Monday, September 21, 2020

What makes Facebook such a successful networking and publicity tool is not privacy. It's the openness.

In a way, I think Facebook has painted itself into a corner. Part of the magic that has made Facebook so successful as a networking tool is the broad connections and the conversations that can start between so many different kinds of people.

Now that so many folks are worried about lack of privacy, there is a contradiction. Getting the word out is kind of the opposite of privacy.

Instead of falsely trying to offer privacy also (trying to be all things to all people), maybe they should have just said Facebook is not about privacy. It's about interconnectedness, sharing and publicity.

This might have mean a few less users and a few less billions in the corporate coffers, but it would be more focused on how this type of networking works best. Maybe it's not for everyone.

Alternatives to Facebook, that try and get off the ground while placing more emphasis on privacy, can't get the ball rolling. It's hard to create the network effect when people are behind privacy walls. Without a bunch of people interacting, other forums can be pretty quite and lonely.

There are various alternatives, though. I hear a lot about Reddit, but haven't used it that much. For photo sharing, I use Flickr a lot. I write long photo descriptions as an outlet for my writing. Flickr gets the pageview hits, but not a lot of feedback.

People, on Facebook, ought to come into it with and understanding of what it is; a networking forum that can make connections far and wide.

A lot of connections are not always what we might expect, but that can create new experiences. I am a fan of diversity in ideas, but I am also a fan of civility. We, as users, need to do our part too.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Trump rally alluring. The 1970's song YMCA was played. Fun to watch, but like drinking sugary Kool Aid.

I watched part of the Trump Rally in North Carolina. After the speech, they played the song YMCA by the Village People. Folks were dancing with hands in the air.

Bazar.

There is a lot of energy in that song. I've danced to it also, in different circumstances.

As for the speech, I am not bothered by watching. It's kind of alluring. I know it's toxic, but it's like drinking Kool Aid.

Drinking the Kool Aid.

One can learn how so many people think, or its better to say, "how so many people feel." Emotions drive a lot of things.

The speech had promises; like "we are going to hire more police."

I thought who pays for that? Are we going to bail out local governments that pay for the police?

He says, "We are going to protect people with preexisting conditions, take care of the veterans, on and on."

If it were just Trump alone, I think he'd bail out a lot of things. Just call his buddies at Federal Reserve to print up the money. Anything to get votes, but deficit hawks in Congress (the Republican establishment?) have other ideas.

Much of what I heard (I tuned in late) was repeated stories about the deals he's made. There's that new embassy building in Jerusalem that was going to cost over 1 billion dollars till he got on the phone. It's now $500,000; supposedly. There's the new version of Airforce One. He got that down also; supposedly.

The crowd cheers.

A few small stories, but meanwhile things like more police and coverage for preexisting conditions, can cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions when implemented across this big country. A bigger story than just an embassy or an airplane. Looking at the big picture, things don't add up behind the sales pitch.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A slow growth economy throws a monkey wrench into the meritocracy

Another interesting interview I heard.

There is a high bar of education, credentials and merit that prevents a lot of workers from having a sense of dignity and in many cases even a livable wage. A meritocracy which could be thought of as an elitism.

One of the factors that could have caused some labor vote to break with Democrats and vote for Trump in 2016.

A point that wasn't mentioned tho, is this thought I have had for a long time.

A slow growth economy makes it harder for people rise in their career paths. I think slow growth is partially the result of environmental limits on growth. Also the problem of increasing income inequality.

When I was a child, I remember thinking that the economy was growing pretty fast and people seemed like their career paths were advancing. Then, sometime in the early 1970's, it seemed like that growth stagnated and never fully recovered. Here in Washington State, that was the time when the famous Boeing layoff hit Seattle.

Before the 1970's, as I was growing up in a college town, the college was growing. Hiring more faculty, constructing more buildings. Seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to rise in a career path.

Then everything slowed down. Budget cuts and so forth. Rising into the professional class became more difficult. More competitive. Even remaining in the middle class became harder.

Part of this relates to slow economic growth, but I think slow growth isn't necessarily all bad given the environmental effects of the types of growth we had in the past.

Without much career advance, one can still have a life of dignity; like what I think I have had, but this has been hard for a lot of people. Especially hard for people trying to raise families.

As income inequality has risen, the cost of basics, such as housing, has risen along with it. Also the cost of professional services, such as medical care as well as the cost of sending kids to college.

There's a gap between the 1% and the rest of society, but there is also a gap between the top (say) 20% professionals and the rest of working society. The higher cost of professional services is pushing up things like the cost of higher education. This ontop of the reduction in state support as a percentage of the cost of college.

As for the perception of elitism, the institution of faculty tenure comes to mind. It was invented to protect professors from the whims of politicians firing someone for unpopular views. This makes sense, but it was started at a time when universities were growing and hiring new faculty. When things stagnated, the number of tenure positions stagnated creating more of a barrier to entry. It became more of a zero sum game. That's when people notice some dead wood among those with tenure while talented people get turned away from teaching due to lack of available positions.

I don't mean to focus just on colleges, but that has been my background growing up in a college town. It's been an issue across the entire economy. An upper middle class harder to enter and upper middle class income becoming more necessary for a stable life. As a culture, we haven't adapted that well to a slow growth economy. Slow growth partially a necessity for protecting the environment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Recent Goal Keeper's report says world prosperity now in reverse. I wonder if world has reached peak prosperity?

