Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Feuding fundamentalists

The president of Iran claims there are no gay people in Iran. Meanwhile President Bush opposes gay marriage. While both presidents feud among one another, they both have opposition to gay rights in common. Maybe Bush isn't quite as harsh as the Iranian President, but watch out when people who play lip service to fundamentalist religions feud amongst one another.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stay Tuned as I organize photos from my 2007 bike tour

A barn in the palouse, somewhere between Spokane and Tekoa, Washington. Along the Palouse Scenic Byway.

Old Waitsburg Road. Alternative to Highway 12 between Waitsburg and Walla Walla, WA.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thin line connects Mount Baker to the bay

Logo from visitor's organization for branding Bellingham in the eyes of tourists. Emphasizes bay to Mt. Baker connection. A refreshing change?

Logo looks nice, but too bad there is only one highway connecting Bellingham to Mt. Baker. State Route 542 (Mt. Baker Highway) is getting busier and busier.

Mt. Baker Hellway?

Some of it is okay, but long stretches have no shoulder. Traffic gets worse each year. Too bad there isn't a more ecologically friendly way to go.

Plans for a Bay to Baker Trail have been discussed for years, but tight funds and private property issues slow its progress. One would think the logo should mandate the trail; a no brainier for bay to Baker eco-tourism.

Another trail system called Chain Of Trails is also in the works. It calls for smaller trail segments scattered around the Foothills area. Easier for funding sources to swallow. If placed properly, these segments could provide some alternatives to, at least, the worse stretches of highway.

WTA bus service now goes as far as Kendell, but that is only part way. The rest of the way it's a long thin line of cars and trucks. Reminds me of President Carter's 1979 comment about how our nation was too dependent on a "thin line of oil tankers stretching half-way around the Earth."

* Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing other parts of my site.

My faith based tax initiative: Raise taxes, then allow bigger charitable deduction

Raise federal income tax, especially on upper middle class and the wealthy, then allow people to cut their own taxes with deductions for charitable contributions.

Raise the amount allowed for charitable contribution.

This way, taxes could stay low if people are willing to give back to the community.

I think people owe a debt of gratitude for the fabric of the communities they live in; especially well off folks who reap so much benefit.

Maybe they don't trust the government to spend their money wisely so let private nonprofit organizations do it.

This could be a diversified investment in our communities. Some of these non profits may be faith based so that is why I call this idea my "faith based tax hike initiative."

Diverging rates of inflation is the real problem

Diverging inflation rates between, different sectors of the economy, is the real problem. Standard inflation figures do not show this.

Media outlets often talk about the annual rate of inflation that is published by our federal government. This figure is meaningless for the most part. When everything, in our diverse economy, is boiled down to one number, the figure does not say much. Some sectors of the economy have serious inflation problems while others do okay. A low inflation rate can be deceiving. When things like computers come down in price, it hides the fact that housing and health insurance go way up.

Our economy is shearing apart. It is splitting into high price and low price worlds. Many people, and businesses, get caught in this shearing. That is where the real problems occur.

Rather than basing so much news, and public policy, on the inflation rate, it makes more sense to follow what is happening between sectors of the economy. Housing and health insurance costs are in a different world than most of the rest of our economy. The annual inflation rate does not show this, but shearing between sectors is the real problem.

Land costs render Habitat For Humanity modle obsolete?

Gathering volunteer labor to build a house may not be the magic bullet to affordable housing in many areas. Land costs seem to be the biggest stumbling block to affordable housing in metropolitan areas; especially here on the pricey west coast.

Labor and construction expense is not as big a percentage of the overall home expense anymore.

Maybe organizations, like Habitat for Humanity need to (or already are starting to for all I know) update their strategies.

In this age of $500,000 lot prices, the pathway to affordability would be multi unit development.

Apartment buildings, condominiums.

In more rural settings, mobile home parks can be nice as well.

Maybe the Habitat for Humanity model of sweat equity can be applied in the multi family arena.

Also it could do more for single people.

