Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food Not Bombs table each Friday

Free food in front of old Federal Building on Magnolia Street each Friday around 4:30. Also lots of hugs. I walk down to check "snail mail" (or real mail?) at my post office box. Zack (third from left) and other volunteers offer vegetarian feast. Also lots of free hugs.

Last Friday, we hugged for a long time and other passers by joined the hug from time to time. One woman took our picture. I had my camera also. Now I wish I had remembered to ask her to hold my camera so I could have the picture too. Missed opportunity. She got a good picture, whoever she is.

It's nice when lots of folks drop by to join in food, hugs and conversations.

At that same corner is the Friday Bellingham Peace Vigil where folks hold up signs proclaiming various causes. That's a tradition which dates back to the 1960s. The Food Not Bombs folks have more recently joined up with gatherings at that corner.

Food Not Bombs is a tradition in many cities.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GOP Congressman Doc Hastings must think hiring attorneys can bring back cheap oil

He seems to think gas prices are going up because President Obama is blocking domestic production. I have news for him. Domestic oil production needs higher gas prices. We've depleted the cheap stuff, but we still have some oil that's more expensive to extract. Think North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation. Lots of oil, but costs more to extract.

Instead, Hastings wants to point fingers at Obama. According to article I just read:

As he conducts his hearings into gasoline prices and other issues, Hastings will be aided by a new Office of Oversight and Investigations that he created earlier this month. Hastings said it will have "multiple staff" with experience as attorneys and investigators. His committee already has a communications team of six to help Hastings get his messages out.

Democrats say the GOP is simply playing politics with a hot and volatile issue.

Yes, spending more government money on lawyers for another office of oversight and investigations.

Oil is just getting more expensive. We could "drill baby drill," and as soon as Obama said domestic oil production has to be part of the mix; the Deep Water well in Gulf of Mexico exploded.

Bad luck. Poor Obama.

It's weired. In that article there's still no mention of suggestions for converting vehicles over to natural gas, rather than oil. I keep hearing folks outside the Washington, DC Beltway talking about ideas like the T Bone Pickens Plan for more use of natural gas in motorized vehicles. I wouldn't know, but folks say it could buy USA some more years of cheap fuel. Why aren't more politicians (especially Republicans, but Democrats also) jumping on that bandwagon?

I say, especially Republicans, since some of that idea's talk show supporters tend to lean somewhat Republican. I'm thinking of financial advisor Bob Brinker and also KGO talk show host Bill Wattenburg in San Francisco.

Meanwhile my lifestyle is not dependent on automobiles. I live within walking distance of work and bicycle longer distances. I still eat and use the economy some, but not driving saves a lot.

Last summer, my vacation bike travels brought me through Pasco, WA. where Hastings is from. He says his central Washington (state) district is largely rural and more effected by rising gas prices. True.

Thinking about the vitriolic atmosphere of our political climate in that other Washington (Washington, DC), I can share a story about biking through Pasco; for what it's worth.

Along the Columbia River, where Sacagawea Heritage bike trail resides, it was nice. Then when I got east of the river, it seemed like more automobile and truck sprawl where tension is in the air. That's where I remember arriving at a motel just in time to hear one end of a phone conversation where some unreasonable caller was bitching out the desk staff. I just remember hearing the desk person yell into the phone, "I am the manager and the owner." "Don't call again." I guess the person on the other end wanted the manager. I was thinking, "good for you not to put up with the flack."

After he hung up the phone and there was a pause for catching breaths (relax, relax), I booked my room. The room was nice.

I say about oil prices, relax, relax our economy will have to adjust.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We solved one problem when we eliminated the middle man, then we had another problem because of unemployed middle men

Best education for today's job market might be physical education

So many jobs require one to stand on one's feet all day. Good muscle tone and ankles are required of many sales clerks, janitors and even nurses who are on their feet a lot. PE may be the most important part of an education for today's jobs, but not the old style of competitive PE. Not the football team, but lifelong fitness. Things like aerobics instead. Toning and healthy lifestyles.