Something called the Goal Keepers Report, from the Gates Foundation, has recently come out with a report saying world poverty is increasing again. Poverty had been in decline for quite a few years. Prosperity and health was on the increase, but most recently, these trends may have reversed. Report cites the corona virus pandemic as the main cause.

My thinking goes beyond to wondering if the world has reached something that could be called "peak prosperity?" Beyond just the virus, global warming brings other threats to the global economy.

Unless there are major changes in our ways of living and doing business, the growth of prosperity could have stalled.

There have been big problems all along, but increasing global prosperity has brought a form of complacency. Dire predictions of global die offs and the ongoing extinction of species has been countered by an overall increase in world prosperity. How long can these contradictions last?

World population growth continues to be a big problem, tho it has been slowing down as much of the world's standard of living has improved. There may be a limit to how much prosperity we can create for how many people. A limit given the way most of the world has been functioning up until now. Continuing dependency on fossil fuels as a case in point.

This report focused on effects of the pandemic, but I'm thinking beyond and questioning whether prosperity, itself, may have stalled.

Some people are critical of Bill Gates for having much wealth, himself. Still, I would guess the foundation does have a lot of knowledge about worldwide trends. Many of the things the foundation is trying to do are beneficial, such as research on vaccines.

Sometimes I do think about the Microsoft fortune in relation to the concept of missed opportunity, however. Much of it's work has focused on improving global health and education. The world is a big place and it seems like just drops in the bucket tho I'm sure it has been beneficial to many lives. Not always visible from our North American vantage point.

Meanwhile, in Seattle Metropolitan area, where Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are headquartered, the area is becoming, in some ways, more dysfunctional. I think lost opportunity.

Investments could have been made for Seattle area to solve it's traffic gridlock problems, lack of affordable housing, carbon footprint, transit and so forth.

One can't necessarily blame Microsoft for all of this as the whole culture, in USA, isn't that conducive to sustainable living. Former Microsoft Billionare Paul Allen comes more to mind with his local investments in sports teams for Seattle and the Experience Music Project.

It would have been neat if Seattle could have been a world leader for making it's city more livable, investing in affordable housing, transit, bike paths and so forth. It has done some, but the problems of population growth and traditional visions of prosperity outpaces the greener visions. At least one thinks dysfunctional looking at the traffic and the cost of living. Remember the CHOP Zone and social unrest. Does that city no longer work?

One way forward, for the world, is to look at things in Europe, I guess. Cities like (from what I've heard) Copenhagen in Denmark as examples of city planning and greener living. Cities that are prosperous. The world ought to aspire to be like those places.

Seattle area isn't that great an example.

Friday, September 11, 2020

To save the planet, we need voluntary simplicity in the short run at least

On this 19 year anniversary of the 911 attacks, large parts of America are burning.

I read that over 10% of the residents in the state of Oregon have had to evacuate wildfires. That's over 500,000 people. Fires are bad in California, Oregon and Washington. Climate change is creating a new normal in our drought stricken western forests.

Here in Bellingham, the thick haze of unhealthy smoky air has arrived today. Up until now, we've mostly just experienced the red sunsets from distant fires; deceptively beautiful, but now the heavier smoke, that's closer to the ground, has arrived.

This area has, so far, escaped the fires as we did have some late season rains this year. If fires were to get bad in this region, I live in an urban setting, rather than on the urban rural fringe. Urban settings tend to be safer in wildfire situations.

Seems like the bigger problem with climate change might not be believing that it is happening (except for a minority of people and some very prominent politicians). The big problem is figuring out what to do about it. Voting out those mostly Republican politicians is one thing we can do.

Seems like the traffic is getting worse and worse in Bellingham. Lifestyles still too dependent on automobiles; especially automobiles that run on fossil fuels.

I think a lot of people feel like they can't change because of economics. Bills have to be paid, rents and mortgages have to be paid, families have to be cared for.

The economic system has to keep churning out good and services so these bills can be paid. The virus has slowed this to some extent, but that has left lots of folks without the ability to pay for things like rent.

I think, at least in the short run, voluntary simplicity and a less materialistic society would help, but a lot of folks have to buy into the flow to earn their keep.

In the long run technology can save us. Solar energy, for instance. Even technology does need some short term sacrifices; like carbon taxes, to give it more of a nudge.

These sacrifices can hit low income people harder; especially folks dependent on long commutes for work.

A lot of things from economics to zoning to lifestyles to population growth need to be rethought all at once.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Photos from my 2020 bike tour now online

Lighthouse at Admiralty Inlet in Fort Casey State Park. See more of my 2020 trip photos here.

For various reasons, my 2020 tour was fairly short. More may come before year's end. Touring during the corona virus crisis. Could have done more, but that's what I've done in 2020. From Bellingham to Mount Walker on Olympic Peninsula and then back. 250 biking miles. Two rides on the ferry going to and back and two segments by bus. I took the bus to avoid a bad part of Highway 20. Click on photos for descriptions.

Photos from this and my other most recent trips since 2018.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Some say that most COVID-19 deaths were among folks with already existing illnesses. That's most Americans. The popular vision of the rugged individualist, self reliant American clashes with the reality of the unhealthy American. A society of compassion is needed.

A few people, especially on the right, are downplaying the severity of COVID-19 since a large percent of the people who have died already had other preexisting conditions; such as obesity and diabetes. People might say that some of the measures to slow the spread of this disease are unnecessary since the problem is more about poor health than the disease itself.