There is a lot of thinking, in this society, that is too "family oriented."

When people think of condominium towers and high density, they often think of singles. Families tend to gravitate toward detached homes in the outskirts of town.

Sometimes people move to the outskirts to save on land costs while adding to automobile cost and environmental degradation in the process.

Often the needs of the growing population of singles and "child free" people are neglected by low income housing programs that focus on family living.

Is there a Habitat for Humanity for multi unit living?

Maybe there is.

The model of "bringing community together to build a home" is a nice Norman Rockwell ideal.

Maybe this ideal can also be applied to apartment and condo living not just during construction, but after residents move in.

Some people don't like the idea of "apartments" as they have bad visions of "strangers stacked in tin cans." It helps when there are incentives for neighbors to get to know one another.

Community life.

Also community management of buildings, such as ownership co-ops.

I am sure many of these things are being done, but at the same time there does seem to be a bias toward "detached family oriented living" in some of the low income housing programs.

This tends to drive people out into sprawling areas. Drive people to more driving.

Families in our culture seem to shy away from multifamily living.

In other cultures families often occupy multi family spaces.

As our population grows, American families could be too spoiled?

At the same time, our culture does have a growing segment of single and child free people who are often under served if they are low income.

I read, on the web, that there is a Habitat For Humanity condominium project in San Francisco. Considered a new innovation for that organization. Maybe it will be a future trend.

* Today's flurry of posts come from reorganizing other parts of my site.

Flaws in the brain drain theory of talent

I hope the Enron scandal challenges a prevalent assumption in this society. People assume that they must pay enormous salaries to attract high quality professionals for their top jobs. Administrator pay raises are often justified by the fear that the talent will go elsewhere. This is the so called "brain drain" argument. One must ask if Enron's high paid executives were really the cream of the crop? Were they the best personnel, when it comes to talent and ethics?

Enron's mess may be an extreme example, but I am not impressed with the quality of leadership in many American corporations and government agencies. Besides greed and corruption, there is also lots of poor planning.

Maybe an organization would be better off if it held the line on executive salaries. When leaders threaten to leave, it could be seen as a good thing. It is an opportunity to bring new talent and fresh ideas to the top. Some of America's best people can even be found in the volunteer sector. Money isn't the only motivation.

*Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing other parts of my site.

George Bush's free ride

The huge federal deficit looks bad on paper, but interest rates remain low. There seems to be no tangible consequences from being in debt to make life hard for George W. Bush.

The debt has not driven up interest rates, as some economists predict, by drying up available capital. In fact, rates are the lowest they have been in years, thus fueling real estate mania.

Who is suffering because the ledger books look bad?

On the other hand, lots of folks would suffer if spending was cut deeply enough, or taxes were raised, to right the ledger.

That's why Bush is said to be "spending like a drunken sailor," but it works. There never seems to be a shortage of capital to borrow or consequences from being in debt.

China giving us her money? Our own printing presses running? Money growing on trees?

Maybe it's just as well as huge cuts would be catastrophic.

Shorter workweek can mean improvement in our quality of life

Here are some interesting links to shorter workweek sites.

People for a shorter work week
Edited by a friend of mine.
National take back your time site.

Workless political party
Has a great quote, "Workers Of The World Relax."

Other quotes I have seen include, "The duty to produce can destroy the desire to create." And "Work less, consume less, live more fully."

*Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing another part of my site.

Small can be better. Lesson from computer industry

Learn from the computer industry. Today's computers are smaller, use less resources while being far more sophisticated. Yes, we can still have progress, but it must be defined in new ways.

Can all the world's 6 billion people have two car garages?

Not even all USA aspires for that two car garage. A different vision is needed for what progress is about. Shorter work week, less consumption, more time with family and friends, smaller lot sizes, shorter commutes, still higher technology. We don't have to go back to the stone age for protecting this planet. With current population, we are less harm to the planet if we don't try living in the stone age again. Solar electricity or smoky fires?

* Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing another part of my site.