Another friend of mine has just applied for disability (SSI) even though he isn't that old. He's overweight and not in great shape, but also the job market doesn't offer much of a match for his skills. He's an academic, like a lot of people. Versed in history, media and culture. More or less of a generalist. Has worked in web based media, but how many jobs are there in media these days? Late 1990s was sort of a boom time for web art and culture, but these days, it seems like most of the jobs are in things like cleaning, painting, sales clerks and so forth. There is a lot of volunteer positions and my friend volunteers, but little budgets to pay for those tasks. He teaches some classes and does some tutoring part time. If he could stand comfortably on his feet for 8 hours, he could work as a sales clerk, but that seems out of the question.

Our economy is still creating a lot of low wage jobs; like custodian for instance. One can do those jobs with style, but it takes different kind of training than many folks aspire to. Learning how to maintain one's health and get through the shift with energy left over for a life outside of work can be a valuable skill. Also learning how to live on the cheap and maintain self esteem would come in handy. Where does one find social life and how to live a quality life in the community are needed skills.

Education tends to stress the need for more high tech or high end job market skills, while so many of the actual jobs are low end. There's nothing wrong with high tech. It's just that everyone isn't destined to do it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Facebook versus face to face community

A recent article in New York Times described how online social networks have surged in popularity with gay men and lesbians, while many social groups have been in decline. The article described bear clubs and other connections that are dwindling as people stay home and do social networking on line.

Interesting perspective, but I would say the dynamic is different in large cities like New York versus small communitys like Bellingham. There wasn't much in the way of gay clubs in Bellingham even before the internet. It could be that cyberspace has actually enhanced the face to face gatherings of the real world in small communities.

Before internet days, there wasn't much in the way of inexpensive methods to get the word out. Big cities had large organizations like, for instance the Seattle Men's Chorus. They could afford a visible presence with advertising in major media, office space and mailing lists. SMC even puts out its own glossy magazine supported by paid advertising; Flying House Magazine. In Bellingham, we now have The Betty Pages, but that's only been in the last 6 years.

Cover for a recent Flying House that I get for free

What have we had in Bellingham before the internet? A campus organization at Western Washington University with office space, discussion groups and a newsletter. I tend to forget that we did have a gay bar back then which started in the mid 1970s. Other smaller communities didn't even have that. People have found memories of the bar, but I remember not going often due to the cigarette smoke that was still legal in Washington bars of those days.

For community and political organizations, there were things like Hands Off Washington that came and went when initiatives were on the ballot. Also some other things, but the number of small groups really picked up when email started. A more affordable way to get the word out will make more of a positive difference in small communities where groups are too small to afford other kinds of publicity. This dynamic may be a lot different in large cities where organizations could thrive and actually have fairly sizable budgets for mailings, advertising and meeting spaces.

Another factor that may be leading to decline of traditional gay organizations in places like New York and San Francisco is the high cost of living in those cities. In the past, it used to be that gay people would gravitate toward cities to find more community. Now days, the cities tend to just draw people who can afford to live there, regardless of other factors such as the need for being among others of a minority culture.

Among several on-line resources in Bellingham is my own Newsletter and resource guide

Other resources include Skagit PFLAG.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Exploring the planet Mercury, closest to the sun

Yesterday, I watched part of the webcast soon after Messenger space probe successfully went into orbit around Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.

On a per capita basis, space exploration is not that "energy intensive." Sure, it looks like the rocket used lots of energy when it lifted off that pad 7 years ago, but compared to millions of people making routine jet flights to Europe, it isn't much energy on a per capita basis. Even jet travel, on a fully loaded commercial flight, is more energy efficient than everyone driving the same distance in cars.

It took the spacecraft 7 years to get to Mercury swinging around Earth, Venus and Mercury for the slingshot effect on it's way to the right position for orbit.

Watching the webcast reminded me of seeing Apollo land on the moon. When billions of people marked that moment.

Today, hardly anyone knows the Messenger Mission is even happening. "Mercury?" "What's that?" "Isn't it that bad crap in those squiggly new fangled eco bulbs they want us all to use now?"

To follow Messenger, I had to go to the web and pull up a special site. Google quickly zeroed in on that site amid the billions of pages and blogs about everything from football to Aunt Jessie's cat that's out there. It's still almost like magic to me.

