Saturday, January 29, 2011

Technology's impact on democracy

This looks like a great site for information on how technology influences democracy.  We can communicate and deliberate so much more easily with so many more people on the Internet.  This must be helpful in so many ways.

Micro loans; help or scam?

I  heard a segment on micro loans on NPR this morning. An 18 year old committed suicide, apparently because her parents, with whom she was living, had 8 micro loans out.  They had spent the money on essentials and other items rather than on the vegetable farm they told the loan company they were starting, and now had no way to repay the loans.

Micro loans are loans of small amounts, such as $100, to poor entrepreneurs.  For instance, a woman might take out a loan to buy a sewing machine so she could make clothing to sell.  Generally, there are social aspects to the loan as well,  where the applicant has to go to monthly meetings to get education and support from loan officers as well as fellow loan takers. The goal is to make poor people self-sustaining by helping them start their own business.

A recent study claims that 10 million people in Bangladesh have been helped by micro loans [] .  But there are also companies that are misusing the micro loan procedure to make money on the backs of the poor.  So, it seems to depend on whether the loaning agency is reputable or not how well this works.

Grameen Bank [] was one of the first promoters of these loans.   Muhammed Yunus won a Nobel prize for his work in micro loans. is another reputable organization.  There are even micro loan programs in the U.S., such as ACCION USA.

So it seems that the process is sound, so long as the loaning agent does due diligence to make sure the loan is being used for its actual purpose, and the person taking the loan stays in the program to stay on track.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

we are now capable of weaning ourselves off oil

"The researchers approached the conversion with the goal that by 2030, all new energy generation would come from wind, water and solar, and by 2050, all pre-existing energy production would be converted as well."

Germany has been making a huge investment in solar energy, and generates about 18,000MW from wind.  Denmark gets about 1/2 its energy from renewable sources.  But recent economic downturns have started to pinch investment in renewables, so we'll have to see, and insist on pushing renewables.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

not really a brain drain, but a bad sign

"Already, 70% of engineers with PhD’s who graduate from U.S. universities are foreign-born. Increasingly, these talented individuals are not staying in the U.S – instead, they’re returning home, where they find greater opportunities."

I have two degrees in the social sciences. I was never that good with math, though I did ok programming for a while.  But nowadays a social science degree gets you a job at Burger King.  The hard sciences seem to just not be popular in the U.S.  This does not bode well for our reputation as the innovators of the planet.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tunisia; technological collective action at work

"People risked their lives in the street, with some getting a bullet for their troubles, but the internet played a significant role in organizing these protests and in disseminating news and pictures of them to the world."

Group action is easier when the technology to easily interconnect and interact is there.  Collective action is much easier when so many people are able to share information and planning in an instant.

I started a blog about Internet Collective Action here,  I believe this is the wave of the future.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gates to cut defense spending

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced cuts in defense spending, including cutting some forces from Germany.  So far he's taking small nibbles, but at least this is finally a beginning. 

U.S. defense spending has risen every year since 2001.  It's time for it to go back down now so we can stop denying health care to our own citizens.

[defense spending chart 2000-2010]