Friday, December 31, 2010

Painted entryway to dance space of Presents Studio

One of the places I like to dance. Free form jam session. Too bad nothing is planned for New Year's Eve at that studio, but looking forward to things next year. See you next year.

Evolution of car phones to cell phones

Back in the 1980s, cell phones were new, but they were usually called car phones. Now they are called cell phones which is better since the car is not the best place for them; especially the moving car.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Last bastion of the middle class - public employment

The gap between high income elite and low income masses is more pronounced in private sector. A larger percentage of public sector employees seem to be middle class. Not wealthy, but still having pretty nice benefits like health insurance that's more likely to be missing in private sector employment.

As the middle class disappears in private sector, it will get harder to sustain it in the public sector as well. Following leads from Facebook friends, this video from CBS News 60 Minutes came to my attention. Sure points out how far in the hole so many state governments have gone borrowing from their own pension funds and so forth. Looks like a lot of the pensions that were negotiated by state employee unions were unsustainable. Some are generous by private sector standards, except for the golden parachutes near the top of private sector. One governor was quoted saying that if he talked about needs to trim state employee pensions, many of his constituents would say, you mean there are still people who have pensions?

Yes, it's hard to justify middle class living in the public sector when many of the taxpayers are no longer living in the middle class. Part of the energy behind the Tea Party movement; no doubt.

As the gap between wealthy and low income becomes wider, in private sector, it's harder to maintain an economic "middle ground." in the public sector.

On another note, I remember how the middle class was derided during hippie movements of the late 60s and early 70s. Middle class was seen as materialistic, stuffy, the suburbs, conservative, mainstream and living in little boxes made of ticky tacky.

Now, the middle class is being missed by quite a few folks on the left. Folks are holding protest signs for "family wage" jobs. Even Lawrence Welk (a pastime in many middle class homes of the 1960s and 70s) is now remembered with fondness and nostalgia by folks who often derided the show in it's day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Farthest artificial object from Earth

Launched September 5th 1977, while Jimmy Carter was still president. Voyager 1 spacecraft has traveled more than 10 billion miles in space. It's now well past the orbit of Pluto and still sending data back to Earth about the boundary area between solar wind and interstellar space.

Artist's rendition of Voyager from NASA and Wikipedia.

Traveling at 10.5 miles per second (that's from around downtown Bellingham to Ferndale every second!) it's moving. The universe is so large that it would still take this craft over 80,000 years to get to the nearest star.

Why is it making news now?

Scientists are confirming that it has reached another goal in it's long journey. A region where the outward motion of solar wind stops. Probably just a few more years till this probe reaches the environment of interstellar space.

What does that mean? Lot's to astronomers. Instruments on board the craft are still measuring the nature of charged particles. Learning about the energy and magnetic environment farther and farther away from the sun.

33 years of science from one spacecraft launched when I was in college and more to come. On it's way out of the solar system, Voyager 1 passed Jupiter and Saturn returning lots of photos.

There's also a sister ship named Voyager 2. After also taking pictures of Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 2 sped past Uranus and Neptune getting the only close up images we've had of those distant planets. Neptune in 1989. Voyager 2 is also headed out of the solar system, but on a different route so it isn't as far out as Voyager 1. It went the "scenic route" past Neptune; so to speak.

That's a lot of scientific "bang for the buck."

How are these spacecrafts powered?

Well, they are just coasting out into space. Without air resistance, they can just coast once being revved up to speed. The electric power to run their radios and instruments comes from plutonium generators. Like little nuclear reactors, the plutonium in their "RTG" units keeps giving off energy. Eventually the heat will run out, but NASA expects these spacecraft to have several more years of life.

Several more years of learning about the outer reaches of our solar system.

When launched in 1977, scientists put some information on a plaque and I think even a CD (new technology back then) which was placed on board the spacecrafts. This is an "information brochure;" so to speak in case its ever found by some alien civilization. It's basically a "hello" and introduction to Earth as it was in 1977.

Kind of a cosmic version for "chamber of commerce brochure."

That's catering to a possible audience which may not read the brochure for thousands, or even millions, of years.

It's called long range planning. Thousands of years beyond the next quarter's profit statement. Now that's human thinking at it's finest.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't ask don't tell victory for Obama's strategy

With the filibuster finally breaking and DADT passing the Senate, it looks like victory in the lame duck session of Congress. The White House's strategy, which just a few weeks ago got some flack from us "liberals," did pay off.

Congress worked. Amazing.

Actually it wasn't just liberals that were skeptical that Congress would act. It was Log Cabin Republicans, the gay Republican organization that was leading a court challenge against DADT. When the justice department of the Obama administration temporarily defended DADT against that court ruling, many wondered what was wrong with the Obama. If Obama opposes DADT, why didn't he just go with the court ruling that tossed it out instead of waiting for Congress to act? It didn't look like Congress would do anything; especially in light of Republican sweep of the 2010 elections, but Obama held out.

Obama held out hope that the lame duck session of Congress would do something and it looks like he was right.

Now all that wrangling over strategy seems like "water under the bridge."

There are several ways to "skin a cat" as the old saying goes. Court challenges is one strategy, Congress is another. It looks like the Congressional strategy finally worked for Obama and DADT will be repealed.

There's still some life in the Obama Presidency.

DADT isn't one of my biggest issues, even though I am more attracted to men than women. Personally, I wouldn't have desire to serve in the military, but I do support basic fairness for those who do. DADT wasn't one of my top issues.

Still, I've tried to not become too cynical about President Obama. It's frustrating at times, and compromise tends to rule most often in just about any politics. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I see why they say that following the process of legislation is like watching the making of sausage.

Hopefully it's now water under the bridge and another step forward. Time to take a deep breath and do some cautious celebration.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not enough healthy people paying into America's health insurance pools

Broadening the base toward universal coverage; that's one way other industrialized nations bring down their health insurance costs. Getting more people to pay in, so when someone is sick, a larger pool can cushion the blow.

That's what insurance is supposed to be about and President Obama has tried to work toward that goal, but a federal judge has ruled against him.

Judge Hudson's recent ruling tossed out the part of Obama Care that would go into effect by 2014 requiring most Americans to buy insurance; a provision known as "the individual mandate." If this ruling stands up to appeal, it's likely to cripple the whole bill since lots of healthy people need to pay into insurance to cover the sick people taking money out of insurance.

In light of this ruling, it looks like the "Obama compromise" between private health insurance and government "single payer stile" plans is dead.

Single payer "government based" insurance may be the way to go.

Maybe it's unconstitutional to require Americans to buy a particular product, or service, but it isn't unconstitutional to levy taxes. If we want coverage, especially for those sicker than average, we all will have to pay, if not premiums then taxes.

One good thing about taxes is that they can be put on a sliding scale. "To each, according to ability to pay, from each according to need." Sorry for quoting Marx, but that's what insurance is about.

Private enterprise is great, but there isn't profit in caring for the needy.

In the past, private insurance models worked somewhat well, but that was when there wasn't such a wide disparity of income between different groups of Americans. Today, the costs are higher and large segments of the population can no longer afford the premiums. This means lots of folks are left out of the system, including healthy people that could pay in more than they take out, but they can't afford the premiums.

Obama's plan attempted to put more folks into insurance pools, but subsidize the costs for lower income folks. At best, this plan was held together with duct tape and bailing wire.

Trying to maintain everything from the spirit of universal coverage to the current system of private corporations to the idea of not raising taxes is an improbable act of juggling.

No one wants to give ground.