Back in 1975, when Mariner 10 did our first flyby of Mercury, I managed to find the first closeup look at that planet. It was buried behind the sports pages of our newspaper.

We're still learning and exploring.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Core shutdown when I toured WSU nuclear reactor

There was an emergency core shutdown which sounded like our tour guide had just gotten a phone call. He left for a moment to check with the office and then came back to say "don't worry, the core has just had an emergency shutdown which is fairly routine, we can go on with our tour."

That was sometime back around early 1980s when I went on a guided tour of Washington State University's research reactor in Pullman. We had just visited the pool room where the reactor resides 20 feet down toward the bottom of a deep pool. This faint blue glow around the reactor was said to be neutrons reacting with the water.

WSU's research reactor is very small and doesn't generate electricity. It is used to irradiate samples for various forms of research. Used a lot in biological, medical and other fields of inquiry.

Soon after we left the observation deck in the pool room, a buzzer sounded while we were heading down some stairs. As we waited at a landing, our tour guide checked his message and said that the reactor had just shut down. I think we all had little Geiger counters around our necks that they issued to tourists; like having little hardhats. None of these were reporting any radiation problem.

Apparently there was a minor glitch in the reactor's control panel. If anything is amiss, everything shuts down as a precautionary step.

Possibly the only loss was the sample that was being irradiated at that time. That experiment would just have to be redone later.

We continued our tour past a couple more labs and classrooms. Then it was back outside to a sunny day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear power for cars

As fossil fuels lead to global warming, I remember thinking that nuclear power may make a comeback as more vehicles go toward using electricity. For the electric car, the power has to be generated somewhere.

The disaster in Japan is likely to put a chill on future expansion of the nuclear power option. That leaves us with other choices such as solar power and wind farms. In many ways, solar is ideal, but it's fairly hard to collect thus making it somewhat expensive. Similar problem with wind power.

There's also the T Bone Pickens plan to use natural gas in vehicles. It's cleaner than oil based gasoline from a global warming standpoint, but still a global warming fuel. I once heard that natural gas is about 40% cleaner than oil when it comes to greenhouse emissions. Maybe my figures aren't exact, but ballpark idea.

Looks like we may have to adjust the economy to the reality of more expensive energy. The automobile is one of our biggest energy hogs so switching it over to electricity may be problematic. That's one of the reasons why I've kept advocating bicycling, walking and public transit. Making our residences more compact, rather than sprawling countryside living. Having jobs and errands within walking distance of at least the bus line is a great way to plan.

Ironically, we may have to live more like the Japanese. Use less energy per capita and rely more on public transit. One reason why Japan uses a lot of nuclear power is the fact that they don't have much domestic energy. They have to import just about all their fossil fuel.

The US started out as a large oil provider and built it's infrastructure around cheap gasoline. Now the US must import most of it's oil as well. The US is sometimes still called the "Saudi Arabia of coal." We could go back to burning coal and then generating electricity to switch gasoline running cars to coal; I mean electricity.

Someone wrote to my blog once calling electric cars "coal cars."

Maybe the greenhouse gas from coal can still be sequestered into the ground, rather than spewed into the atmosphere, but that ads to the cost of energy also; if the technology even becomes available.

Nuclear is still an option and the newer designed nuclear plants would be a lot safer than the older technology. I read that the plant in Japan that's having problems was built in 1971. Safety technology has come along way since then, but nuclear would be a hard sell.

We may just have to figure out how to have an economy that is less dependent on cheap energy. Ironically, like the Japanese who have been used to living on an island with little fossil fuel resources, we may have to rely more on public transit, walking and bicycling to combat global warming; rather than some magic "electric car" fix. Learn to build our suburban areas more compact. Live in smaller and better insulated homes. More of us live in apartments. My brother doesn't live in an apartment, but he does have solar panels on his roof. Gets a large part of his electricity from the sun.

Technology can still create magic, but it needs to be more "low energy per capita" style of magic. We should think about the advent of light emitting diodes, for instance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Keyboards are getting so cheap in spite of the oil plastic connection

This friend of mine got a new keyboard for her computer. It was only $15 at a local box store. Wow. Keyboards must be coming down in price.