It's true, lots of Americans are in poor health. Possibly the majority of Americans. Obesity is rampant. For that reason alone, we need to take measures to protect people if we are a compassionate society.

The popular vision of the rugged individualist, self reliant American clashes with the reality of the unhealthy American.

Having said that, I also realize that this is a serious disease, in itself and lots of healthy people can die and be made really sick just from the disease by itself.

On the other hand the state of poor health of Americans is a big factor. It contradicts with the image that people on the right like to push related to the rugged individualist and self reliance. That vision of America and the reality of the American population are in conflict.

My own political agenda calls for more bicycling and healthier lifestyles. That isn't the reality where most people are at, but it can help. American culture tends to push people away from healthy lifestyles.

Stress is a problem. Sedentary work, long commutes by car, lots of screen time. Lots of money made selling sugary foods. You get the idea.

Much of American life is a matter of contradictions.

Monday, August 24, 2020

My thought experiment. If the earth's surface is both in Australia and North America at the same time, is that a form of super position?

Here is an interesting article about quantum theory and the "Schrodinger's Cat both alive and dead at the same time" paradox. It was a bit over my head.

I know that a physicist named Richard Feynman said, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Tho I am not a physicist, I can engage in thought experiments also.

If an electron can both be in one place like a particle and all around the atom like a cloud, isn't that like the surface of the earth being both in Australia and North America simultaneously?

The way each of us observes the earth determines whether the surface is in Australia or North America. Where we are at that moment makes a big difference. We observe it differently depending on where we are.

Our observations create the reality, to some extent depending on where our limited line of vision; so to speak intersects with the bigger reality. Like a line being tangent to a circle. That's about as much as I remember from geometry class.

I'm not ruling out that conscious awareness might have some kind of seemingly magical effect on this, but that's yet another matter. Another tangent in thought. Scientists have been debating that one for decades.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Mutual funds seem more friendly to low income investors than home ownership which requires the high threshold of income to qualify for a mortgage.

I read that 55% of Americans own stock. A lot of people own stock and bonds as part of their retirement plans. On the other hand, most of the total value in the stock market is owned by the wealthiest people.

Home value is most likely the main way that common folks save money, but, like the stock market, home ownership is driving wealth disparity. As home values keep rising, the gap between owners and renters widens.

The gap between long term home owners, who bought at lower prices and more recent home buyers, who are buried under a high mortgage, widens as well.

Ironically, the stock market seems friendlier than home ownership for low income people. One can invest small amounts of money into a mutual fund for stocks. Being a homeowner requires the high threshold of having enough income to qualify for a mortgage.

As asset values, such as homes and stocks, continue to rise, the wealth gap widens.

Low interest rates seem to be adding to this problem. Private enterprise doesn't seem to use the money, from low interest rates, very wisely.

As some folks just sit back and watch their financial assets rise in value (your money working for you), government spending is needed to help people who don't have assets.

I've heard it suggested that government should be able to borrow at zero interest rates. In this way, there would be no interest on government debt. As for paying off the debt, government could just "keep kicking the can down the road," which is what it's doing anyway.

Government spending could create meaningful jobs in infrastructure development. Government seems to work better than the private market in doing the things we need; especially in dealing with the pandemic. Also it seems like government is needed to develop green infrastructure for addressing the global warming challenge.

Private enterprise can still be used to carry out the actual work. Use the private sector to carry out government contracts. In these tasks, private enterprise often does better than government bureaucracy.

Private enterprise can do the work, but government seems to work better as a consumer than just relying on the private marketplace alone.

Elon Musk's Space X is an example of government / private sector partnership. A private company sending rockets into space, but much of the revenue still comes from NASA; a government agency.

Glad I am in subsidized housing.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

As business needs to run at low capacity due to pandemic, we need safety net rather than stimulus.

During the pandemic, there is more need for safety net than stimulus. While businesses are being asked to close, or limit capacity, stimulus isn't what's needed. Safety net is what's needed to keep people in their homes and to maintain people's health insurance.

We also need to keep various public servants on the job, such as police officers. Those who wish to defund the police do have a good point about prioritizing other social services, however.

For a lot of renters, who are facing mounting debt, there needs to be things like a rent debt jubilee. This can be funded by the government using printed money from the Federal Reserve. Otherwise a rent jubilee bankrupts a lot of landlords including mom and pops. We are now entering an era where governments and central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, are serving more as backstops to the economy. They are paying for mounting costs, such as the Medicare needs of our aging population.

Here is a link to an interesting article from The Economist. It's about the increasing role of printed money and the need to manage it wisely. Printed money can also create a great moral hazard, distortion, inflation and corruption if managed poorly.

I think Republicans tend to manage the money, as well as government, more poorly.

For the most part, we don't need stimulus in the middle of a pandemic, but we do need safety net.

As for stimulus, there are some things that we do need tho. Things like research on better treatments, testing and vaccines.

I also think that scientific research, in general, is good. Even something like astronomy can keep great minds engaged and create jobs. It tends to be a safe, social distancing, activity versus something like, for instance, a football game or a casino. Observatories with telescopes aren't usually that crowded.

In the long run, we will need funding to tackle our other big challenge; global warming. We need to keep building green infrastructure.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

In early days of easy access to internet publicity, we underestimated how gullible people could be to false information.