There are a lot of people making good livings in the health insurance industry. Lobbyists on Capital Hill, for instance, but there's more to it than just that.

Some fear that government based insurance would be too much of a "one size fits all" solution. It could threaten marketplace innovation.

Yes, innovation is good, especially when the goal is healthier people in a healthier society. That's what healthcare should be about; healthier people.

Private companies have done some innovation. Offering free free gym memberships, for instance, to promote healthier lifestyles among members of their insurance pool. The goal: more healthy people paying in, less sick folks taking out.

One problem with private companies is the fact that public health is such a large picture that one company's efforts is just a mere "drop in the bucket" when it comes to improving the health of the nation. Governments are larger so when it's in their interest to invest in healthier societies, they can make a difference.

Sure, a private firm can buy gym memberships for it's policyholders, but usually we look to government to fund such things as a bike path system all over town. Governments tend to do a better job investing in things like public parks, education and sanitation.

Private insurance can innovate, but it seems like it's biggest skill is "risk assessment." That's figuring out how to cut off sicker people and target healthy folks for inclusion in the pool.

I'm sure a lot of talented people are employed in risk assessment. Figuring out how to deny care to folks with preexisting conditions. Learning how to steer around the "gauntlet of regulations" so as to "target market" your insurance pool to healthy folks. This brings down average costs.

I think there's even a term called "risk corridor."

Imagine that. Probably work for lots of demographers.

It's figuring out which demographics to target your insurance company toward and how to write your rules to keep out folks that would drive up your costs. Driving up costs, that is, not counting the money you pay your own bloated corporate executives.

Lots of innovation and energy goes into risk assessment. It may help to keep people on their toes. Keep folks working out at the gym so as not to fall outside the preferred "risk corridor."

Still, there's a problem. What do we do with folks who's care costs more than they could ever hope to pay in. Do we slam the door in their faces? Tell them to die early? Dump their care onto the taxpayers?

Maybe the taxpayers just need to be part of the solution all along.

Without government to prop it up, home prices keep falling

Hardship for some current owners, but could also be good news as the home market seeks balance with the job market thus setting the groundwork for increasing affordability. One line says, "buyer tax credit that expired in July is sorely missed." That means Without government to prop it up, home prices keep falling. Article.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Relative prices for various things. Yahoo finance article about are Americans as poor as they feel

I found an interesting article on Yahoo about what I've been thinking a long time. Inflation rates vary widely depending on what is being measured. Housing and health care costs have gone up, but prices for many products as well as food and energy have gone down relative to average incomes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Public sector ivory tower?

Part of the Obama stimulus plan went to state and local governments to keep them from having to layoff as many folks as would have been laid off given their dwindling budgets. This kept more teachers, police and so forth on the payroll so their services could remain mostly intact while those incomes could continue to provide customers to local business. It was partially a strategy to keep pumping life into consumer spending so the business downturn would be less sharp.

What made sense economically didn't work politically, however.

This plan may have backfired leading to part of the Republican sweep of 2010 elections. It looked like public employees were exempt from the belt tightening of this recession. The old "ivory tower" issue. People grumbling that government workers are exempt from the needed belt tightening that is happening across other parts of our economy.

Politics of the ivory tower has been around for a long time. When I was a student at Western Washington State College, back in the mid 1970s (changed to WWU my last year), there was something called "Reduction in Force." Layoffs of campus personnel during lean times and also adjusting to what was then a drop in student enrollment.

Reduction in force had the acronym "R.I.F" which folks picked up and called "Ripoff in Force."

By the mid 1980s, mindsets were changing. Education funding was getting strong champions in high places. In spite of the Reagan and Bush Sr. presidencies, large pay raises were being proposed for university faculty by (here in Washington state, if I remember correctly) an advisory body called the Council For Post Secondary Education. Our Democratic governor, at the time, was a man named Booth Gardner. He joined the call of these advisory committees with proposals for large teacher and faculty pay hikes.

I don't know if all of that pay raise ever actually materialized, but the suggestions were circulating in media back then. It was an era of "brain drain worry." Government and public sector pay scales trying to catch up with what was perceived as much higher salaries in the private sector. Also competition with pay scales in other states. Fear that talent was being "brain drained" away to higher paying positions elsewhere.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

Back then, even Reagan administration officials were testifying before Congress about the need to increase salaries for key government officials. They feared loosing staff to the likes of such things as "mega Washington, DC law firms" with starting salaries higher than even Supreme Court justices were making at the time.

Congressional salaries were going up also, pegged to various government pay scales that were recommended for raises in order to keep up with comparable jobs in the private sector.

Ironic for the Reagan administration being champions of "small government."

I remember, at that time, wondering why these pay scales needed to be raised. Here in Bellingham, jobs in the public sector and at the university were much sought after. They were among "cream of the crop" in local job offerings.

There seemed to be a disconnect. Part of the problem was that Bellingham was not Seattle. State employees looked well off in Bellingham's economy, but thinking about the bigger picture includes Seattle; a somewhat different world. In Seattle's metro area, large corporations like Microsoft were getting started and Boeing was paying "big time." State pay scales looked real good in Bellingham, but not so good in Seattle.

There's the disconnect between urban economies and much of rural America. This is related to another phrase called "inside the beltway;" meaning reality inside Washington, DC and government is different than in the hinterlands.

Bellingham is mid sized and kind of borderline between urban and rural mindset.

During the technology boom of the 1990s, incomes in many sectors of the economy were on the rise again. Government pay seemed to be loosing ground a bit as everything is relative. Also rising health care costs continued to take their toll. I would read about teachers getting raises, but not seeing much of the money as it went into rising health insurance costs before they saw their paycheck.

Other folks would say to the teachers, "at least be glad you've got health insurance."

The housing bubble got going, big time, in the 90s as well. After the tech boom subsided, the housing bubble extended well into this decade. Around 2005, it looked like the best paid job was just being a homeowner. Sitting back and allowing one's house to go up in value without even necessarily working. That eventually had to come to an end as a lot of chickens came home to roost by 2008.

"Chickens coming home to roost" from the "rising tide to lift all boats."

House values went up, but so did the cost of living. Tuitions have been making big jumps also as more of the cost of running state supported schools was falling on the students. Back when I was in school, the state paid a much larger percent of the bill. This becomes a double whammy for students caught between state budget tightening and rising costs of running schools.

Then there's the folks leaving school with large student loans demanding higher salaries so they can pay back their loans.

It seems like no one is satisfied with how much they make relative to someone else. This is especially true when salaries for corporate executives rise so high that everyone else feels poor by comparison. It poisons the stew and politics keeps getting nastier and nastier.

The constant comparing of pay scales has caused a lot of hard feelings over the years. Corporate executives certainly set bad role models to follow.

Hopefully some new thinking can emerge going forward. Looking at life from a slightly less economic perspective.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Frosty sunset by Lake Padden ball field

With two jackets, I was plenty warm for my bike ride around the lake on Saturday.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Being a janitor can turn Facebook privacy issue upside down

Some folks worry that things they confess to on Facebook can leak out onto the open web where, for instance, future employers might see it.

This is not a worry for me.

If I had a post I thought would be somewhat embarrassing, I would rather share it on my blog which is on the open web than my Facebook wall. Who looks at this blog? Yes there are a handful of folks around the world that stumble upon it in various searches.

On the other hand, things on my Facebook wall automatically go in front of my friends in their "news" or "most recent" feeds. More folks, especially folks I know, see things inside Facebook than on this blog even though this blog is available to the whole web. Why worry about things leaking to the open web from Facebook?

