Saturday, November 27, 2004

Memories of Buy Nothing Day & Critical Mass Ride

Several Years Ago in Bellingham. A bit too Confrontational, but Good at Heart.

Most Critical Mass rides are a bit too confrontational for me. The costumed cyclists will often take up all the lanes, on a multi lane street like Holly in Bellingham.

More people would see costumes if cyclists only took up one of the lanes. Then motorists could pass a long string of colorful cyclists.

Taking up all the lanes means that motorists just see the backs of other cars. Maybe this is not as effective?

It's just a thought.

Anyway, I don't mean to be too critical of the Critical Mass movement.

Some would say it is the duty of bikes to slow all the cars. It slows society down a bit, even though tempers may rise.

Several years ago, on Buy Nothing Day, a group of colorful cyclists headed out from downtown Bellingham. I went along for the ride, even though confrontation is not really my goal.

Telling people about the peaceful times I have on my bike tours is more my style. It makes them jealous; especially after they notice how much gas costs these days.

Anyway, I found myself "going with the flow" right through a red light. Afterwards it donned on me that going through a red light is not really my goal, it was just the flow.

Soon the line of cyclists came to a stop. Police were arresting one of the ring leaders who placed his bike across the intersection, signaling traffic to stop, while others went on through. His bike was impounded.

A controversy ensued as the activist was knocked off his bike by the bumper of a police SUV.

After this, the police cars were less evident and they were replaced with bicycle cops. Possibly this was an attempt to "soften" the police presence to reduce confrontation.

Next stop was Jerry Chambers Chevrolet, on Northwest Avenue. Insults were chanted across the ocean of new cars parked on the lot.

I don't think any of the customers, or staff, noticed.

The ride proceeded on.

Last stop was Bellis Fair Mall. Slogans were chanted in favor of Buy Nothing Day. Some thoughtful conservations took place with mall shoppers.

Eventually mall security passed a message along to the bicycle police asking them to disperse the group.

People headed their separate ways home.

This was a few years ago.

I like many ideas that Critical Mass stands for, but the style is more confrontational than my style.

Still it does take many kinds of voices to bring change.

I say, good luck to Critical Mass. Just remember, more people would notice the costumes, and color, if the ride just took up one lane.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The elephants run from the elephant in the room

The Right To Live
The elephants run from the elephant in the room

While Bush administration lawyers dicker around trying to repeal Oregon's assisted suicide law, the true "elephant in the room" isn't mentioned.

The elephant is, "are we going to be able to afford all the health care needed to stay alive as the post war baby boom generation reaches retirement age?" Health insurance going up in price, corporations dropping their plans, government in debt, will social security be enough? These are important questions. The true elephant in the room.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

2004 Election Postmortem

After Kerry Campaign. Empty campaign office on State Street in Bellingham.
Since Kerry and Bush had similar stands on national defense, maybe that should have not been the focus of the campaign. The subtle differences were hard for people to grasp.

If the campaign had focused on domestic issues, there could have been more substance to Kerry's difference, from Bush, for people to grasp.

Do Democrats have a "big picture" vision ? America 50 years from now.

Still coasting on Roosevelt's "New Deal" of the 1930s and Johnson's "Great Society" of the 1960s new issues, like gay marriage keep getting tacked on.

That old vision with all these new things tacked on reads like a laundry list of "me too" special interests.

Labor, women, gays, nimbies, and eventually middle class tax cuts.

Can this bag of promises all hold together?

Like many things, gay marriage is more than just another goody to pull out of the bag. It fits into a broader issue of changing family patterns. This relates to world population growth and eventually the environment.

The leg bone connected to the hip bone.

I am remembering a "white paper" that came out in the 1970s from some think tank called "The World Watch Institute." They produced a report on feminism and related changes that are leading to things like smaller families. More single people and, most importantly, "slowing population growth."

Gay marriage can be seen in a larger context. It relates to changing attitudes about sexuality and family. Moving away from procreation toward more diversity of experience.

This relates to things like immigration reform and the 4 thousand illegal aliens I hear about crossing our border with Mexico each day. Nations with high birth rates.

This relates to water shortages in the American southwest. What about the depletion of the Ogalla aquifer? Also relates to traffic, sprawl, and the need for urban in filling.

All these issues relate to a world that is getting more crowded and consuming more resources.

A vision for how America, and the world, shall survive in the next 50 years and beyond is paramount.

All these pieces can find niches in the greater whole. It isn't just gay marriage here and protecting a wetland there. It isn't just a bag of unrelated promises tacked onto an outdated great society image from the 1960s.

Also it is important to maintain a sense of progress. The future must offer us more than just sacrificing for survival's sake. If reducing consumption is necessary, how about envisioning a 3 day weekend?

Hurry, a 3 day weekend.