In the early days of the internet, I thought the net would be a wonderful thing. Giving ordinary people a voice beyond just what big time media thought was newsworthy.

Little did I know how gullible people could be. Miss-truths spreading like wildfire. I thought that enough folks would take what they read with a grain of salt.

I thought most people would realize that opinion is opinion. Interesting, but still opinion. I thought people would take the time to study things and not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

I thought folks would rely less on sound bytes because on the internet, there is plenty of time and space to explain things more thoroughly. This, versus mass media where where time and newspaper page space is scarce and expensive.

I thought in the mass media of old, the sound byte rules and if it bleeds it leads because the clock was ticking with time and space being so expensive.

I thought individuals, in the internet audience, could be more in control. Things could be more interactive.

I still think the promise of the internet is true, but seems like folks are in such a hurry that they fall for things without taking the time for deeper understanding. People seem gullible.

I wonder why that is? Maybe it's a function of information overload which continues to bombard us more and more. Its been bombarding us since the invention of the printing press, I guess.

So many people's lives are just crammed too full and moving too fast.

Could be that we have needed the gatekeepers of professional media. The journalists to do investigative reporting and fact checking. A lot of ordinary people will often just follow their hunches and biases. They don't have the training that puts the breaks on things spinning into La La Land.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Pressure to reduce police budgets from both the left and the right. From the left for ideology. From the right from tax cuts and loss of local revenue.

On the right, the law of unintended consequences related to tight budgets. From the left, the idealism of transfering resources from police services to a utopia of softer social services.

Seattle City Council is proceeding with a 4 million dollar cut in police budget due to pressure from BLM protesters. Less noticed is an even larger 20 million dollars in cuts that are probably inevitable due to reduced local tax revenue. The second, bigger figure is strongly influenced by reduced local revenue due to the virus situation.

The police are being chopped at from both directions; no pun intended, since there was the "Chop Zone" in Seattle a few weeks back. This is pretty much a worrisome situation for public safety.

Some people on the left want to transfer money from police to other softer and more preventative things such as affordable housing and mental health resources.

Like the phrase an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; cure being calling the police.

As there are problems in society, the police are the one's who get called when things like domestic violence happen. The last resort, versus, for instance, a therapist.

Problem is that just about all services of local government, from police to mental health services, are facing the potential for larger cuts due to the loss in tax revenues.

Tho conservatives tend to oppose this, there still needs to be a financial bailout, or backstop, for local government from the federal government. Yes, it does seem like we just need to keep printing the money.

In an ideal society, there would be more affordable housing and a better social safety net. As funds to provide these things professionally are dwindling, it looks like more services will need to be provided by volunteers. Many of the softer services, such as mental health and housing, could be provided by informal and more volunteer means. Tiny home villages, for instance.

As for volunteer police services, there is the worry about citizen vigilantism.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Like hitting one's head on a brick wall, USA keeps trying and failing to solve race inequality. Maybe addressing income inequality can bring racial equality along for the ride.

There's lots of discussion in the media about racism these days. We've been trying to overcome these problems for decades.

I keep thinking that there are other problems in human culture that are even deeper and racism comes along for the ride. Racism is not necessarily always in the driver's seat.

For instance income inequality is a big problem and it does dis-proportionally effect racial minorities. Racial inequality is one of the effects of income inequality, but it's not the only effect.

I don't suggest that everyone should all be alike and make the same wage, but income inequality has gone to such an extreme that we have billionaires and hoards of totally homeless people. Income inequality has gone too far.

I still think racism is not be the main driver of these problems, but it is one of the results. Also, I'd say that racism was present in the design of much of our society today. Racism in our historic roots, but less present; or at least less explicit, today.

For example, from what I read, the institution of single family zoning has racism at it's core. Early government policies explicitly stated goals of preserving certain neighborhoods for white people.

The civil rights movement has removed all this obvious racism from laws, but income inequality continues to bring a result that is still disproportionately effecting racial minorities.

Like with income equality, I'm not necessarily saying that all single family neighborhoods should be abolished. It has kind of worked in protecting quiet neighborhoods. It becomes problematic as population grows in certain areas with a shortage of housing.

I recently listened to a show that was tackling both the issue of racism and the pandemic head on. The show was putting USA and of course Donald Trump to shame. I think Trump's failings are like the tip of the iceberg to a lot of human failings. That show is what got me to thinking.

Being not a typical liberal (tho still considered liberal) I often think about deeper human failings than the show brought up. At one point, they opened the phone lines and one caller brought up some interesting ideas about combating racism. He said legalizing marijuana would cut down on disproportionate incarceration. That's a thought and I'm not really a marijuana person. We have taken that step in a few states; including here in Washington.

He also suggested that job applications should not ask if someone has had a criminal record.

Alarm bells went off in my head related to safety given the fact that some people do commit crimes and not being able to find out about that before one hands the keys to the building over to a new employee could be problematic.

Then I got to thinking about how crazy the job world is, in a way. How hard it is to, for instance, get on the faculty of a university, such as Western Washington University. Why does one need so many credentials?

I can see reasons why, but there sure are a lot of barriers in our whole system of jobs and employment. Somehow, maybe we do need to figure out how to create more rungs to the ladder. More jobs where people could put their foot into the water and gradually build up the skills, as well as the trust that they need to advance.