As for employers doing searches on the web, it seems unlikely that I'll apply for another job before I reach retirement age. What else would I do in this economy besides being a custodian?

My main web site is selling some text link ads. Maybe I should be careful what I put on my main web site, rather than this blog as it does have more volume of readership.

As for my current boss finding what I write here, he'd rather use the vacuum cleaner than a computer.

Update on this topic I wrote 11/26/12.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission has some good ideas

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has come up with a lot of recommendations for reducing the deficit.

Folks are grumbling, but many of the recommendations don't seem that bad.

Here are two of their suggestions that come to mind.

Raising retirement age to 68 by 2050 and 69 by 2075. It sounds drastic, but 2075 is a long ways off. Few folks alive today will need to worry about that.

Who knows, by then the average lifespan may be a lot longer than today, assuming breakthroughs in medical science dealing with the genetics of aging.

If lifespans increase significantly, we'll have to make many adjustments to accommodate the population. Dealing with increased lifespans would mean adjusting more than just Social Security. World population explosion, for instance. Maybe we'll start building colonies in space to accommodate all the people.

Who knows, after 2050, machines might be doing most of the work. Maybe folks will already be semi retired even before retirement age.

As for dropping the home mortgage deduction, that sounds like a good idea to me. All these breaks for home buyers are supposed to make buying a house more affordable, but the opposite might be true. The incentives just push up the value of owning a home thus helping to inflate the real estate bubble and making first time home buying less affordable.

It's a good news bad news situation. The good news is, you get a tax break on interest for buying a home. The bad news is, the home is now a lot more expensive as these policies have inflated the market. For every step forward in the name of affordability, we slide back two steps due to the housing inflation these steps promote.

The mortgage interest deduction may have done us no good in the long run. Houses are just more inflated in price and the government has lost this revenue.

Today, I hear that Obama has ordered a pay freeze for federal employees. Another step that sounds okay to me. Saving some money, but also making a symbolic gesture. We've got to start somewhere if we are going to control the deficit.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Too bad so many need Black Friday

Whatcom Museum above the snow. I walked past on my way to some friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

Today is the so called "Black Friday." Think of how many things have to sell to keep the economy rolling paying for people's rents, mortgages, medical costs, education and so forth.

Here in Washington State, we are especially aware of the role sales tax plays in funding state and local government. Washington gets a high percent of its revenue from sales tax.

Wouldn't it be nice if sales didn't have to be so brisk for people to be able to pay their rents. If folks could relax and enjoy a slower sales season it might be better for the environment. Better for taking time to walk in the snow.

There's still plenty of new Ipods, TVs and so forth trading across sales counters to bring us a cornucopia barely dreamed about just 20 years ago. The products keep getting richer in technology. Many get cheaper as well. Just think how much has to be sold now, at today's low prices, just to pay the high fixed costs in today's economy, like mortgages.

Black Friday is even starting a bit early with some stores opened on Thanksgiving. Can it ever rest? Can there ever be moderation, or has the cost of living and staying in business just gotten too high? It's probably a good thing that property values are dropping.

It's not really the products that are the problem, it's the pace people have to maintain to keep up. Things like housing, health care and education need to be fed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Images taken at Faerie Coffee in Bellingham

Thanks Kevyn, also sometimes known as Haggrid, for the hug at Saturday Faerie Coffee (I drink hot chocolate) which meets in Three Trees coffee shop. I'm pictured on left.

Thanks to Rick for the shirt and pants sent up from Ecuador.

Hagrid took my picture at Faerie Coffee in Bellingham around Halloween.

The pink bag is from Haggen's supermarket and says, Pink Power. My bicycle headlight made it glow at the Purple Church dance last night and I'm planning to walk the streets tonight.

Someone ask me if I planned to show it to Bellingham's favorite drag queen Betty Desire and I said "seeing her on Halloween would be like meeting the President of the United States." Halloween is a busy time for Betty. Just getting into Rumors Cabaret, where she often resides is most likely a long, long line on that day.

Surprise, Betty did make it to Faerie Coffee this late morning so I feel privileged.

I think Halloween is actually safer than Christmas and Thanksgiving. Those other days are so totally "family centered" that people travel to be with their scattered families. Auto accidents. Flying might be better, but stressful airports.

Meanwhile, Halloween has things for singles as well as families. Who ever you are, or want to be, you can stay in your own town.

There's trick or treat for families and kids. Often at malls or downtown where we trust merchants more than dwellers of our residential areas with handing out candy.

Then for adults, single, married or whatever, there's costume parties.

Hope people don't get too drunk.

I did actually see a tombstone store in Michigan that said, "Drive carefully, we can wait."

Here is another image taken of me at a local event.

Dancing and socializing at Rumors Cabaret which I do on rare occasions. The $5 we paid at the door that day benefited Whatcom County based Community Empowerment Network. A group that promotes self reliance in Brazil.

Hard to hear conversation, so I spent a lot of time on the dance floor.

It was fun.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A cold front to remember

From west window just below Nimbus on top floor of Bellingham Tower.

Every once in a while, a cold front whips through Bellingham bringing winds over 40 mph and temperatures below 20 F. I remember a real intense one in about 1988. Some years have one or two episodes of what they call the "Nor easterly." Wind down the Fraser Valley. Other years are spared. Some years we hardly get much winter.

It's too icy for my bicycling, but living near downtown allows me to walk where I need to go. Icy sidewalks. For those who ride the bus, they are still running.

I visited Nimbus in top of Bellingham Tower (Bellingham Towers, but there's only one tower). Wanted to see if building swayed in wind, but it's not really that tall, only 14 stories. Basically felt solid as a rock, but wind was howling and rattling windows. Building built in around 1928.

I had a vegetable soup.

Interesting views from the top as light snow was blowing off rooftops below.

With my heater on, my own room is now down to 46 F. I only set my heat to 600 watt setting to stay within one breaker. Electric blankets keep me warm in bed and sitting at my computer. I'm draped in an electric shawl. Looks like this year we can say we had a winter. Last year it was kind of a "non winter."

Below: Steam rising from power plant which is still operating near the old Georgia Pacific site on Bellingham's waterfront.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Demise of the white pages started in the 1980s

In 2010, I read that several phone companies are phasing out distribution for the printed versions of white pages to all their customers. White pages are still available by request, though. Most people look up phone numbers on line these days.

Another example of how the old world has been deteriorating for some time now while a new world is emerging.

Back in the heydays of Ma Bell, before the 1980s, folks got one local phone book, but the public library was full of directories from all over the country. People could look up numbers in just about any city by visiting the library. Browsing that shelf of phone directories was a window into local life across America.

Then came the 1980s and the situation started to change. Instead of getting one phone book to your home, you got several redundant phone books all with the same local listings. There were the Plaid Pages, the regular phone book and a whole stack of others. Competing directory companies all offering similar listings. Meanwhile at the library, that shelf for out of town directories started to dwindle. There wasn't money in providing directories to out of town libraries.

It took the on line world to save the day again. One can now look up out of town things without even having to go to the library and that stack of paper phone books dumped at each home is receding to history; sort of. I guess the Yellow Pages are still filling one's doorstep with redundant local directories.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bike touring today and in the 1960s

An MP3 player. Wonder of our modern economy. It's a radio, record player and even the record collection all in this tiny device.

I took it with me on my last bike tour. Listened through a set of headphones that only covered one ear, so other ear could be available for traffic.