Was Iraq war justified? Probably not

The second Iraq War was "unfinished business" from the first Iraq War. Part of the American psyche must have felt guilty about how the first war ended with Saddam still in power.

The first war was mostly about oil.
Back in the 1970s, President Carter spoke about the danger of lifestyles and economies dependent on "a thin strand of oil tankers stretching half way around the Earth."

Above photo is display of old jet near Point Mugu base in southern California. Seen during my 2003 bicycle trip down the west coast.

Persian Gulf wars were being predicted clear back then. One of many factors that have lead to these wars has been concern over stability of world oil supplies. There have been some other factors as well.

If all the money we spent on war was put into alternative energy, transit and changing lifestyles, things might be much better.

Instead, in recent years, there has been a strong guilt feeling, among Americans especially, over the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussein. A feeling that we should have really, "finished the job and taken him out in the 1991 Gulf War" was pervasive.

Our oil dependency fuels our perception of being "the keepers of the Middle East."

"You break it, you buy it?"

*Today's flurry of essays comes from reorganizing other parts of my site.

Law of diminishing returns and military spending, also other things

There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to security and defending our country. This law also applies to other things like reaching the temperature of absolute zero in a lab.

Scientists can come very close to absolute zero, but never right there. Those last few steps are increasingly difficult, the closer to perfection one goes.

For instance, maybe 60 billion dollars (just numbers I found in my hat for discussion) will stop 90 percent of the terrorist plots. 60 billion can buy a reasonable amount of airport security, beefed up CIA and military action against terrorist outposts. There would still be a one in ten percent chance that it isn't enough.

Another 60 billion dollars, or twice the original sum, can buy an added 5% guarantee. Now we are spending a total of 120 billion dollars. Double that figure again to 240 billion and the safety factor goes up to 99.5 percent. Of course perfection of 100% is seldom, if ever, achieved. It's sort of a mathematical improbability.

As one forges their way toward that 100 percent safety factor, there is a law of diminishing returns. Each final percentage point gained comes at greater cost. The burden, on our economy, grows until there comes a point when leaving those last stones unturned is less of a risk than bankrupting society in pursuit of that unattainable state of perfection.

Where are we on the diminishing returns index? Rather than provide an answer, basically I don't know, I just feel this question is worth considering.

A similar issue applies to health care. If your life depends on it, don't you want the very best? Or, can this thinking distort everything.

That law applies to other fields as well

Like security, the sports world is another "law of diminishing returns" thing.

Paying a thousand dollars to shave a few more grams off that racing bike?

Is one second that important? Maybe it means the difference between winning and loosing.

* Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing another part of my site.

Population Explosion in Iraq could mean Quagmire for US

Letter to the editor, I wrote November 9 2003.

I fear that President Bush's plans for turning Iraq into a showcase of democracy and prosperity have not taken an important factor into account. Population growth, is staggering in that part of the world. Unemployment has been rising in countries like Saudi Arabia. Wealth from the limited oil resource is being spread thin to more people. Per capita incomes are dropping. With out taking this problem into account, our efforts may lead to a hopeless quagmire.

The Bush Administration must have a blind spot for recognizing population issues. Many of its supporters come from our own "family values" movement. Marginalizing people who don't jump on the bandwagon of procreation can be a serious problem; especially in societies where traditions are strict, such as much of the islamic world.

Would distribution of condoms and safe sex information work in the middle east?

A friend of mine pointed out that middle eastern people might resent things like sex education; especially if it was coming from the "liberal" west. There may not be an easy answer, but population and resource issues need to be discussed when developing strategies.

There are many good things about life in the west, but we are not always shining examples of sustainable living either. Our population growth is slowing down, but per capita consumption of resources like oil is high. Are we willing to change our traditions as well?

* Today's flurry of posts is from reorganizing another part of my site.

America: best country compared to who?

When people say America is the best country in the world, they are usually comparing it with some horrible dictatorship. America doesn't have to be that good to be better than that.

