 25th, 2009


Some Flaws in the Economy

I found these two articles today, dealing with different troublesome aspects of the economy.

The following one describes some of the serious problems with conventional economic principles and how they've undermined people's ability to make a living; and some of the serious problems on the progressive side. I don't agree with everything in here -- for example, whether or not you believe in the standard economic system, making a living outside it is almost impossible -- but there's a lot of very savvy stuff in this article.

Beyond Scarcity: Reinventing Wealth in a Progressive World
We are bound to make the world in our own image. So, we had better be sure we have the right values in mind as we think about ourselves in this historic transition. The current economic crisis is causing a massive redistribution of wealth across society. With a newfound capacity to shape our nation's destiny, progressives can take this opportunity to redefine ourselves - especially our ideas about wealth and prosperity - as we seek to build a flourishing society.

The next article reveals some of the illegal practices in the debt-collection industry. People are most likely to behave decently when dealing with people they know, and less likely to behave decently when dealing with strangers. Therefore, debts between people who have met face-to-face (such as a homeowner and a local banker, or a patient and a doctor) are saner things than debts that have been resold to strangers. The debt-collection business is thus closely related to the foolish idea of bundling and reselling mortgages: the farther it goes from the original source, the more trouble it causes. And when breaking the law is the norm for an industry, it needs to be thoroughly overhauled or closed. Furthermore many families are down to a point where they can't even meet their most basic needs of food, shelter, and health care; and I don't care who owes what to whom or why, I cannot consider it moral to take money that is needed for survival purposes, because causing people to go hungry, cold, or unhealthy is wicked.

The Economy: Don't Pick Up the Phone
The tanking economy isn't exactly your fault, but America's biggest debt-collection company - headquartered in Horsham, Pennsylvania - will still hunt you down.

Why You Should Learn a Foreign Language

I read this essay about learning a foreign language, and it just didn't seem very clear or convincing to me. So, here are some good reasons for learning a foreign language:

1) A popular language (like Spanish or Japanese) can boost your job opportunities.

2) A popular language lets you talk with more people.

3) A somewhat less widespread but strategically important language (like Turkish or Arabic) can help if you're in politics or the military.

4) Learning the language of your ancestors is good for genealogy and personal satisfaction.

5) Learning a rare language (like Lakota) can help preserve it from dying out.

6) Learning a regional language (like Welsh or Manx) is a great way to express and maintain identity.

7) Learning any language with phonemes not used in English, if you can pronounce them, gives you a way to shush babbling-age babies. Unless extremely distressed, they tend to be fascinated by new phonemes and will fall silent to listen.

8) Learning any language at all, including constructed ones like Klingon, is good for your brain and your intellect; and every language you learn makes subsequent ones easier.

And to answer the essay's title question, beyond goal-related stuff covered above:

1) If you are not good at languages and want to make it easier on yourself, pick a language with some kind of close connection to English: German (because English is a Germanic language) and Spanish or French (connected through Latin, and both fairly regular) are good choices.

2) If you are good at languages and want to maximize the usefulness, pick something without a close connection: Russian (gives you access to central & eastern Europe) or Japanese (a popular Asian language with ideographic writing) are good choices.

3) If you want to maximize your opportunities to use the language, pick one of the globals: French, German, Japanese, or Spanish. These are languages active in multiple countries and popular among diplomats, travelers, scientists, and businessmen. Arabic, Chinese, and Russian are also well worth considering.

4) If you want to do the most good, pick the rarest language you can access -- but it's up to you whether you want one with a strong core trying to save it, or one without. Welsh, Hawaiian, and Cherokee are small compared to major languages but they have a thriving culture and a goodly batch of literature to enjoy. Tiny languages are dying out rapidly and need all the help they can get; many are spoken by indigenous people whose cultures are being stamped out. Helping save an endangered language is like helping save an endangered species.

In case you're curious, I've had a little formal study in Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. I've paid enough attention to Welsh, Cherokee, Lakota, Arabic, Turkish, LAadan, and Sindarin that I can recognize some words. It's even gotten to where I'm processing heiroglyphs as "language" rather than "art" and trying to pick out the handful of symbols I recognize. (You'd be amazed how often they are done wrong.) Plus, of course, a smattering of pretty much every language I ever brushed up against. And the ones I've invented myself (or more precisely, collected from other worlds).

Watch for the Wall-Wart

If that's not the silliest name for a computer, I don't know what is. But the device itself sounds extremely useful as a backup memory archive. *wist*

Marvell Plans $100 Computer Inside a Wall Plug
The incredible shrinking computer is about to reach a lower limit in size, with a new computer that's contained entirely within a wall-wart. Any smaller than this, and the computer would disappear inside the electrical outlet. Plug computers would draw just about 5W of power, come with a 1.2-GHz CPU, a USB port and internet connectivity. They won't have a display, but the devices can be used as a home server or a network attached storage for vacation photos and music downloads.

Featured Community:

Most folks on LiveJournal belong to a bunch of communities. Some of the good ones are kind of obscure. The "Featured Community" meme encourages people to share their favorite communities.

  1. Cite a community that you enjoy. 
  2. Summarize its purpose and parameters. 
  3. Invite your audience to join the community and/or reply with their favorite communities.

Today's featured community is: naturesbeauty
This community celebrates nature in all its glory. The majority of posts display photos of scenery or wildlife. However, artwork, poetry, and other creative works about nature are also welcome. This is a great community for people who seek inspiration from nature or just enjoy seeing how beautiful it is. And although the quality of submissions tends to be excellent, the audience is pretty receptive and positive, so this is also a good place to share your nature-inspired creativity.