A friend of mine jokingly suggested I bring a portable record player from the 1960s by Magnavox. Strap that to my bicycle. Looks like a suitcase. Speakers unlatch and swing out to the sides on hinges while the turntable tips down out of the case. It's real heavy and doesn't even include the record cabinet.

Are we economically better off than we were in the 1960s? It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges. They didn't even have mp3 players; this tiny kind of "record player" in the 1960s.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

600 billion dollars created by the Federal Reserve

Some fear this could trigger inflation, but compared to the housing bubble, I think the inflation would be relatively mild. The housing bubble was significant inflation. Just 600 billion more dollars dumped into the economy now would not likely be that significant. Part of the reason why the Fed may be taking this action is to continue trying to prop up parts of the housing bubble. The inflation has already happened and the Federal Reserve may be attempting to curb the deflation that comes after the inflation of the housing bubble.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Some bad consequences of money flowing into a country

There is fear that nations all over the world will try and devalue their currencies. When your currency is devalued, your products are cheaper on the world market which helps your export industries. This puts your people to work and gives them purpose.

Is money now becoming a toxic asset?

When too much money flows into a country, the value of that country's currency rises. Prices rise and the country prices itself out of the world market. The country becomes a debtor nation.

What's wrong with this picture?

In the past, money was considered an asset. Money created capital investment which put people to work. Now capital puts people out of work.

I'm sure there are a lot of complex reasons why money seems to be less of an asset for putting folks to work than it was in the past. One factor is that there are so many of what used to be called "third world nations" emerging as industrial centers where the cost of living and doing business is low. Manufacturing and many service jobs, such as call centers, can move there. Then the money from this industrialization comes back to formerly wealthy nations in the form of loose money for investments.

In the past, people thought the rich nations could use their money to create higher end, high tech products and services to stay in the market. Now, even that advantage seems less viable.

Money is becoming more of a toxic substance. Money is a good tool, to a point, but it also has it's downside.

As export industries exit the rich nations, capital has less meaningful activities to invest in. It floats around causing trouble, in some cases. Money can inflate prices for real estate, for instance, pushing up the cost of living thus pushing up the cost of doing business in a country. This can push business overseas to cheaper nations.

Money can flood into politics also, creating a toxic situation. I hear that the last election, in USA 2010, had more money invested in it than any previous election. Even more than the last presidential election in spite of the fact that it was only a bi year election.

A "buy election?"

Then there's all that money flowing to Washington DC lobbyists and the toxic situations that creates.

Of course, there's also the money flowing through government that is producing many services which people still want. Police and fire protection, school teachers, health care and the like.

That money may be going to good use, though some might argue things like the military are not good use. Others might think we have too much education and health care, but not enough wisdom or health.

Much of the government money is now "borrowed money." It carries worry with it toxic worry like "can this ever be paid back?"

Part of the problem is that money is just taken too seriously. We need to step back and see how irrational it can make us. Money is a useful tool, but it can turn toxic. Money has both it's good and it's bad aspects. There's got to be more to life than just money.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This election is ready for the recycling bin

Click on image to see some of the slogans, or maybe you're sick of them.

If you don't like the political mood of the country, just wait a minute. It seems to change on a dime. So many contradictory interests among the people who are upset if they can't have it all; interests that are exacerbated with all that campaign rhetoric bloated in money.

It's time to dump another election into the recycling bin and just wait a few, figuratively speaking, moments. Our political climate keeps changing.

At least, for now, there's a place to recycle all that paper.

One thing we have needed for many years, and not gotten, is a bit more patience. Patience among the people and especially patience among all the special interests, which are somewhat the people's interests in disguise.

Special interests are the people's interests jacked up with money and on steroids. Special interests have been hyped, sliced and diced.

Now it's time to take all that campaign stuff and grind it back up into pulp. Make new paper.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tax cuts for corporations creates jobs for machines

A good sound byte could be made from that piece of wisdom I heard in the sauna.

Tax breaks for corporations creates jobs for machines.

That kind of blows the philosophy of more employment from tax breaks.

As the future unfolds, employers often prefer automation. For instance, machines don't take health insurance.

Has Obama's health care plans brought an elephant? Republican logo by coincidence.

They say the animal designed by committee is an elephant. Health care reform has gone through many a committee mill of Washington DC lobbyists and the like. It may have come out an elephant in the form of the Republican mascot, the elephant. Republicans may take many seats in November.

Sad, because Obama's heart is in the right place.

Many folks deride Obama's plans calling it "Obama care." Even blaming Obama Care for another large hike in insurance premiums this year. Well, how can we blame Obama care? Seems like insurance premiums have been rising every year.

Yes, there may be some problems with health care reform's attempts to prevent insurance companies from knocking more costly sicker people off the insurance roles; thus passing higher costs of their care onto other policy holders. This may account for some of the rate hikes, but huge rate hikes happened in previous years anyway.

If Republicans succeed in repealing Obama Care, rates will continue to rise most likely. More will go without insurance. Maybe, by year 2014 (the year Obama's main plans would have gone into effect) less than half American workers will have health insurance. Private plans will be dropping people like flies.

This is partially because the post war baby boom is getting older.

The problem could get so bad that there will be more political capital to do something about it. Political favors may swing strongly in favor of Democrats again, in time for 2012.

As more and more folks go without, we will need something that Obama Care was planing toward 2014. Subsidized premiums for those who can't afford health insurance.

Sliding scale. Yes, tax the wealthy. Also we might even get single payer.

Maybe the subsidized premiums should have been loaded in on the front end of Obama Care, 2010 and 2011, rather than toward 2014. Then more people could be under the tent thus keeping healthier folks in the insurance pool. As premiums rise, many folks just drop insurance, usually leaving the insurance pool less healthy on average.

Rather than try to straight jacket insurance providers into not dropping sicker than average patients, the early years should have provided some of the subsidies to keep people in the insurance pools. Yes, tax the wealthy.

Those who are very sick among us often end up not being able to work anyway, so disability becomes the insurance provider.

Also, since the cost of health care is swamping us, we should all try to be more healthy. Watch what you eat, get moderate exercise. Folks in the industry, from corporate execs to the local providers must be more reasonable in expectation of their salaries and profits.

Elephants conjure up images of obesity.

If I could draw, here would be my cartoon idea

Health care reform package, strapped together with duct tape and things likely to fall off. The body of a horse drawn carriage.

Potholes ahead in the road; like Republican Congresses.

Destination for most of the goods, 2014.

As carriage passes sign saying "2014, 4 years away." Driver remarks, "I hope this holds together till then."

I still support the idea of health care reform, but see a lot of potential potholes. Glad they're trying to do something, as daunting a task as it may seem.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Scared to ride the bus?

Is this why it's hard to get so many people out of their cars? Folks are scared to ride the bus. Scared of the drivers, scared of being stranded, scared of the experience.

Really, it's not that bad.

This WTA bus was set up as a haunted bus near the transit terminal for Halloween.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lazy days

Riding my bike around town. Fall colors in Laural Park. Riding up to Lake Padden, around Western, along the waterfront. Shouldn't I be home accomplishing something on my computer? Responding to someone's though provoking "thread" on Facebook?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I vote yes on Washington State I-1098 since life can't be perfect

I'm for Washington State's I-1098; a tax on the wealthy. Some fear it might hurt business investment, but it's a trade off. If state government has to cut back, that hurts business also as state government and it's employees are a lot of the customers of business. We can't have it all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Wow, Google cars that can drive themselves

As much as I advocate alternative transportation and bicycling, driving might not be so bad in the future. Technology to the rescue. Here comes Google cars that can drive themselves.

