Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama Yoga

Barack Obama is a different kind of name than past presidents. Getting used to this would be a stretch for mainstream society, but stretching can be healthy. It's the nation doing Obama Yoga.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Where will people of the city go in the world made by hand?

Rural like mural on side of urban like apartment building.

Author James Howard Kunstler was recently interviewed on KUOW Radio about his novel titled "World Made By Hand."

Set after cheap oil basically runs out, the novel is about a future vision of society that's largely agrarian. People growing their own food in upstate New York.

Is this the life that follows our current world of suburban sprawl, interstate highways, box stores and Disnyworlds?

I doubt it, or at least I wonder what will happen to the people in places like New York City where there isn't that much land per person to grow food?

It's true that America's suburbs have a lot of problems. Over dependency on the automobile, encroachment on natural habitat, the list is endless, but part of what has driven suburban growth is nostalgia for a lost rural America.

Would Kunstler's "grow your own" vision just add to that nostalgia force for dumping more people into sensitive rural environments?

Suburbs provided the best of both worlds. Modern amenities, but still space for a garden, possibly even a horse. Some folks moved there so they could grow their own food, after collapse of society which has been predicted ever since I can remember, but hasn't happened so far.

It's time to retrofit our suburbs so they work more like the urban centers. The suburbs don't seem to be going away.

Now days, many are drawn to the suburbs by economics. They can't afford to live anywhere else. As traffic and other dysfunctional aspects of suburban life gets worse, the suburbs become less desirable and less expensive than urban settings.

"Less expensive" becomes their appeal.

In Kunstler's vision of a more agrarian society, I wonder what will happen to the urban dwellers who aren't currently spread out across the land and don't have access to soil. Rooftop gardens and vacant lots can help, but it's not enough.

Maybe I should write a "post cheap oil" novel.

My vision would be more recognizable to current American society, but consumption wouldn't be at such an extreme as it is in today's society. Taking the train more often, instead of flying, for instance.

Kunstler, himself, is a big fan of the railroad even though he seems to be flying all over the country promoting his book. While flying from one "book signing" to the next, he comments on the dismal state of America's airlines battered with rising fuel costs. He even suggests a future where electric power isn't even available so most of our high tech toys become trash.

From one extreme world to the next. Today's consumerism all the way back to the 18th century.

I'd say, "if we can have enough technology, organization and energy to run the train, we'll have enough electricity to run the Internet."

Trains can actually be quite impressive, technologically. Internet connections on board. GPS telling when the next train arrives. Good food on board.

It's true that air travel takes a lot more energy per passenger mile than railroads. Unless we can magically harness something like nuclear power and create some sort of hydrogen fuel, air travel is likely to remain in decline.

Maybe I should write a novel.

In my world, the suburbs would be retrofitted into denser, more urban worlds.

Automobiles would be rare while walking and bicycling would be the rage.

Public health would improve. People would be slimmer and sexier, in my opinion.

Public transit would be just about everywhere.

More trains and less planes.

Lifestyles would be less consumer oriented and more bohemian in nature. Folks would have more free time for artistic and cultural activities while living in modest spaces.

Automation could remain, but the human workweek becomes shorter.

"Work less, consume less, live more fully."

Percentage of the population raising families with kids would be smaller, but the fewer kids would inherit a friendlier somewhat quieter world. Eventually a less crowded world.

There would still be the kind of technology that doesn't use lots of energy. High tech electronics for the most part.

Food production would change to some extent, but most people would still shop for their food rather than grow it. Some folks would live on farms, but there would have to be quite a few farmland preservation rules.

Diets would become simpler in my post cheap oil world. Hopefully, people wouldn't be quite as obese as so many of today's folks are. Food from distant parts of the world would become somewhat more expensive, but it could still be available. Much of it would arrive in "sail assisted" cargo ships. Rooftop gardening would become popular, where roofs are strong enough to hold up the weight.

My vision of the world would kind of be like riding the train. Meeting lots of new friends in the dining car who marvel at how much friendlier people are on the train than on a plane.

I haven't had occasion to fly since the early 1980s. Haven't had any book tours with tight schedules.