A 32 hour work week. Less money to consume with, but more time for family, friends and community involvement. How about a cultural revival.

If people felt they could be better off, in a broader sense, than just materialistically, they might go for it.

This relates to the concept of more choices. More freedom. Also relates to healthier lifestyles.

How about more time for exercise? Lower health care costs nation wide, improving access and insurance affordability.

Connect the dots. All these things can find a place in the vision.

So far, I am just talking about a vision of interrelated concepts, not necessarily legislation.

Some would still call this social engineering.

Others might call it an agenda. "The gay agenda?"

Problem is, there really hasn't been a gay agenda. Gay people can be just as materialistic and workaholic as anyone else.

Democrats need to at least start dreaming again. Where will America, and the world be in 50, 100 years?

The national leadership could better connect itself with grass roots level organizations that are promoting these things for a sustainable economy.

Alternative lifestyles.

Population reduction.

Alternative energy.


Alternative Transportation.


Reducing healthcare costs for improving access.

In filling.

Sprawl containment

Hybrid vehicles

Light emitting diodes

Compact florescent lights


Co housing

Wind power

Solar energy

Mixed use zoning.

Mixed income housing.

Voluntary simplicity.

Shorter work week.

Un Manned Space exploration, Astronomy.

Letting free enterprise direct manned space flight; tourism.

New technologies.

Open minded religions.

These things may not "play in Peoria" for the short run, but an election is not right around the corner. If Democrats are looking for a long term vision, they could start connecting the dots that these grass roots innovations have developed.

It may take convincing the majority of Americans to think in new ways beyond just "who provides a tax rebate?"

Making the case for a sustainable economy is a bit different than just trying to win the next election. There may be time to develop this vision before the next election. People might buy it if it looks like the road to a brighter future.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Wallet, clock, more powerful than voting

We only vote for President once every 4 years. Other elections once a year or so. We vote with our wallets every day.

We also vote by how we spend our time.

Are you spending time with friends, shopping at the mall, taking a walk, watching TV, going to the movies, consuming more, consuming less, driving to destinations, taking the bus, riding a bike?

Are you buying from companies that treat the world, and or their employees fairly, or paying just their top executives too much. Are you buying local or "out sourcing?"

There is great empowerment in pondering these questions? Voting for political candidates just doesn't happen often enough. Our wallets and our time are more powerful tools.

On a talk show, I heard them discuss the oil aspect of the Iraq war. How oil has, at least in part helped to plunge that region into war.

A caller ask this intriguing question:

"Can there be Fair Trade oil ?"

There is fair trade coffee and there is fair trade chocolate. How about oil?

The studio guest thought that was an interesting concept and didn't know if such an entity exists or not.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Revisiting The 1980s Post Election Soul Searching

I have kept all letters to the editor, I wrote over the years. About 130 of them by now.

As I catalog them, it is fun to look back over what I said.

Now that the media is full of commentary about soul searching among Democrats, I remember similar "soul searching talk" after President Regan's victory in 1980. People were asking, "can we find an alternative to the nonsense of main stream culture?"

A letter that I wrote, in the Bellingham Herald, around 1984, caught my eye. It was during Mondale's run for President in 1984, not long after someone named Gary Hart lost the Democratic nomination. Mondale ran against Regan's second term. This was soon after Chrysler corporation was saved by a federal loan guarantee. Here is what I said:

Dear Editor
Dateline 1984

Cross - Purposes

Mondale's support for the Chrysler bail-out is one more example of the Democratic party's right hand not knowing what its left hand is doing. When the right hand bailed out Chrysler; it must have hoped that car sales would improve, so Chrysler could recover from its slump and pay back the loan.

While the right hand was betting on an auto sales recovery, the left hand was busy asking Americans to drive less. The left hand wants to reduce this country's consumption of oil and other nonrenewable resources. It does this by supporting public transit as an alternative to car travel, passing environmental restrictions which often get in the way of oil production and replacing parking spaces with pedestrian plazas.

I have never figured out how the Democrats thought car sales would improve while they were also taking steps to reduce this country's love affair with the automobile. Gary Hart's vote against the Chrysler loan seems to be more consistent with the ideals of protecting the environment and saving oil.

I guess, if we really wanted to save Chrysler; we should have supported Reagan. Since Reagan has taken office, there has been a dramatic increase in car sales. Reagan's policies; which have lifted many environmental restrictions and opened the way for more oil production, have given the auto industry the boost they needed most, stable gasoline prices. Also; the break-up of the OPEC oil cartel and the shift of international power back in favor of the United States has lowered our fuel prices.

Car sales are up and the Chrysler loan did succeed, but I still wonder if this was a good thing in the long run. Should we really go back to the days when fossil fuels and the automobile were king ?
I would have rather had someone come up with different ideas; such as supporting better rail service.