Saturday, May 28, 2011

World Naked Bike Ride in Bellingham, WA. for 2011

Zack, pictured above, organizing another ride for Saturday, June 11 2011 12:30 PM. Phone above number for details and starting location. Starts at Bellingham Alternative Library, that house at 717 N. Forest. Bare as you dare, clothing optional. Nude or just partially clothed, it's up to you and also if police allow it this year. Last year they did, but year before that, it was a compromise and a new concept for Bellingham.

Update June 18

Smile, you'll be on camera. There's lots of cameras among the cyclists and along the route. People come out to watch. It's a good time. Hope the weather cooperates. Ride usually goes through downtown and ends in Fairhaven District.

Zack's pictured above with his more nude image along with Stepha on his stenciled shirt.

I go along for the ride also. Usually, it's a fairly large turnout.

See my past comments and photos. Click here and scroll down.

See their page on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Something beyond this life that brings good feeling to this life

Life is very short and assuming one enjoys living an afterlife would be desirable. The period of time toward the end of one's life, especially, seems like it would be depressing if one didn't think they had a future to look forward to. It's sort of like contemplating the last meal that someone on death row gets before being executed. Could they enjoy that last meal knowing what's coming next? Life is kind of like that last meal.

Belief in an afterlife serves a practical function. It provides something to look forward to, or a sense of future during this life. If nothing else, this belief enhances our feelings while we are still alive. Even if atheists and others who tend to believe in no afterlife are correct, you wouldn't be in for a disappointment upon death. If consciousness ends, you wouldn't know the difference. So believing in something can provide comfort in life and once you're dead, you need to have consciousness to be disappointed anyway.

Some atheists find comfort in the concept of no afterlife. At least there's no hell. There's no pain, no gain, no sorrow, but no joy either. Just nothing. I've never really believed in a hell anyway.

At least while I'm alive, contemplating an ending in nothing is not enough. Maybe I'm just selfish.

A lot of people have this need for more than just this life. No wonder religions are so popular. This is a big problem in society because many of the religions that people are drawn to are quite destructive. People are a bit crazy anyway, and many religious practices verify that.

There can be a lot of good that comes out of religion also. Tasty food at church potlucks; for instance. Churches can be community centers where one meets others. Religions offer charity and of course that comforting sense of something beyond this short life.

I think the biggest problem with faith is when people become dogmatic and start arguing over the specifics of what to believe. Fundamentalism and being too self assured about what one thinks they know can be destructive.

Just coming together to ask cosmic questions is good, however. I feel lucky that I was brought up in a very liberal church. A church that encourages differing ideas and even offers a good dose of skepticism. The church I grew up in is called United Church of Christ.

This is not necessarily an ad for that denomination. There are many other groups which offer similar experience.

I don't actually attend church these days. Working night shift and sleeping mornings means "I don't do Sunday mornings." Some places have services at other times, but I haven't been motivated to look around that much. It doesn't really matter if one goes regularly, or not. I always feel welcome and at home in the brand of worship that UCC offers.

An open minded practice doesn't try to provide foolproof evidence that there is something more than our short lives, but it does ponder many possibilities. Admitting that one doesn't have to know everything is a dose of humbleness as well as honesty.

As time goes on, science is becoming a preferred tool for finding truth. Some folks feel science automatically rules out any kind of realm beyond this "here and now" reality. A lot of things that ancient peoples attributed to magical spirits have been more recently explained as mechanical processes in our natural world. For instance, the seasons are not really that magical. They're caused by the tilt in earth axis as it revolves around the sun.

Still, when science to explains something, it also tends to discover a larger world to explain. For every question we answer, we find several more questions that don't yet have answers. Questions that didn't even occur to us before. Our perception of the universe keeps getting larger.

Back in the days when most of our religions were founded, we thought the Earth was the center of the universe. More recently, science has explained away some of the stuff that was believed in the past, but it has also opened up whole new worlds we didn't even know existed back then. The mystery keeps getting larger. Back then, we didn't know about other solar systems, galaxies, other dimensions and even the possibility of parallel universes.

As if our universe wasn't large enough already, there are serious physicists talking about parallel universes. The concept of a multi-verse.