How about universities creating part time custodial positions where the person could try out teaching one class? How about a custodial / student advisory position?

This isn't just a problem at universities. All of society could become more trusting. Create more rungs on the ladder. Then I got to thinking about social media. Rungs on the ladder is the promise that I thought the internet would bring. Facebook with it's citizen philosophers.

Not everyone can work for NPR or The New York Times, but everyone (pretty much) can publish on Facebook.

That somewhat Utopian dream has had it's problems, however. Consequences never intended in the early days of the internet.

Still I think we are, maybe, gradually making progress as a society. We do have our problems and sometimes the solutions bring new problems.

Given the imperfections in all the things we try, I keep thinking that patience has to be a virtue.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

As the rest of the economy tries to catch up with healthcare and home prices

Generous unemployment benefits have given many Americans a taste of higher incomes. Going back to our low paid real jobs is less lucrative.

Maybe the minimum wage should go up to $15 per hour, or even more. Problem is, that doesn't come without consequences. Goods and services, that low wage workers provide, would go up in price. That's okay with me. Let gym memberships go up in price. I work at a YMCA. This could present problems, however.

Food prices would go up so food service workers can make more money. Executives and high paid professionals would have to see their wages go down; or at least their buying power go down. Their taxes would probably have to go up as things like government subsidized healthcare are part of this discussion.

As a society, we have become accustomed to low cost goods and services. It's kind of like being spoiled. Americans have become accustomed to low cost goods and services compared to rising home values stocks and professional salaries at least. Low cost compared to certain services, like medical specialists.

Food is probably too cheap. Gym memberships should maybe be more like $100 per month.

I got to thinking that for many services, like gym memberships, we are not competing with low wage workers in other countries. That argument is used against high wages for manufactured items that can just be imported for cheaper.

Most Americans don't work in manufacturing, anymore. We sell services to the American market. Services, like gym memberships, that are not easy to import.

Problem is, there still is competition. Competition from automation. When labor costs too much, business automates.

For gym memberships, there is competition from the great outdoors; especially during this wonderful weather we are now experiencing in Western Washington.

I do like the idea of a guaranteed minimum income. Just print more money and give it to people; especially lower income people. Eventually the dollar goes down in value so the assets of the rich are taxed anyway. The hidden tax of inflation. Home values, stocks and whatever can come down relative to things like food, for instance.

Some will say that higher wages creates more prosperity due to bolstering the consumer driven market. This may be true; especially when minimum wage laws apply across the board so folks can't just go down the street to another business that's undercutting someone's wage / price formula.

At the same time, these complex situations also vary from region to region. $15 may still not be enough to live in Seattle; land of million dollar fixeruppers, but this could have a totally different effect in a place like Pomeroy, Washington. Who's ever heard of Pomeroy? I have, I grew up in Pullman, not far from there.

Some of my thoughts related to reading this article from Salon. Why the idea of jobless benefits scares the conservative mind The pandemic has allowed us to conduct an experiment on how government assistance is good for the economy.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

US not doing well in pandemic, but better than Iran. Can we trust China? Canada and most of Europe do much better.

I heard on BBC that the pandemic is a lot worse in Iran than the Iranian authorities have let on.

Makes me think about the different outcomes in various countries related to the pandemic. USA isn't doing very well either, but some other countries seem to be doing much better.

I would guess that countries, like Iran and maybe China only looked like they were doing better as we can't trust the figures. Others, like Canada, really do put USA to shame.

It would be interesting to explore why USA has fallen down compared to Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and many countries in Europe. Everyone has their own opinions, of course and I have mine.

In a nutshell, I think much of USA's problem relates to our worship of money and our overworked society. Americans have worked themselves into poor health.

Low taxes have lead to a tattered safety net. High rents and cost of essentials has lead to the pressure for going back to work when much of the work people do, like working in bars, is hazardous. Health insurance is based on employment for many people.

Then you have our lack of trust in one another, here in USA. There's rebellion against solutions such as masks. This makes doing things like contact tracing difficult. People fear that it's "Big Brother" watching. Some people will be wary of a vaccine when and if it becomes available.

I think our tendency toward lack of trust and an adversarial culture, in general is a problem. It's a problem from both the left and the right.

Also life should not be such a rat race. One shouldn't have to be a "financial high achiever" to survive. Quality of life, in other ways besides money, should be the bottom line.

Of course there will be shining examples of success, in society. People like Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

There will be high school kids that become millionaires just by cleverness, or being so lucky as to stumble upon a "killer app" before the age of 18. Kids that are already CEOs at age 22. We all know the stories and we ask, why didn't I think of that?

This does push society forward. Yes, I am happy that Space X, owned by Elon Musk, has just accomplished the first "private enterprise" trip to the International Space Station. We can be proud, as Americans. Great things can be accomplished. Science and engineering can move forward. Tesla electric cars; for instance.

Technological progress can lead to a greener future. Other countries have scientific progress as well. Look at Europe. The rest of the world may be leaving us behind, or at least we are not the "undisputed leaders." American Exceptionalism isn't the truth anymore; if it ever was. We are still in the game, however.

My main point is that everyone shouldn't have to be like Elon Musk for a few people to lead the way. There will always be the over achievers. Without that, society would be less interesting.

The rest of us don't have to be all stressed out; like we are all working for Elon Musk.

I hear rumors that Musk is hard to work with. I'm happy that Space X is making interesting news, but I don't think I could work there. I'm proud to be able to watch on the internet.