Much safer than the horrible carnage of over 37,000 US highway deaths per year from today's vehicles. Most people take this death toll for granted. It's an appalling truth about today's cars, but maybe not tomorrow.

I've heard it said that one can "tighten every nut in a car, but if nothing is done about the nut behind the wheel the car is still not safe." Well, automated driving can do just that; eliminate nuts behind the wheel.

This could reduce traffic congestion as well since computers are likely to be better drivers than humans. Better at spacing cars on the freeway.

Technology might even solve our fossil fuel problems with clean energy. Might I say something like solar or nuclear power to charge the batteries in electric cars?

I know, some folks cringe when I say nuclear power.

American culture has trouble slowing down so it looks like this is our fate.

Bicycling still has it's advantages for those of us who like slower paced things. Traveling through landscapes at the pace of a bicycle is great for really seeing things; not to mention getting exercise.

It seems like most people don't want to slow down that often though. It's not something this culture does with ease.

For that reason, most Americans are in trouble unless technology can come to the rescue. Google cars may arrive just in time since the cars of today are crap.

For some trips, I'd even consider using a Google car if it was available. That's saying something for me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Flowers on Cornwall. Sad days in Bellingham

In memory of the little girl who was run down in the crosswalk when a speeding car rear ended another car that was stopped causing that car to slide forward and hit her.

Several tragedies have happpened in Bellingham recently including the Western Student who was missing for over a week. His body was found under a dock yesterday.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

No carrot left for reducing federal deficit

Carrot and stick is used to motivate. Carrot is positive, stick is negative. Must be lingo from horse and buggy days.

Today, the carrot has been removed as an incentive for curbing our federal debt. Carrot being low interest rates.

Back in the 1980s, we heard if we lowered the debt, there would be more money available for private borrowing, thus lowering interest rates. Well now, interest rates are about as low as they can get in spite of the high deficit. How can they get any lower? The carrot is removed.

The stick remains. The stick is financial panic if the government starts to default on its debt. The stick is theoretical, however. It's only a future scenario that is possible. Something theoretical is less apt to work as a motivator. No wonder we keep adding to the debt.

Closer at hand are the carrots created by spending. Military spending, veterans benefits, education, roads, health care, government spending in our economy and so forth. Also closer at hand is the stick if these things are cut back.

The theoretical stick of government defaulting on debt is farther into the future and not as evident. It's less of a motivator. It's like avoiding global warming as a motivator.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

No taxes? How about running the government all on deficit spending?

How about no federal taxes? Just run all the government from deficit spending. Let the government go bankrupt or let the Federal Reserve just print the money that the government spends thus sending the value of our dollar down the tubes.

Use your imagination. How would this scenario play itself out?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Privatizing Social Security. Borrowing to save

It doesn't really make sense to borrow money from a bank in order to deposit money in a savings account, but this is what Bush's plan for privatizing Social Security would have done.

Glad it's now dead in the water, but other similar ideas are floating about.

Back before the crash of 2008, former President Bush came up with a plan to allow young people to pay slightly lower Social Security taxes in order to divert that money into private savings accounts for supplementing their Social Security when they reach retirement age.

Problem is, with less tax revenue coming in, Social Security would have to borrow money in order to continue paying out the same benefits for older people who are currently retired.

This situation of "borrow to save" would take place during a long period of transition until enough of us, who are currently at, or near, retirement age have died off.

After that, according to the Bush planners, there would be a panacea where private savings could play a larger role in people's retirement again. Kind of like the days before there was Social Security, only this time, it would be kind of a hybrid situation with some Social Security still intact. Bush apologists might call this a more "balanced" approach with private savings and government both playing a role.

Problem is, it's a long transition of robbing Peter to pay Paul until enough of the current generation of older folks dies off.

With smoke and mirrors, it might look like an improvement in America's dismal savings rate, but when money is being borrowed, even if just over a period of 20 years, or so, it cancels out what's being saved.

Increasing America's private savings rate is a good idea, but there are better ways to do this than the "borrow and pretend to save" plan for Social Security.

Why don't people just save more of their own money, aside from Social Security?

Before the crash of 2008, our environment for savings was abysmal. Interest rates from bank savings were (and still are) very low. Who would have wanted to save?

Saving isn't likely in a climate of low interest rates. That's the problem. Maybe interest rates are too low.

How did Americans save back then?

Buying real estate. That was people's "savings." Thus fertile ground for the real estate bubble. People using property as their savings. Low interest rates encourage this. I even remember someone writing a book with the title "Spend Your Way to Wealth."

While I'll admit I haven't read the book, I have heard that one thing it stressed was the wealth-building potential of buying a home. That was, of course before 2008.

Problem with the low interest rate / real estate bubble is the fact that it seemed like buying a home was the only sound investment one could make. No "diversification of portfolio" when everything else is "in the tank," so to speak. With stocks dubious, money in the bank paying practically no interest, starting a business risky; people would say, "lets buy real estate."

The bubble situation also lead to unaffordable housing as prices kept rising. When folks start spending well over 1/3rd of income on rent or mortgage, what's left over for savings?

Now that the bubble has burst, bank savings rates have improved dramatically, but not because interest rates are higher.

Why are savings rates so much better?

It's because people are scared shit less. After the crash of 2008, rainy day funds and things like FDIC look pretty darn good. It's just about protecting the principle now.

To permanently improve savings rates, it looks like we need higher interest rates. Rather than trying a gimmick like privatizing Social Security, higher interest rates could do the trick.

Still, nothing is a panacea, higher interest rates could also threaten to slow the economy. We'd have to learn how to survive and even thrive in a slower economy. We'd have to learn how to distribute the jobs in better ways. Less people unemployed, but also less people working overtime.

A more laid back economy? If one could afford the cost of living, I think most would go for it in a heartbeat.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Very good column by Paul Krugman

About how the Republican's Pledge to America is likely to increase the deficit. See here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pay the meter and set up a lawn instead of parking a car

Pay the parking meter, but do something more interesting with the space than park a car. How about a barbecue?

I visited this temporary park when it came to part of Holly Street in Bellingham. This happens in other cities as well. See Parking Day web site.

Bringing nature back to pavement is a clever idea, but AstroTurf or carpet might work better. I noticed the sod smelled like silage. Maybe because drainage isn't that good on pavement. Carpet would be easier to roll down as well.

I hear someone bought the sod after last year's Parking Day in Bellingham.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Consumer credit doesn't make much sense

Even though interest on savings in the bank extremely low, I just thought of a good reason for having a savings account. It can be for making purchases under, say $5,000. It's better to save up and buy something like a computer with cash, rather than use a credit card and pay that high interest rate.

If bank savings accounts can prevent people from having to use consumer credit for smaller purchases, that saves one a lot more money than just the measly interest rates they pay.

Consumer credit can be a costly way to go for small purchases, but debit cards, for convenience make sense. Debit cards backed with saving in the bank.

These days, even $1000 can be considered a small purchase compared to, for instance, a mortgage payment.

Getting a loan makes more sense for major purchases such as a house, or a new car (if one insists on driving a car), or in the case of a business, "plant and equipment."

But for small purchases, it seems much better to use savings and avoid credit card interest rates.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One World Trade Center under construction. Almost forgotten

Construction site Dec. 2009. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. See below.

Listening to BBC News about the Ground Zero area, I heard in passing, that Freedom Tower was being built.