Looking inward, we are also starting to learn about realms inside the atom. It's the strange world of quantum mechanics.

I like to say that the universe, or multi-universe, is so large that there is still plenty of room for mysteries to hide. Possibly even more room for mysteries than existed in ancient times.

Then there is the question of how we perceive the world. This is especially true when we contemplate things like quantum mechanics where logic and even time behave differently than in the day to day world we've always perceived. How complete is our mental ability to comprehend this reality? That's an intriguing question to me. I'm often thinking, "wrap your mind around this?"

Wrapping the mind around quantum and cosmic realities is a tall order. It kind of grates against the way our minds have evolved to view the world. For millions of years, our brains have evolved to comprehend a 3 dimensional world. Our thinking has developed to perceive a world where time marches steadily forward, rather than moving forward at differing rates as in relativity theory. Our minds comprehend cause and effect as well as logic in certain ways. We are basically the product of millions, if not billions, of years of evolution in our 3 dimensional world. A world that's governed with the laws of classical physics. It's basically our "billiard table" kind of world.

Just in the last hundred, or so, years, we've been probing into other types of worlds and logic. This is a very short period of time given how long the natural process of evolution takes.

In the last brief moments of our history, we've been looking into realities that weren't visible to us before. Things like the variable speed in the passage of time that become more evident when traveling closer to the speed of light. This as described in relativity theory. It's all fairly new to us.

The strength of a gravitational field can also alter the passage of time as well, but we've only had atomic clocks that are accurate enough to notice this in fairly recent history. That's part of relativity theory.

Inside the atom, it gets even weirder. That's the world of quantum mechanics. I wouldn't pretend to try and comprehend quantum theory. Basically, our minds are being bent and twisted in ways that they are not used to when we try to learn about such things. Due to that, even the ways of the natural world don't seem as logical and mechanical as before.

There's a lot more to be learned for sure.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just a minute, says God

People on Earth say to God, "one penny of your money is one million dollars in our money." God says, "agreed." Then the people say, "one minute in your time is a thousand years in our time." God says "agreed." Then the people say, "you wouldn't miss a few pennies, how about making us all millionaires." God reaches into his pocket and says, "just a minute."

A million years later (a minute in God's time) the pennies land on Earth.

A professor told me that joke many years ago. Marvin Southcott, I think it was. He taught industrial design at Western Washington University.

Another end of the world prediction bites the dust

Maybe the end of the world is coming soon, but "soon" in God's time, and/or the Earth's time could be sometime in the next ten million years.

Humans tend to be egocentric and think that the universe revolves around us. Our lives and our existence on this planet is merely a blink of an eye compared to geological timescales.

How old are the rocks of Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington? Quartzite estimated to be over 400 million years old. Surrounded with much younger basalt that's estimated at 15 to 17 million years old. Some of the oldest rocks in Washington State, but still not that old compared to the Earth itself.

Our "world" of civilizations and/or being cave men (really I should say being "cave people" so not to sound sexist) changes a lot faster than the world of geology. Our world is ever changing so it's always the end of the world as we currently know it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike logo rack on parking meter in Bellingham

It was Bike To Work Day and I did many things walking all over my downtown neighborhood, but didn't get a chance to ride my bike. Did make it to part of the after party at Boundary Bay Brewery.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trade deficit coal trains through Bellingham

Money flows out of the US to China and other countries while manufactured goods flow in. Then much of that money comes back into the US as China and others invest in our debts.

Can we ever pay China back? Can we ever pay with real goods and services that they can use?

Seems like a tall order, but there may be a time when we export more things to China and other nations. Some manufacturing can migrate back to the US. We do have quite a few raw materials and farm products.

Coal is one of the commodities that USA has and China needs, though it isn't a real expensive item. Are we becoming more like a third world country where raw materials are the main export? Have we painted ourselves into an economic corner where dubious compromises have to be made?

USA has lots of coal and some of that coal comes through Bellingham. Thus the coal trains now rumbling along our waterfront.

