I Have a Small Brain…

April 28, 2008 at 11:38 am (Economics, History, Writing)

…so I love it when really smart people come up with really simple explanations for apparently very complex problems. Case in point: NPR on the current credit crisis, specifically why people just don’t seem to save money. I strongly suggest you listen to the article, rather than just read the synopsis, since it is, in fact, only a synopsis, and (as that name might suggest) leaves out some of the most interesting and compelling details. Read the rest of this entry »

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Survival of the Poorest

April 20, 2008 at 6:04 pm (Comics, Economics, Education, Environment, History, Horror, Wine)

I was thinking today about what would happen to our society if we ran out of oil, and therefore could not afford to transport food between cities, states and nations the way that we currently do, and it occurred to me that the wealthiest people in the world, those inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere who have embraced the economic promise of cities and the specialization of labor, will be the group most affected, and hardest hit, by said (still hopefully hypothetical) collapse. After all, the bulk of the world’s population is much closer to the land than your average Angelino, and is either capable of, or knows people who are capable of, large-scale agriculture, animal husbandry, and other activities associated with pre-industrial human life. It’s only us city-slickers, who are used to our frozen pizzas and two-dollar lattes, who will find ourselves suddenly without food when the crash comes. Although that’s kind of terrifying, since I am one of those city-slickers, it’s also kind of heartening, since it means that, whatever happens to the population of North America, humanity will almost certainly survive and prosper somewhere else, whether it be Africa, Asia, Australia or elsewhere.
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Guilt-Free (or, at least, reduced)

April 5, 2008 at 8:49 pm (Economics, Environment, Family)

With the baby on the way, Heather and I are talking about getting a second car. I’ve resisted getting a second car for years, for a number of reasons, foremost being that I just don’t want to deal with the darn thing. I hate having to worry about maintenance, cleanliness, parking (especially in our neighborhood). On top of that, there’s the cost: Both the cost of the car and the high (and ever rising) cost of gas. As most of you know, I’m rather frugal (okay, I’m a cheap bastard), so dropping thousands on a car is not something I view with glee. Finally, there are the environmental benefits of not owning another car. I walk to the bus stop five days a week, and I like doing it. I like not contributing to global warming, and I like the exercise. It means I can’t stay late at school or party with my friends often, but I spin that as an additional savings, in both time and money. I’ve built a whole life around not owning a car, and I’m comfortable in it.
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The Academy and Digital Publishing

November 28, 2007 at 7:29 pm (Computers, Economics, Education)

I’ve talked before about the resistance in academia, or at least in the Humanities, to digital publications. After a fascinating talk yesterday by Simon Tanner, of King’s College, London, a number of us got into a conversation about the subject. One of Simon’s key points is that we don’t live in an information economy, per se. There is valuable information, but there is also worthless information, and there’s more of it than anyone could ever hope to assimilate. What is limited, and therefore valuable, in our modern world is attention. That’s why we have news services, television, magazines, RSS, etc., to weed through the glut of information and find the tidbits that we consider worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »

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Academic Publishing and the Digital Age

November 5, 2007 at 6:31 pm (Dissertation, Economics, Education, Languages)

I’m currently participating (mostly as an observer) in a workshop here at UCLA sponsored by the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, discussing the “future of cuneiform scholarship,” specifically digital scholarship. One of the key questions to which conversation keeps returning is that of models for electronic research projects, of which there are two types, as one of the participants astutely pointed out: Models for acquiring funding or another form of support to ensure the endurance of the project, and models for ensuring participation and support within the academic community. The former I will perhaps deal with at another time, but the debate about the latter has been so vigorous and fascinating that I feel compelled to note down some of my comments here (for Bryan’s benefit, more than anyone else, since I think he’s my only reader who will find this at all interesting!). Read the rest of this entry »

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Religion, Science and the Development of Society

March 10, 2007 at 3:23 pm (Books, Dissertation, Economics, Education, History, Languages)

I’m finding Goody’s book exciting not just for the ideas contained within, but also because he is giving me a whole new vocabulary with which it explore ideas of my own, ideas that I’ve been playing with in my head for months and years but have never had the words to properly express before now. For example, as part of my research over the last few weeks, I’ve been repeatedly encountering the question of the distinction (if any) between the magic, religion and science in human societies. It is clear to any observer that there are dramatic differences in this aspect (as in others) between different societies, both contemporaneous and not (e.g., the difference between religion and technology in Sumerian Mesopotamia in 2500 BC and American Los Angeles in AD 2007). The real questions are, how do we describe those differences, and why do they exist? Read the rest of this entry »

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