She was reluctant to just go out and buy a new keyboard as she lives frugally. Striving to be environmentally conscious, she reuses, recycles and repairs what she can, but her keyboard died a few days ago.

These days, repairing doesn't make a lot of sense. The cost of labor is often higher than the cost of buying new items. In an average household budget, rent (or mortgage payment) has gotten so high that it far out shadows purchase of new products. If keyboards only cost $15, one can buy 40 of them per month for the cost of renting a $600 apartment. There's not much incentive to save things and do repairs anymore.

Keyboards usually have a lot of plastic in them. Some folks feel that as oil prices rise, our world, which is largely from of plastics, will crumble. Well, I doubt that's likely to happen. From what I read, plastics only account for less than 7% of the oil consumption. Driving automobiles is a much bigger user of oil.

For most people, driving is a large blind spot. They keep driving their cars because they have to get to work, pay their high housing costs and put their kids through college and so forth. In the face of that household picture, $15 for a keyboard is nothing. Since time is often thought of as money, most people don't have the time to fiddle with repairs.

My frugal friend, who finally had to break down and buy the new keyboard, does save a lot on oil. Like me, she rides her bike everywhere. That's where the real oil savings comes in.

My keyboard has lasted 5 years and it's still going strong. It and the monitor are on their second computer. In 2009, I kept old peripherals when I got a new "box." The monitor is still flat screen.

Lettering has worn off some of the keys on my old keyboard so I'm guessing where the Es, Ss, and Cs are. I could do a simple repair job using tiny squares of paper and writing the letters with felt pen. If I do this, I would then tape the letters to the keys with scotch tape.

Do I have time for this, or should I just go out and buy a new keyboard? My rent is real low and my job is not very demanding. Maybe I do.

Repairs for my friend's keyboard wasn't so easy because the problem was electrical.

I hate to toss out this keyboard because all the electrical parts still work fine. I'd feel guilty because it's served me so well and doesn't deserve to be tossed in the trash. I know it's not alive, but it still feels kind of disrespectful to toss something that's working so well.

Maybe you don't have time to read all these details as you live in the world of cheap products, high rents, stressful jobs and busy lives. That's what we really need to change if we want to slow down consumption.

Back when I was a kid, my mom used to darn socks. Now days, people wouldn't be likely to know what darning socks is. If I remember correctly, my mom fixed holes in a sock by stretching it over some bulbous shaped wooden tool that looked like a spindle. She would then use needle and thread to sew up the hole.

That was back when a nice big house could be bought for around $25,000 and only one wage earner could support the whole family on less than $18,000 per year.

Today, socks are so much cheaper, relative to other things like housing and health care, that we just buy a packet of 6 tube socks for practically nothing.

I don't know if I'd want to go back to the days of darning socks, but having family members spending more time at home, or at play, while spending less time in the workplace seems desirable. When I was a teenager, I had lots of time to play with my radios and fantasies. I didn't have to work in a fast food place.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Biking up Sehome Hill over the years, If I'm slower, I don't notice since I don't have a stopwatch

A favorite hill climb of mine handy to where I live. I've ridden up there many times over the years since college back in the late 1970s.

Does it feel any different now? Not that I notice. I've never brought a stopwatch with me so I've never noticed how long it takes.

They say it's supposed to take longer as one gets older. Maybe it does, but I haven't ever timed it so I've never known the difference. It feels the same and it feels good. The "sports" mindset can spoil things. Maybe I'm a bit slower, but without the stopwatch it's hard to tell.

As for aces and pains, I haven't noticed that either. Most likely because I keep doing little trips like this. Most people aren't that motivated to keep doing the little trips. If they aren't winning the grand race, they aren't motivated. It's that sports mindset again.

Some folks workout on treadmills, but most modern treadmills track one's heart rate and speed with great accuracy. It's like bringing the stopwatch on the hill climb. Over the years one can chart inevitably declining numbers into the grave.

Still, I guess the treadmill is good if one is slowly charting improving numbers from couch potato to fitness.

Then there the news of the 16 year old high school basketball player who died after he made the winning basket. He died a hero while some of the rest of us just plod along.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Haxton Way Trail in Lummi Nation

More pictures of Lummi Reservation and Haxton Way Trail, taken June 2014.