As to be expected, these trains are controversial. I'll admit, the trains don't make that much difference to me. What's a few more trains coming through town? Sometimes it's even fun to watch them. I don't have to commute across the tracks very often so it doesn't make much difference to me, but lots of Bellingham is worried. As usual, there is the NIMBY (we don't want this in our backyards) reaction as well as other concerns.

Biggest concern, of course, is global warming. All those tons of carbon going into the atmosphere.

Part of the reason why there's controversy is plans for a new cargo facility at Cherry Point; the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposed by an outfit called SSA Marine. It would be a bulk shipment facility for both coal and other goods such as agricultural commodities. With that terminal shipment capacity could increase significantly.

Currently, the coal trains are headed into Canada, to a coal shipment point called Westshore Terminal which is located near Tsawwassen, BC. That's just north of the border.

If Gateway Pacific is built, it would be on this side of the border, in USA, so the export wouldn't have to involve Canada. It could possibly mean more trains through Bellingham.

Does Bellingham get any benefit from this?

Jobs in construction and a few permanent jobs running the terminal. Some benefit, but nothing real dramatic. No wonder some people are upset. Bellingham is just a tiny part of the bigger picture. USA has been called "the Saudi Arabia of coal." Asia needs it and we're just along the way.

Both our current mayor, and other candidates for mayor (there's an election coming up) have concerns. One of the big questions is, "what effect does rail traffic have on the redevelopment plans for Bellingham's central waterfront?" That's the place where Georgia Pacific pulp and paper mill once resided. The railroad cuts right through that property.

I'm reminded of plans that BNSF Railroad floated back in the last days of the pulp mill. The plan was to move the railroad. Move it to around the periphery of the mill rather than going right through the yard with forklifts, roads and other mill commerce zipping back and forth across the tracks. Plans called (if I remember correctly) to move the mainline closer to the bluff where some switch tracks are now, rather than going through the "gut" of the mill.

Right about then, Georgia Pacific closed. It closed for various reasons including rising electricity costs.

When discussing that rerouting plan with some of my friends in a local sauna (where city planning issues are often discussed), I remember someone's comment about moving the railroad around a closed mill.

He said, "no need to go around a ghost town."

Yes, part of the hollowing out of industry in America means things like pulp mills are closing. GP is replaced with a ghost town for now, but there is a lot of talk about redevelopment for that piece of the central waterfront where GP was. Moving the railroad to more of the periphery might help those plans. Is the railroad still interested? Could the increased traffic possibly expedite those plans?

If the railroad was closer to the bluff, it would be easier to build overpasses across the tracks. Possibly even something like a snow shield or sound barrier. Of course those condo owners, right on top of that bluff, might object. Are Americans spoiled?

Still, most of these issues seem fairly minor. The biggest worry isn't really about Bellingham. It's the concern about global warming.

As far as I'm concerned, more trains aren't necessarily a problem. More exports from USA are good. Things like farm products, for instance which is part of the Gateway Terminal plan, but the vast amount of coal being burned in various parts of the world is worrisome.

Even in China, new technologies such as solar power are being developed, but can it happen fast enough? That's a challenging question, especially now that there is increased worry over nuclear power. Nuclear still could be part of the cleaner energy spectrum. Figuring out technologies that use less energy, like happens in the electronics world can help. Also changing cultural attitudes can help, like more bicycling and public transit. Hopefully the world, including USA, can find alternatives to the continuing increase in use of fossil fuels. Either that or maybe finding a way to sequester the carbon? That's a different story.

Picture, nude bike ride protesting fossil fuel happens, by coincidence, to be crossing over a coal train.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

US Postal Service has a stamp for commemorating bicycling

Go Green. Someone sent me a letter and it had that stamp. Also remember Bike To Work Day is May 20 this year. Inside the letter was an article about someone who is 90 years old, still riding on some 10 to 15 mile rides. Not bad for 90. Bicycling can be a lifelong activity.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Small footprint for 16 gigabytes

Technology is certainly pointing the way toward reducing the footprint for the things we enjoy.

This tiny chip holds 16 gigabytes of memory. In other words, possibly 4 days worth of nonstop music. I remember my dad's record collection which took shelf space in the bookcase on the living room wall. Vinyl records. It could just about fit on my thumbnail today.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

American middle class in decline

Saw this article and video recently on Yahoo Finance.