Maybe the rest of us need to learn to slow down a bit. To take better care of our health. Then, ironically, the whole country would be better off. Less people crashing and burning.

We have a lot of cultural problems and expectations, in America, that have made us more vulnerable to this virus. The rush to keep up with the Jones's. This makes us less likely to address global warming as well.

Many other countries are doing a lot better than us, but not all other countries are doing better.

Sweden has a higher per capita death rate than USA in spite of having a robust social safety net. It's experiment in staying open doesn't look like a good idea in hindsight.

China may be doing better due to being an authoritarian society. Contact tracing to the hilt. Maybe they go too far, but we may need a little more trust of government, in our society, to control this virus.

China takes it too far. Also one can't really trust the numbers from China. Are the authorities, in China, allowing the truth to be known?

Brazil, of course, is doing badly. Their leader has been referred to as "The Trump Of The Tropics." I don't need to go further. I do trust Canada, for the most part. We don't look very good compared to Canada in controlling this pandemic.

On Facebook, one of my readers summed it up well. He wrote:

There does seem to be a significant correlation between bad handling of the pandemic and paternalistic leadership.

Friday, July 31, 2020

In 2016, I predicted Canada might close it's border, but not this circumstance

Before Trump was elected, I remember jokingly saying, "if Trump gets elected, it will be Canada that builds a wall." Quite a few of my friends were saying that they would move to Canada. I thought that Canada immigration would restrict such a sudden influx of population.

Fast forward to now. The Canadian border is closed to non essential travel. It's been closed for months. Kind of like my joking prediction, but not exactly, of course. I didn't predict a pandemic.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Defunding the police may not pay well with important suburban women voters as well as others

I'm hearing it said quite a few times that the phrase "defund the police" isn't a good strategy. Reform the police is better. Reforming the whole economy, not just the police in my opinion.

I also hear that suburban women are an important swing voter group. Crime is still a big worry. Given that, Trump now has an ad out about life after defunding police. When you call 911, you get voicemail. If it's a rape, press 1, a murder press two and so forth. Also a long response time.

There's an old phrase that goes, "how is your message going to play in Peoria." I guess that means Peoria, Illinois. Suburban women are an important part of the electorate.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Pounding the round peg into a square hole means the hole changes also

This graphic, that is said to be from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has got me thinking about how I, personally, fit into what is considered mainstream society.

Admittedly, I'm white, but I got to thinking about how I fit, or don't totally fit, what's thought of as mainstream.

See below graphic, more of my thoughts.



Here's a few things excerpted from this graphic as related to my personal experiences.

Nuclear Family.

I'm gay. I'm also not personally into the committed "two person style" relationship idea. It's sometimes thought of as a middle class model with white picket fence and all.

Emphasis on scientific method. Linear thinking, cause and effect, quantitative emphasis.

I basically believe science, but I was never that good at math. I'm more into speculative, creative thinking, but I avoid claiming that my hunches are, necessarily, scientific fact. I defer to the scientists.

I tend to believe the scientists tho I may not have the credentials to make my living that way.

I'm open, at least, to ideas, such as from religion, that aren't necessary always sticking to scientific evidence. There is a lot we don't know and I like to entertain speculation at least.

Protestant work ethic. Work before play.

I'm not really into that. I prefer part time work. I think I'm more noted for what I do on vacation (bike touring) than what I do at work.

My life isn't about striving for more money, but I am fortunate in many ways. I have no family to support (back to my ideas about relationships), my health is good, I don't own a car (or better yet a car doesn't own me), my rent has been affordable and the community I am in values more than just money.

At times, it can seem like a lonely course, but, in Bellingham, there are a lot of people who seem to value their non paid interests more than their jobs.

Time. Follow rigid time schedules.

I am seldom in situations where I have to show up right on time. I have a lot of free time and follow serendipity quite often; like when seeing someone unexpectedly in the park and then taking the time for an hour long, unplanned for conversation.

I often don't have goals.

Justice.

I tend to think the system favors property owners.

Competition.

I tend to avoid competition.

Communication. Avoid conflict, don't discuss personal life, be polite.

I tend to avoid conflict and I am polite, but I do often talk about my personal life.

I'm posting this as I contemplate how society, itself, has to stretch and change to accommodate variety. This includes some of our deep assumptions about what's normal and even what's logical.

I don't necessarily think society is evil. I buy a lot of it, but there are a lot of things I don't buy, so to speak. Society needs to be able to accept a wide range of skills. For instance not everyone is a technocrat. Can people still afford a place to live? I often find that marginalized folks, even the homeless have interesting stories to tell and things to offer.

I found this graphic in this article. Article was interesting also, but I tried to follow the link to what I thought was where the graphic came from. Couldn't find the graphic on quickly scanning a few pages.

I think article relates to how many people, of minority background, do measure up in our society and it is kind of a put down of the successful minority folks to gloss over this, as if all minority folks are destine to being the victims.

I see that point, but I also see some room for criticism of society as a whole. Assumptions about what the good life and the proper goals for life are.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Could I become a mini version of Neil Degrasse Tyson?

There is an interesting tool on the Worksource Washington website that works like an automated career counselor. One fills out questions about interests, likes and dislikes. The system finds occupations that might be a good fit.

Toward the top of the list that I got, based on my aptitudes, was "Astronomer." Yes, I love astronomy. The choices were either research or teaching. I thought, maybe tutoring?