Why haven't we heard much about this?

The term Ground Zero conjures up images of a bomb crater. Does mainstream media just focus on negative?

So I went to Google.

Yes, Freedom Tower is being built, but it's real name is One World Trade Center. Will be the tallest building in America at 1,776 Ft. Impressive. Projected completion in 2013.

More attention is being paid to the 13 story Park51 cultural center; that place which people mistakenly call a mosque, near by.

Well, Manhattan is characterized as a dense urban environment so there is going to be great diversity of things nearby. That's what density and US cities tend to be.

My guess is the Port Authority of New York, which owns the land under One World Trade Center, is making it the tallest US building, in part, to prove that fear of terrorism shouldn't dictate what's built there.

I say hurray for the new building.

Actually hurray for both buildings. The big building at One World Trade Center and the little one at Park51 a few blocks away. 13 stories is "little" by New York standards.

Rather than complaining about an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site in New York City where so many things are crammed together, one might think Americans would be more upset that we don't have the tallest building in the world. One World Trade Center will be the tallest in USA, but the world's tallest prize goes to Dubai, in United Arab Emirates. That's where the impressive Burj Khalifa resides. At 2,717 Ft., Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure on Earth. By the way, it's in a place where Islam is the main religion so I think that must raise a few eyebrows.

Oh well, look what petrodollars can build. It doesn't bother me as I can appreciate a great accomplishment, but I still have a fondness for my own country of USA.

In keeping with a WASP (white Anglo Saxon protestant) tradition of modesty, I'll point out that One World Trade Center will not even be the tallest structure in USA. Yes, it will be the tallest habitable building, but North Dakota, of all places, holds the tallest structure.

North Dakota? Where's that? People might ask.

KVLY TV mast. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

It's out there in the great plains between US states of Montana and Minnesota. That's where KVLY TV mast resides. 2,063 Ft. tall.

KVLY, is a Fargo TV station. Tower somewhere between Fargo and Grand Forks North Dakota. Said to be near a little place called Blanchard. Not where one might expect to find the tallest structure in USA. Its the second tallest tower in the world.

We do hear a lot of heated rhetoric these days, but America is still a good country. Part of its greatness is the diversity of its landscapes. From seemingly empty plains of North Dakota to the crowded streets of Manhattan where just about everything and everybody are in close proximity, America still offers a lot.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Easy solution to Ferndale teachers 6 minute request?

Add 6 more minutes to the student's lunch hour?

There must be more to this issue than meets my eye. Teachers in the Ferndale School District, north of Bellingham have postponed the first days of school by being on strike.

The issue - 6 more minutes of time to prepare for the day's lessons. At least according to a recent Bellingham Herald article, it looks like teachers are asking for a bit more time to prepare during the school day.

Seems like there's an easy solution to that problem which is in line with my shorter workweek philosophy. Couldn't they just give the kids a slightly longer recess and/or lunch break? How about letting school out 6 minutes early, or even just starting class 3 minutes later at the start of the day and ending class 3 minutes earlier at the end of the day?

Seems like the students wouldn't mind. No more money would have to be spent if this problem can be solved by just juggling the time differently within the school day.

I do realize that it may turn out to be more than just 6 minutes as some teachers are needed to supervise recess. Still, juggling time within the school day shouldn't be too hard.

"Quality time" for the kids versus just "quantity of time." While the kids play, a little more time for teachers to prepare for the classroom.

Of course I'm probably missing something. There may be state mandates that dictate down to the minute how much time kids must spend in class. Come on, things are getting a bit nit picky.

Maybe there's more to this issue than meets my eye. Today's Herald talked about differences over the health plan and some other issues as well. Money is tight.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

An important upside from cutting government spending is no longer available

When interest rates were high, economists used to say that reducing the Federal deficit would lower interest rates and increase available capital for private lending so private enterprise could create more jobs.

Well, that mechanism no longer applies now that interest rates are at rock bottom in spite of record deficits.

The downside of cutting government spending still applies; reducing the size of government and it's employees as consumers in the market.

With less government spending, consumer demand drops since a lot of that demand is government purchases and the spending of public employees.

Does private enterprise have anything to fill the hole blown into consumer demand if government cuts back?

The old argument of lower interest rates no longer applies as far as I can tell. How can interest rates get lower?

What else is there to bolster consumer spending?

Maybe cutting government would have one long term benefit. When it brings a deeper recession, rampant deflation is also likely. Yes, deflation meaning prices coming down. Deflating the obese American economy, that is now on the life support of government spending. Deflating property values still farther, for instance.

This would be painful, but as things come crashing down, there might be an upside. If America was cheaper, our products and services would be less expensive on world markets.

Another way to cheapen America, without creating the social chaos that huge cuts in government would most likely bring, is to devalue the American dollar. Devalue the dollar by just printing more money.

If Federal Reserve prints lots of money to prop up government spending, a "soft landing" could possibly be engineered. A soft landing would basically be lower valued US dollars which would make imports to the US more expensive and exports from the US less expensive.

In the long run, maybe the US would be consuming less and producing more.

A leaner US indeed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Better not to burn the Quran on 911 anniversary, or maybe burn all dogmas including the Bible

The pastor of that Florida Church who wants to burn copies of the Quran on the 9Th anniversary of 911 is acting out of anger. I can see maybe having a ceremonial burning of holy books and dogmas, including the Bible, but any burning would be an act of hostility. Sometimes one feels like burning holy books and dogmas since rigid interpretation of these things leads to so much war and hardship.

Burning the flag is a possibility also. How about tossing in the flags of all nations?

Still, if all we end up with in the end is a pile of cinders, what have we accomplished?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Rajni Bakshi: The Bazaar

Rajni Bakshi: The Bazaar.

Very interesting book. Lecture broadcast Sept. 2.

Excerpt from KUOW web site.

Around the world, grassroots movements are resisting free market culture. And yet societies around the world have also rejected communism. What if there was a middle ground between the two?

Tonight we hear from a voice unknown in the United States, but lauded in India. Mumbai–based journalist and activist Rajni Bakshi won India's biggest literary prize, the 2009 Vodafone Crossword Book Award, for her book "Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom: For a Market Culture Beyond Greed and Fear."

Bakshi says the traditional bazaar is that middle ground between communism and free market capitalism. She argues that the traditional marketplace — where vendors and customers compete, collaborate, bargain and gossip — represents a more socially responsible culture of commerce. Whereas the free market separates our economic activity from our social and ethical selves, she says activity in a bazaar is as much about forming values and ideas as trading goods.

Bakshi happened to be in Seattle visiting her brother when she took some time to speak at the Elliot Bay Book Company on May 19, 2010.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

My 2010 summer bike tour photos now on line

Looking at the forest through the trees across I-90 in Spokane Valley. What forest? That one's artificial.

2010 trip was another one around parts of Washington and Idaho. Then another trip to Vancouver, BC after getting back to Bellingham. Total of around 1,200 miles in 4 1/2 weeks.

At first I thought I was slowing down, putting on less miles per day than previous trips, but looking at the mileage, it's still a lot of miles. Not the 4,200 miles I did in 9 weeks of 1991 when I crossed USA by bike. That was 19 years ago. Maybe I am slowing down.

I'm I slowing down due to old age, or the digital age?

Good question.

Maybe a bit from "old age," but back in 91, I wasn't stopping so often to update my status on Facebook. No one knew what wifi was. In 1991 it was either 24, or 32 frames to a roll of film. Stopping to take pictures meant deciding if it was really worth one of the last 5 frames on a roll before getting to the next store and shelling out money for more film. Yes, those were the days.