Maybe I should write a novel.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My first Earth Day, 1970 at Pullman High School

1970, I was a freshman in Pullman High School, Pullman, WA. Art and humanities teachers led a tree planting day on the dry grassy bank down from the high school parking lot.

Pragmatic minded and I think more politically conservative, the biology teacher laughed and said he didn't think the trees would "take hold" there. Dry grassy bank was not quite the environment for that type of tree to thrive in; unless someone had time to constantly organize a "watering brigade." Leave it to the biology teacher to figure that out.

That Earth Day planting activity was a beautiful thought, but, sure enough, I think most of the trees died. Maybe a few took hold.

Bio fuel debacle

Yes, there are a wide variety of bio fuels, some better than others, but...

I've always been more excited about reducing dependency on automobiles all together rather than just fueling "car nation" with vegi-fuel.

Transit, bicycles, tele-commuting and denser urban living is the way to go.

In some third world countries, food is becoming real expensive due to competition between eating and driving. Fueling vegi-cars has taken food away from the mouths of people. This is a sad consequence of vegi-driving.

Here in USA, some environmentalists have predicted the demise of our food industry as well. High oil prices means less agri-business-trucking to the supermarkets.

Do they say we should all get cars and move out to the country where we can grow our own food, rather than living in the city where we can walk to work and the supermarket?

Here in the city, food prices have risen a bit, but it's not catastrophic, not here in America at least. We can adjust as we have a lot of agri-business-trucking infrastructure for wiggle room. Rural residents are struggling more with their high gas prices, but food prices go up more modestly.

In some third world countries, the food situation is far worse. Vegi-driving in USA and other places is literally robbing corn from the mouths of people in countries where there is less wiggle room in the "agri-business-trucking" economy to absorb the price.

I'd rather eat my vegetables and then ride my bicycle home from the supermarket.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Let the Sonics go to Oklahoma

I'm not a sports fan anyway.

I've often thought they should name professional sports teams after corporations rather than the cities they happen to be residing in for the moment. Players come from all over, teams don't really represent the cities they play in anyway. It's basically all about national TV revenue and so forth.

College teams tend to be more about the region and city they are based in. Publicly owned. UW Huskies are not likely to move.

I don't follow sports that much even though I grew up in Pullman, WA. Home of the WSU Cougars who supposedly had a good basketball year, 2007-08 season.

I'd rather ride my bike, go dancing, do aerobics; something more interesting that watching a game on TV. Wait a minute, I don't even have a TV. A computer, yes, but no TV.


* Image of reader board at Whatcom Community College.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama's Bitter small town Americans comment

Comments he made at a San Francisco fund raiser suggesting working class people are bitter about their economic circumstances and "cling to guns and religion" as a result.

I think it was a good analysis, at least for some people. That dynamic exists. Maybe not for the majority of folks, but it's out there.

I can see that folks worried about rising cost of gasoline, housing, water would likely blame immigrants, for instance.

More people fighting over scarce resources.

It's a politics of scarcity as Obama mentioned in his speech about race when his preacher's statements were stirring up media comment.

Folks often see the gains of one group at the expense of another. This is especially true when there isn't enough to go around for everyone.

Maybe this dynamic is not how all "small town America" thinks, but it's out there. Obama's comments are insightful, though they may only apply to part of the population.

Too bad it's become a political football rather than being put into perspective.

It's true that no one can paint everyone in small town America, or anywhere else with the same brush. No one can put everyone in a box. Maybe Obama's comments are not even true for the majority of small town folks. On the other hand, they do seem to apply for a fairly large number of people. His suggestions can be the beginnings of interesting discussion rather than political football.

Anyone remember the book "What's Wrong With Kansas?" I've heard some interesting reviews of that book. The issues have some connection.

They were doing a show about blogging on Weekday over KUOW today. The "Obama Bitter" topic was tossed around along with some other subjects. Bloggers were invited to blog about it. I was thinking of writing about this anyway, so here's also my belated contribution.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Twin Sisters near Highway 9 and Saxon Road


It was a nice day for a Saturday bike ride. Out Mount Baker Highway to Highway 9. Then south on 9 through Acme to Park Road. Took this image near Saxon Road. Then back into town along Lake Whatcom and Lake Louise Roads. Traffic wasn't too bad.