I heard there was a new bike trail near Lummi Casino so I rode out there on a nice day a few weeks back.

The trail goes along Haxton from Slater to Kiwina Roads. About 2 miles. It's not that long, but it's paved and even has solar powered street lights.

Some might ask, why spend money for this trail, but I read that since 1988 there have been 16 deaths along Haxton. Car accidents, car pedestrian and car bike accidents.

I don't ride out in Lummi lands very often because of narrow roads and traffic, but the situation is improving. Might as well have a safe "non car" route to the Casino which is a large employer at Lummi.

I accessed the north end of the trail from Slater Road which does have a shoulder. Then I rode south along the trail to Kiwina, turned around and road north back to Slater. Trail runs along west side of Casino Parking lot and then south to Kiwina.

Little by little, the green healthy ways of getting around continue to grow.

Great 7 minute documentary video on the trail. Link added October 2013.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I'm not participating in National Day of Unplugging since I get lots of face to face contact anyway

I get a lot of non cyber "face to face" interaction because I live in town and I go out a lot. Much of the reason for this day is to encourage people to turn off technology and go for more face to face interaction.

"Face to face instead of Facebook."

A lot of the problem keeping us away from so called "real" contact is not about technology. It's about how we build and use our living environments. Unlike many Americans, I live where there are sidewalks and trails so I can bump into folks walking places. Others are trapped in their homes and cars.

It's easy to walk to the YMCA where spontaneous conversations can start in the sauna area.

During warmer months, people go to Bellingham Farmer's Market for more reasons than just shopping. Who knows who you might bump into.

There are often things like gallery walks and discussion groups within an easy walk or bike ride. That's one advantage of living in density and also being open to whoever might come along.

Strangers sometimes talk on the bus.

We don't have to unplug the net for face to face contact. It's more about how we build our living environments.

Do we use meeting places, or are we "insular" in our isolated homes?

Do we go out for more reasons than just shopping?

Are there places to go without having to drive a long ways?

If we don't have these face to face opportunities, it's probably better to have the net than nothing.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Why teachers aren't paid as much as lawyers

Because there are a lot more teachers than lawyers. Lawyers, doctors and some other professionals make up an elite class that tend to get paid way more than most folks. People sometimes wonder why we pay lawyers more than teachers. There are a lot more teachers than lawyers so we couldn't afford to pay all the teachers as much as we pay the lawyers. Maybe we pay the lawyers too much.

Also, when you think about it, there are too many lawyers. There are too many lawyers, but still not as many lawyers as there are teachers. We need more teachers than lawyers. Teachers are more of a "bulk" class. It's just a numbers game. Hard to be considered "elite" when you're a fairly large percent of the population.

Here in Bellingham, our largest employers are Western Washington University, Bellingham school district and Saint Joe's hospital; possibly not in that order. Two of our largest 3 employers are educational institutions. Other metropolitan areas tend to have somewhat different demographics, but educational institutions are often a big share of the economic base.

There are elite folks in the economic system that it could be argued make too much money. Corporate CEOs for instance and of course those pesky lawyers. As for the rest of the masses, including teachers, we can't all be close to the top. Life can still be of quality, but we all can't be "top dogs." I once saw this quote on someone's profile that said, "even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

I consider myself a Democrat, but I can still remember a concept that former President Gerald Ford, a Republican, illustrated in one of his speeches about inflation back in the 1970s. Ford said, inflation was like a football game where everyone is sitting comfortably in the stands until a few folks stand up to get a better view. When they stand up, it starts blocking the view of other folks who now have to stand up to see over the heads of the first folks who stood up. Pretty soon everyone is standing up to see and no one has a better view than they did when everyone was sitting down.

Even with these thoughts, I still don't see any reason to take away collective bargaining rights. That's a different topic.

On the other hand, the majority of people in our economy aren't unionized.

Even if one has collective bargaining, there's little to bargain for when budgets are tight.

Now, I just got to thinking, if population growth was slower and there were less kids, there wouldn't have to be as many teachers. With less teachers, we could afford to pay them more. Their profession would be more of a rare elite.