Now I'm stopping every few feet to take a picture. Not really, but sometimes it seems like that.

In this 4 1/2 weeks, I took nearly 1,000 digital images.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Triple bottom line accounting for solar power

My brother in Medford has recently put solar collectors on his house. They did cost quite a bit and it would be a long time before that bill could be paid off just in terms of saving on his electric bill.

On the other hand, when friends come to visit, my guess is, the solar panels and the electronics behind them get shown off.

Other folks spend money collecting antiques, buying nice furniture, collecting artwork so they can have something unique to entertain with. Why not be the first person on your block to have solar power? It's a good thing to do.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home values may have to drop till they are closer to where more working people can afford them

Recent figures on home sales are low. Economists are worried. Federal government may have run out of options for artificially stimulating the housing market. Prices may just have to fall to where more working people can afford to buy. People may have to opt for smaller places also. Eventually the market can find its equilibrium again and movement might pick up.

Meanwhile there are a lot of folks who spend more than 1/3rd of household income on rent or mortgage. Ideally, housing prices should be low enough so only 1/3rd of household income goes to housing. Then more money is freed for discretionary spending. More discretionary spending would help businesses such as restaurants.

If house values weren't so far out of line with wages, people might have more spending money for other things. Especially new folks now coming into the market.

Too bad for the folks who already bought on the high end of the market. Some of them can only get out of that trap through foreclosure process.

I'm glad my rent and my overhead has remained low. In many ways, I feel blessed. I don't have much space. I don't have many possessions either, but I have some maneuverability.

Lower overhead might be one of the things that it will take to get movement happening in the economy again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Economy running out of stimulus options? Try embracing a slower economy

Worry about the national debt has made it harder to advocate increased federal spending to stimulate the economy, but without government lead does private enterprise tend to flounder?

There's no big initiative, or projects (that I can think of) coming out of the private sector. Little to capture people's imaginations and provide focus or purpose to economic activity. No overarching "larger than life" journey into the future?

Sometimes it takes a war to give the economy focus. War is a deadly strategy, however.

A new frontier is another thing, instead of war, to provide focus. Expanding into space, for instance.

Are we ready to start colonizing space now that we are running out of frontier here on Earth? The economy does need to keep expanding, or does it?

Is expanding beyond Earth practical? Maybe, in the more distant future, but there's still a big disconnect between space colonization and our current situation. We struggling to find the first rung to that ladder.

New technology is another thing that can provide a frontier. For instance, a "technology" frontier seemed to benefit us during the Internet boom of the 1990s.

Is there anything like that on the horizon now?

Obama talks about building the green economy. A new frontier in green technology. That transition could provide a focus for the economy, but will it work? What is a green economy? Will the laws of physics allow us to get there or is most of it just a pipe dream?

How about just slowing down the economy? Seems like we're already accomplishing that; like it or not. Less consumption would be one route to a greener economy.

One way to reduce unemployment is to share the work with more people. Job sharing. Some folks might benefit from shorter work weeks while others could benefit from picking up those extra hours. Work a little less, but spread the wealth more evenly.

It seems like there's a lot of fluff in our economy. Fluff that creates jobs but is questionable as to it's desirability.

I think of new strip malls being built, but will they be leased after construction? Will the products and services be needed or will they just be more "rate race" and damage to the environment?

Would it be better if we could learn how to thrive in a slower economy?

I'm not against new technology and progress, but slowing down can be a virtue also.

Can we have both? Can we have new technology, but also a less harried life?

Less consumption of the environment is one benefit from a slower economy. Also more time. Personal time for individuals to enjoy friends and family. More time to figure out how to use some of the products we've already got. Less stress, less hurry and a higher quality of life. This could be seen as a step forward for civilization.

Yes, it seems important to feel that civilization is always stepping forward. Even if our economy slows down, we still need to benefit from a feeling that the future is brighter.

In the future, longer vacations; for instance. That can be seen as progress.

In slowing down, here is an important question.

Can people survive if more folks are working part time?

It would be good to have more time for things like vacation, but can one still pay the rent? Good question to ask since many folks have to pay well over one third of household income for housing. I hear one third is the percentage of household income recommended for housing.

What if income drops, but rent remains the same?

Housing could start eating up half or even two thirds of household income. It's already there for many folks.

People don't take kindly to cutting expenses if all the cuts must come from the discretionary spending side of household budget. Fixed expenses will need to take cuts also.

If we learn to live in a slower economy, we'll need to figure out how to reduce a lot of fixed expenses in household budgets. Health care expenses, mortgages, rents and various overheads we've inflated in our current economy.

Looks like property values will need to continue dropping since it's hard to maintain the current system when people's incomes drop. That could be a good thing in disguise.

We can create a better economy, but we have to keep thinking in new paradigms.

Yes, new technology, maybe even expanding into space, but also slowing down.

Can we have all these solutions at once? Are they contradictory?

I think it can be done. We can slow down a bit, but still have much of the innovations that keep modern life moving ahead. To do this, we may have to learn how to reduce some of our fixed living expenses, however.

I feel lucky that a lot of my fixed expenses are low. That's been a secret to keeping my life better than just survival even though my income is modest. Nice landlord, no car, for instance.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My take on so called ground zero mosque in New York City

Wouldn't it be nice if they could keep that 1850s vintage building and use it as the mosque/community center, rather than tearing it down and starting over.

Like the Buddhists do here in Bellingham. A Buddhist group resides in the old Scottish Rite Temple on State Street in Bellingham. The historic building gets a new use. The Buddhists adapt to the old building and the building is preserved.

I'm not against a mosque in that location, but it might be nice to recycle that old building. Then what do I know, I've never seen a picture of that building. I know they can't keep everything, but that's one idea.

From what I've heard, they have a lot more planned than could fit in that old building. A basketball court, 13 stories and so forth. Maybe they couldn't adapt the old building. I don't feel real strongly about it. I know we can't hold onto everything. There will always be new construction.

One thing about the Buddhist group in Bellingham, it's "small scale." Religious groups that don't have major funding sources behind them usually adapt to already existing buildings. That can make the groups more small scale, accessible and adaptable.

I don't think there is a mosque in Bellingham, but there are groups that practice Islam and meet in other buildings.

Pullman Islamic Center. Image taken 1989. See text below.

Pullman, where grew up as a child does have an Islamic Center. It was built in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after I left Pullman. Serves a lot of WSU students.

The only thing bulldozed for that building was a hillside, as I remember.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Toward the end of a great vacation

Now in Winthrop, WA. Made it over Sherman, Wacounda and then Looploop Passes in the last 3 days. Now only North Cascades between me and west side of state.
Feeling good.

Skagit Valley here I come.

Just a few days to Bellingham, but I may head out again next week for a day or two in Vancouver before going back to work.

Nice to have long vacations each summer. Radio says stock market is dropping. Worry about trade deficit. Yes, America still does import lots of oil. Rather than worry, I'll continue on my bicycle tour. It's a nice sunny day. The Methow River is flowing beside me. The air feels good. Glad it isn't too hot for my climb up Washington Pass which will take most of the day. Beautiful scenery.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bicycled over Sherman Pass today

A long steady climb from the Columbia River at Kettle Falls to 5,575 Ft. elevation at the top of the pass. Highest highway pass in Washington State by a few hundred feet and it isn't even in the Cascades. It's in the Kettle River Range.