I could be a miniature version of Neil Degrasse Tyson; that famous media personality. I do like to talk about astronomy. I have a sense of humor and I seem to get along well with people. Folks say my science is accurate.

Would our economy support mini Neil Degrasse Tysons? The big one has an audience in the millions. Given people's ability to absorb information, every performer can't have an audience in the millions. Otherwise people would have to listen to thousands of performers per day. Not enough hours in the day; even if Einstein did tell us that time is stretchable.

How about an audience of 1 to maybe 100? I've been doing that all along anyway. Not just discussing astronomy, but other topics that interest me. Maybe Facebook should pay us.

Oh well, I have less to worry about as I'm eligible for retirement. Still, there are always possibilities to explore.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Excess retail space in Bellingham being converted for use as a homeless shelter



An empty market becoming Bellingham's temporary shelter for our many homeless people. Distancing during the corona virus pandemic. There's more need for this than a glut of retail space as people shop online. Shelter moving down the street from it's former location in Bellingham High School.

Adapting to the virus could help society learn to better address climate change.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Would a carbon tax be like the virus, mostly the good side effects of the virus without the bad deaths and illness?

Economic downturn, due to the virus, has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but it's still not enough reduction for us to reach climate stabilization goals.

I got to thinking that a carbon tax could have similar effects as the virus. The virus has had lots of bad effects, but some good side effects, including reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A carbon tax might have some of the good effects, but be more controlled. The virus has hit us, like being blindsided.

Good effects from a carbon tax that could be similar to the good side effects of the virus are things like this. More telecommuting. If fossil fuel were to be more expensive, there would less commuting and more people able to work from home. The virus has had a similar effect.

Another effect is, in my opinion, the benefits of a slower economy, or at least less rat race. Less time and energy devoted to just working and consuming.

Most people, however, don't seem to aspire to a slower economy. Unlike the virus, a carbon tax could transfer wealth into green energy development. Green energy development could lead to more prosperity in the future. Even continuation of our fast culture, if that's what people prefer.

Hydrogen fuel, solar energy, electric cars, green air travel; even space travel. Technology could still step forward.

A carbon tax would, most likely, create some short term drag on our economy. It's a tax. It would create some disruption. It wouldn't necessarily be as bad as this virus which has hit us; like it our not. A carbon tax could be suited more to our intent.

One of the big drawbacks of a carbon tax is the effect on lower income people; especially low income folks who have to commute a long ways to work and / or are dependent on energy intensive industries. Tourism, for instance.

Carbon taxes can be fairly regressive. That is part of the reason why they are difficult, politically.

There would be some bad side effects to a carbon tax. Nothing is perfect, but during the virus, we have done quite a bit to try and mitigate the effects of the downturn on lower income people. We have done things to protect the more vulnerable; generous unemployment benefits, payroll protection plans, various stimulus checks. We've been printing free money; so to speak.

Locally, here in Bellingham, we've even turned over one of our nice school buildings; Bellingham High School, to the homeless. This, due to the need to provide more spacing between people than the crowded mission house can provide. Said to reduce spread of the virus in our community. Shelter soon moving down the street to unused retail space.

The measures we would have to do to mitigate the downside effects of a carbon tax would, most likely, not have to be as drastic as for the virus.

The virus has been a bad thing and has killed lots of people, but it may offer us some lessons that are useful in reducing carbon emissions. The economic downturn has reduced pollution, but even this hasn't been enough to meet the need.

If and when we find cures and a vaccine for the virus, it isn't likely to go back to "business as usual." We still face the challenge of climate change. Solutions, like carbon taxes, might be similar to the virus in some ways, but hopefully they can be more tame and controllable.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Why is the focus on protecting human life only about the period before birth?

Today I got to thinking (I'm always thinking, some people say "overthinking"). I got to thinking about the human life / abortion issue. I tend to side with "liberals" on that. I'm not for outlawing it.

I put all of the "value of human life issues" into the same basket; so to speak. Whatever jeopardizes life is similar in my way of thinking.

Lack of laws against abortion can be viewed as jeopardizing life. A border wall that forces children back to places of danger, jeopardizes life. Lack of health insurance jeopardizes life. Poverty can jeopardize life. Overpopulation and environmental degradation can as well. It all seems similar to me.

It just seems like focusing only on protecting life during pregnancy is strange. If one values life, shouldn't it be important after birth as well?

It's true that we can't take all precautions toward protecting life. Life has to go on. People drive cars, thus jeopardizing life. We have other priorities besides just protecting human life against all risk.

It's all in a grey area as far as I am concerned. I guess we just have to do the best we can. It's not always cut and dried.

Then there is the question of when human life begins. During pregnancy, that's a grey area as well. There's early term and late term pregnancy. In nature, it seems like things are basically grey areas.

I guess I'll say this. Wearing a mask is something simple one can do toward reducing a risk to human life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Domestic spending, a better use for printed money than propping up asset values.

This article is skeptical about rise in stock market noting a correlation between market rising and the Fed printing money over the past decade. It's got me to thinking. Stock value based, I guess, on just money, but not so much in the real economy of goods and services that most people experience. I would add that home values are similar to stocks. Often disconnected from the real economy. Printed money props up assets.

Printed money can also can be used to run the government. I would guess that running the government is a better use of the money than just propping up stocks and home values. As time goes on, the government runs more and more on borrowed money. The Federal Reserve makes that process easier by propping up the money supply.