Along Mount Baker Highway, Rome Grange was celebrating it's 100 year anniversary. I got to talking to someone in Bellingham who suggested I go out there, rather than ride to Ferndale just to turn around and come back.

It was fun to stop by there on part of my loop and watch them record a radio drama for American Museum of Radio and Electricity. They also had another skit about the history of Rome Grange. A few antique cars were parked there as well.

Then it was on down the road for the rest of my leisurely route. I think around 45 miles, but I forgot to put on my odometer.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

My participation in an on line discussion about LIGO gravity wave detector

In Astronomy Magazine, there was an interesting article about detecting gravity waves and the LIGO detector. I had a comment on that article which has generated some discussion.

My two bits in the thinking sphere.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Are Oil Company Profits Justified?

Yes there really is an oil company in Idaho named Stinker. Billboard seen near Lewiston, ID. on my 2005 bike trip around Pacific Northwest.

The best way to deal with excessive salaries of corporate executives in most industry (not just oil) is to increase income taxes for the top tax brackets.

Oil companies are a good example of where personal income taxes can help the public sort out the economics. An oil company can have lots of capital expenses, like building new refinery capacity to keep up with rising demand. Profits can be invested into new refinery capacity, but they can also be siphoned off into executive perks.

Personal income taxes can discourage the perks while still allowing profits to be used for capital investment in the company. This might help our cynical public determine where the money is really going.

Many of the rising expenses of oil companies are legitimate, but when one sees the huge salaries paid to executives it creates distrust.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons why gas prices are rising. The world is reaching so called "Peak Oil" production. After this, production falls but demand keeps rising. Prices go up.

The best way to reduce oil prices is to cut demand. Not just US, but China, India and other places keep using more oil.

I'm sure you've heard all this before.

If we go into a recession, prices are likely to come down as demand cools. Prices would come down for a while at least.

Some right wingers say, "don't tax the rich, it will reduce incentive to get rich and bring on a recession."

Well, a recession can lower prices.

Here's one interesting aside. Not everyone's work is motivated by money. There are business owners who make less than their employees, but they are still motivated by the challenge of having one's own show. Higher income taxes might not always mean less incentive for this reason.

Becoming less dependent on oil is the best long term strategy for controlling oil price hikes. Being less dependent on automobiles would be a great help.

I've never driven a car. The bicycle is my main means of transportation. I always have to throw that tidbit of information in here.

For those who insist on driving, nuclear power and electric cars is one possible scenario. Another scenario is more solar energy and windmills.

Speaking of taxes, with-in our oil/car based economy, I've been hearing about some bad tax policies.

For instance, big tax breaks for SUVs.

They were talking about the tax break for SUVs on Gene Burns evening talk show over KGO radio (April 3).

Amazing what lobbyists can dupe Congress into. Tax incentives to buy SUVs which burn up more gas and lead to higher fuel prices?

Bad idea, but it does create jobs for someone. Detroit unions, automakers?

I hear that some recent survey showed the majority of Californian's say it is a good idea to base the price of car registration on fuel consumption. Guzzling cars pay more, fuel efficient cars pay less.

That's good, but here in Washington State, voters did the opposite a few years back. Tim Eyman's Initiative 695 attempted to lower license tabs to $30 for everyone; thus eliminating any difference between cheaper and more expensive vehicles.

Many of the more expensive cars are SUVs. That initiative passed with flying colors, but it's been modified by legislatures and local governments since.

Voters often shoot themselves in the foot. Washington State has also never voted for an income tax, yet people keep grumbling about the wealthy.

Hopefully Washington voters will be more enlightened in the future. Maybe bigger cars should pay more for license tabs.

Rather than basing license fees on vehicle cost (like was done in pre I-695 days), base it on fuel efficiency? Charge the gas guzzlers more? That's what the survey of (at least) California residents indicated, according to that Gene Burns show.

Of course some poor folks drive gas guzzlers as they can't afford the more efficient cars; especially the hybrids.

Also, now that the used car market is being flooded with gas guzzlers that folks are trying to unload, poor people are buying them.

People should just ride the bus or bicycles in my opinion.