North East Washington has mountain ranges all across it. Before getting to Bellingham, I still have Wauconda Summit to cross. Then either go over Louploup or go around it by way of Brewster. Then there is the North Cascades.

Slow going. It will take me several days. Sometimes I'm barely going walking speed, but it is an excuse to be out in some spectacular scenery. Also helps to have my radio tuned to NPR.

The Skagit Valley will look real good when I'm finally over all these mountains.

Now I am at a motel in Republic, WA. Spending a lot on motels, but easier than backtracking 3 miles over another hill I'd rather not repeat to get out to the nearest campground, not to mention setting up my tent. This motel has a hot tub.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Russian forest fires

I think "feedback loop." Climate change, drought, more fires then spewing more carbon dioxide into air speeding up global warming a bit. There's a lot of stored carbon in Russia's forests, now some of it going up in smoke. I don't think the sky is falling, but there are these kind of feedback loops that can effect predicted time tables for global warming. Scary.

The news says that some of that haze I am seeing on my bike trip through Spokane area is all the way from Russia, rather than just our own Washington State forest fire season. Lots of haze and orange sunsets.

So far this year, Washington State fire season has been mild, due in part to late season rains.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Passing through Spokane on my bike tour

Just rode the Spokane Carousel.

It was built in 1909 and more recently restored. Part of Riverfront Park which is a remnant of the 1974 Spokane World's Fair. It's a great park. The best post fair use of fair grounds I've seen.

Sometimes things like Olympics and fairs leave mostly a legacy of debt. Spokane's fair left a popular downtown park.

At the time of the fair, I remember many folks questioning whether Spokane should try and pull off a worlds fair. I was in high school down in Pullman at the time of the fair planning. If my memory is correct, I think a school levy failed in the early 1970s leading some to wonder what Spokane was doing attempting to host a costly fair. While it did seem funny at that time the outcome after the fair has been good. Riverfront Park could be the best post event outcome around. Better than an empty Olympic stadium.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Lumberjack sculpture in front of a school

This is in Saint Maries, Idaho as I pass through on my 2010 bicycle tour.

In Washington some of the school construction funds have come from timber dollars in a special budget. As forest lands have been taken out of production, some of the school construction money has had to come from other budgets.

That's Washington politics at least. I don't know about Idaho, but Saint Maries is sure a logging town.

Tomorrow, I hope to ride some miles on Trail of the Coeur D' Alenes. It's a great bike trail that I rode on in 2005. This time, I only plan to ride from around Harrison, ID. to I-90.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Clock missing from Bryan Hall Clock tower

Clock is temporarily removed as they refurbish Bryan Hall clock tower on the WSU campus.

I'm visiting family in Pullman where I grew up. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a time warp.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back at the teapot

The filling station that looks like a teapot near Zillah, WA. That's east of Yakima. I was here in 2007 also.

It's abandoned now, but I hear that town folk are hoping to restore it for historic value. Built soon after Teapot Dome scandal in 1920s.

It's around 100 degrees. Staying tonight at an air conditioned motel in Prosser.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Goldfinch at Hells Crossing Campground west of Yakima

Goldfinch; our state bird here in Washington. This was flitting around at Hell's Crossing forest service campground.

Also at that camp were some real friendly folks with large RVs. They invited me to their campfire. Good conversation and lots of laughter. Also they kept offering me food and one soft drink after another. I went through 4 cans of ice cold coke in an hour or two. Oh oh, lots of sugar, but I'm burning it on this bicycle tour.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Walking in the winter wonderland

Lake Tipso is there somewhere. Mostly frozen over and a winter wonderland on top of Chinook Pass. Somewhere over 5,000 ft.

About 50 degrees F. in the fog and lots of left over snow from earlier in the year that hasn't melted yet. Gives it a wintry look and feel

It's been a cool year and I got there earlier than last year. Still a lot of snow left from earlier in the year. A foggy, chilly day in the mountains, but no precipitation.

It's the most snow I've seen all year. We usually don't get much winter snow in Bellingham, but when I bike into the mountains in early summer it's winter like. Winter in July.

That was two days ago on Chinook Pass. Now It's summer again. I'm visiting friends in Yakima where it's predicted to hit 100 degrees F. in the next few days. Washington State is noted for diversity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Interurban Trail south of Seattle

Power lines march out into a blur along Interurban Trail south of Seattle. Peaceful ride away from the traffic.

Last part of today was spent on Foothills Trail east of Puyallup. Heading toward Mount Rainier next.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Passing through Seattle metro

Flickr set for Seattle.

Just heard on radio that China has surpassed USA in total energy consumption.

I wanted to try out the new Link Light Rail in Seattle. They take bikes, but I left mine at the motel and just rode as a passenger. It goes from downtown to the airport, but I took it as far as Tukwila just to turn around and come back. Nice ride.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mount Rainier from Aurora Ave. in Seattle. From pedestrian overpass near Marco Polo Motel

Day 3 Feeling kind of silly if I go over Chinook Pass 3 times in a row over the last few years, but Mount Rainier is beckoning. Last two times I crossed Chinook (in 2007 and 2009), Rainier was in the clouds. Could it be visible this time?

I was planning to head down toward Portland and then turn east in the Columbia Gorge, but that's a long ways around. Maybe I shouldn't try and put on that many miles in this trip. Even though Chinook Pass is a long climb, it's a shorter route to Eastern Washington. I might do it yet again, especially if the weather forecast calls for Rainier to be out of the clouds.

Bike sculpture along Snohomish Centennial Trail

Day 1 and 2

Back in Mount Vernon, I wanted to attend the meeting of Cascade Rainbow Center which is organized by some folks I know. I got there about the time they were leaving as it was a long way into town from Bayview State Park where I was camping. We had a good talk anyway, even though their official meeting was over.

One of the tires on my trailer was flat as I rode over a tack soon out of Bellingham. This met I had a flat tire most of the way to Mount Vernon. Not so bad if it's just one of the little trailer wheels.

After visiting with my friends and having something to eat, it was about midnight. The only place open to get bike supplies was Walmart. This became the first Walmart I've ever bought something at. Actually, I have gotten a few MP3 files from Walmart on line.

No, I'm not necessarily boycotting the place. Walmarts are usually located in places where biking is treacherous. Sprawlmart isn't a bad name.

The new Walmart in Mount Vernon is different. The road to that Walmart has good shoulders.

Inside, the greeters directed me to bike supplies which are in "toys." Yes, I guess much of mainstream culture still considers bikes toys. Well, bikes are fun.

I got what I needed and was back at the state park by 1 AM.

Day 3

My legs felt fine, but the bike was creaking. Sounded like the bottom bracket was tearing itself apart. This was supposed to be a new bike.

Wondering if I'm getting too old, mentally, to put up with these little hassles even though people bike tour well past retirement age.

No bike shop was visible from my route till I got to Greg's Greenlake Cycles in Seattle. They checked it out and found that there wasn't enough grease in the bearing. For only $16, they got it greased up and I was back on the road with a fresh mindset.

A creaking bike can make the whole trip feel like it's coming apart and I had barely started.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pictures of KGMI towers

For my collection. KGMI in my own town of Bellingham.

Cascade Radio Group runs several stations out of this studio location on Yew Street Road with towers in various other locations. KGMI's towers are at the studio.

I'm biking around in Bellingham a few days toward the start of my vacation. Putting around 50 miles on my new bike before I bring it in for it's 50 mile checkout.

Below picture added in autumn of 2012.

Sunset behind KGMI Radio towers 2012.