Part of why the government needs to borrow more and more is the Republican led tax cuts along with continued increases in spending; such as for the military and for Medicare.

We do need government spending to keep civil society intact. For instance, Senator Mitch McConnell may have been the first person to recently call for de funding the police. That wasn't how he phrased it, but suggesting that local governments should be allowed to go bankrupt is a big way to undercut funding for public safety.

McConnell was critical of unsustainable and over generous pensions. He may have had a point there, but police pensions are among the most generous; so I gather. I don't necessarily begrudge the police of their pensions as they do have difficult jobs. Many of the things people value, in society, are based on money. Home equity, pension funds and so forth. We often treat money like it's a god tho money is only a tool.

As time goes on, it becomes apparent that domestic spending, by government, plays an important part in propping up the values that people hold. If we expect to maintain those values and our civil society, the government plays an important role.

Stocks and property values by themselves, are basically meaningless without the economy to support them. They are meaningless without the workers who provide the labor for the economy. They are meaningless without the natural resources and the environment that sustains us.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

My modest dad was actually a great scientist. Happy Father's Day.



Here are some memories related to where my father worked. His lab at Troy Hall, Washington State University, Pullman.

That was until the last couple of years before his retirement when he moved to Clark Hall in the 1970's.

He was a science professor at Washington State University, in Pullman. Dairy science which dealt with the chemistry of milk. In a tradition of science, I remember him being quite modest. Not the type of person that would boast about things. Much of the time, his work seemed routine. Collecting the data, but not venturing into speculation. Big discoveries are more rare than day to day routine.

He did have a lot of patience and much of my own interest in science comes from my dad patiently answering the many questions I had growing up. Questions about biology, vitamins and so forth.

As a child following the moon landings, the work that my dad did seemed mundane to me. It was a job, like other jobs, I guess. Later on, in my life, I've learned more about his accomplishments in developing a process for making powdered milk and some other breakthroughs in dairy chemistry. He also taught students over the years.

In 1962, he won a big award called The Borden Award. It was given out at the American Dairy Science Association. It was at their convention which was held, that year, in College Park, MD.

College Park being close to Washington, DC., that was the year we did a family trip back to Washington, DC. It was a trip on the train. I was in early grade school so my memories are a bit foggy, but I think I might have been in the White House. The downstairs part of the White House which was open to tours.

For some reason, during that visit to the White House, I was more interested in a new kind of cereal box that was displayed in the breakfast line back at the cafeteria where we were staying.

I guess, back then, I didn't think the White House was that big of a deal. Imagine that today, with it's present occupant being Donald Trump. Being a small child, one might think that anyway. Kennedy was president back then.

When I got my first job, after college my dad was pleased tho I was a custodian. He was a bit worried that I might not be able to support myself with jobs being pretty hard to find. When I started working he was happy that I was able to find work. Status wasn't that important. Integrity is a value that we grew up with.

Photos:

Top photo: The lab taken during 1960's by my brother Bill Ashworth. I think that big glass container is filled with something called G Orange Dye. Something used in the process of measuring protein content of milk. A process called dye binding analysis.

Lower left: My photo taken during a bicycle trip to Pullman, early 2000's.

Back door to Troy Hall. The door my dad usually entered.

To the left was an ice cream shop named Ferdinand's Bar. Ice cream from the WSU creamery and the famous Cougar Gold Cheese.

During my high school years it was relocated to a newer building near where my dad's office moved during my high school years.

Troy Hall has been totally remodeled so only the brick outer wall was preserved. A glass atrium has been built to put this facade inside the atrium. Someday I hope to get back to Pullman to take a look.

Ferdinand's is still in business at it's present location.

Bottom right: Front side of Troy Hall taken in 1997.

See more photos of my childhood and a few other memories.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

As tax revenue drops, the government runs on borrowed printed money for the most part, I guess. It seems to work so far.

I think it's to the point where they are borrowing a lot from the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve can just print money, basically. It's sometimes called Quantitative Easing. We technically owe that money back, but seems like it's never paid back. The federal debt just keeps growing and it almost never gets paid down.

When Clinton was president, there was a brief few years of budget surpluses that were used to pay down some of the debt. They made a slight dent in the pile of debt. Since then, the pile just keeps growing.

The consequences of printed money is inflation. More dollars chasing the same number of goods and services. Inflation hasn't been a problem except in a few areas, such as home values rising faster than the rest of the economy. That is a problem. Home price inflation is one of the sectors of the economy where inflation from printed money appears leading to a housing affordability crisis over recent years.

More generous government spending on things like subsidized rents would be one way to help working people keep up with these asset bubbles.

In some ways, this could be a vicious cycle tho. Asset bubbles rising and then more government spending to keep up with the rents and mortgages related to the inflated value of the assets. Throwing good money after bad; so to speak.

We also borrow from various lenders, such as China, but I recently read that China has been gradually selling back it's US treasuries to various other investors in the world financial pool. China's share of US debt is gradually declining, so I read.

I the long run we need to realize that money is a tool rather than a god. Inflation can be a problem, but these days it's mostly just numbers on computers. A matter of moving the decimal point over and going on; like a $50,000 house going to $500,000. Since that has happened, maybe a $2.50 loaf of bread can go to $25? An $8 minimum wage can go to $80 per hour?