President Bush looks like a saint compared to some tin horn dictator, but Bush doesn't have to be very good to be better than them.

America could be even smarter than it is. It doesn't look as good when compared to places like Canada or maybe Holland. We still have room for improvement in some "quality of life" issues. Things like the murder rate, the gap between the haves and have nots, percent of population covered by health insurance and so forth make us look bad compared to places like Canada.

Comparing ourselves to tin horn dictatorships or terrorist bands does us a disservice. It allows us to stagnate in our own status quo as we so often compare ourselves to folks who are worse off.

We are like C students who feel we don't have to strive for anything more because the rest of the class is all F students.

* Today's posts are essays moved from another part of my web site as I reorganize things.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Meditation on possible tall buildings in Bellingham's future

Food court at the base of huge tower. Pictures from the top.

Visiting Seattle on my bicycle trip, I stepped into Columbia Center for the first time. (It used to be called Columbia Tower).

Quite impressed.

Yes, it does have an observation space that's open to the public. Years ago, there was a rumor that one had to wear a suite and tie to go inside the "exclusive Columbia Center Club."

Kind of snooty.

There wasn't a public observation deck back then, so I heard.

I never really approached the building before. Just walked by thinking it would be nothing but a wall of security guards in the lobby.

Well, it's different now.

There is an observation deck on the 73 floor. It's open during business hours. Costs money, but not unreasonable. Maybe around $5. I got in for $3. They must have thought I was eligible for the student rate.

Columbia Center club is on up at the 75 and 76 floor level. That's the top, but 73 was high enough.

Somewhere in mid elevator ride, where one changes elevators part way up, there's a Starbucks. I even met someone, at the Starbucks, who was from Bellingham. We got to talking. It wasn't too "hurry up."

View from the observation lounge is fantastic, but that space doesn't wrap around entire building. It does go most of the way around.

On the ground floors there is a nice food court. Spacious. Lots of elbow room with a big fountain in the center.

Thinking about the proposed Bayview Tower in Bellingham, I hear that no observation floor is planned that would be open to the public.

Quite a pity.

Bayview Tower is proposed for somewhere around 24 stories. Mostly condominiums and the required parking. I hear that two ground level store fronts are planned as well.

Store fronts, but not quite a food court full of fountains and all that.

Normally, I like tall buildings, especially if they "give back to the community" by providing interesting space for the public.

I wish Bayview Tower luck, but it seems like the lot it would sit on is small for that kind of a building. Not a lot of "elbow room" to work with for providing things like food courts, or public space.

The parking lot that is there now doesn't look that big when I walk by. Density is good, but I have scratched my head while contemplating all the things that would need to go in that space. Maybe a slightly bigger lot could afford more "public space?"

I'm just offering opinions after seeing some interesting "public space" associated with tall buildings in Seattle. I had thought Columbia Center would be foreboding, but it turned out to be quite welcoming.

Hopefully Bayview tower will add some interesting space to Bellingham rather than just being a "vertical gated community."

From the comments:
can u help us to post this article and this link to your blog?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tearoom and Teapot Scandals

Listening to my radio.

Also just stopped at a filling station in Zillah, WA. It's shaped like a teapot. This historic site is related to the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s. That was during the Harding Administration.

Today, my radio is full of news and comment about the so called "Larry Craig" scandal. That's Republican Senator Larry Craig, from Idaho, who the police thought was soliciting sex in a men's room of the Minneapolis Airport.

Why make a big deal about that? I doubt he committed any crime except for the "crime" (in my book) of being a conservative Republican probably voting against gay rights.

Well, it's interesting to have this topic all over the radio. Talk shows love it.

Back in the 1970s, I remember a book about restroom cruising titled "Tea Room Trade." Now I am at the tea pot filling station.

From tea room to tea pot. There must be connectedness in the universe.

Interesting to note that President Harding's election results are said to be the first program broadcast over America's first regularly scheduled radio station. The 1920 Harding Cox election results broadcast over KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA. Harding was also a Republican.