Here are some figures copied from that article.

-- Middle-income jobs are disappearing from the economy. The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010.

-- Middle-income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of total employment.

-- 17 million Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor's degree.

-- Over the past year, nominal wages grew only 1.7% while all consumer prices, including food and energy, increased by 2.7%.

-- Wages and salaries have fallen from 60% of personal income in 1980 to 51% in 2010. Government transfers have risen from 11.7% of personal income in 1980 to 18.4% in 2010, a post-war high.

My comments for adapting to the new reality.

There are a lot of factors leading to this. One thing is the evening out of living standards around the world. USA is no longer the undisputed top as much as in the past. Some say the world is a bit fairer now. The quote, "be careful what you ask for as you might get it," applies. I remember complains about the US using something like over 40% of world resources for only 6% of world population in the past. Yes, be careful what you ask for. Maybe the trend toward international fairness is good.

Also there is pressure to reduce consumption due to environmental concerns.

Complicating the issue further is the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of US population. This makes it harder to embrace some of these changes as possible good things.

I think we will need to learn to live, and even thrive, in a world of lower consumption. Lower carbon footprint and whatever.

Technology can create new and greener wealth, if we let it, so the sacrifice may not be as pronounced as some fear. At the same time, technology may not come to the rescue as fast as we need it. I do think technology holds a lot of promise; however.

We need to learn how to thrive and even live better in a lower footprint world. A more just society with fairer distribution of wealth is one thing, but also changing our own personal lives for, what can be defined as the better.

Bicycling is one example. Lower footprint also can mean better health. Shorter workweek with more time for hobbies, family and so forth can be seen as another positive change if society can be structured so people can afford to live that way.

A lot of these things can be seen as trade offs. Some of these changes can be seen as progress. We'll have to learn how to structure society so it can work.

There can be social progress as well as just the technological progress we are seeing.

In the future, we may have a somewhat slower, lower consumption, but also more high tech world. The shrinking footprint of electronic products is an example. I am amazed by the tiny chip of flash memory, I just bought with 16 gig!

Even if one just lives in a room, where heating bills can be low because there isn't much space to heat, there's plenty of room for a music collection. In the olden days, space was taken with shelves of vinyl records.

For years, since college, I have lived a low footprint lifestyle. This is more common, here in Bellingham, where some vestiges of old hippydom remain. Also, Bellingham may be ahead of the curve in having a glut of highly educated folks for the local workforce. Folks with advanced degrees often work in "low end" jobs. This has been the case for years, here in Bellingham and also in some other parts of the country; especially in college towns. The rest of USA may be headed our way.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Lower taxes keeps raising the bar

According to a recent article in USA Today, US federal, state and local taxes are about the lowest they've been since 1958 as a percent of income.

Whenever the tax burden drops, or the government pumps money into the economy by spending, it raises the bar of what's needed to sustain the economy and things are still anemic.

It's like we've become addicted to stimulus, either through tax cuts or things like the Obama Stimulus package to just get by. What's normally considered an emergency is now commonplace.

It just seems to be always costing more and more to just maintain. The housing bubble pushed up the cost of housing. Health care keeps getting more expensive. Education and energy are rising also. Quite a few things that are considered essentials are going up while unemployment remains high. Business keeps saying it needs low taxes just to create enough new jobs to keep up with population growth.

Whenever the bar of stimulus, and/or tax cuts goes up, we can't ratchet it back down. It becomes the new "normal" just to maintain what people consider survival.

Something is wrong for sure. Seems like the only way to keep up this level of tax cuts and spending is to keep going into debt. It's a serious problem when we have to do this just to stay afloat.

On the other hand, some products are amazingly cheap. I just bought a tiny chip of flash memory with 16 gigabytes in it for less than $50. That's enough storage space for a whole bookcase full of LP records in the old days of vinyl. I never fail to be amazed at what's available for low cost in the world of electronic technology. Too bad so many other sectors of life that are needed for basic survival, like housing and health care, have to be so expensive.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Point Whitehorn on a relaxing afternoon

Like a Sunday drive, only it was a Saturday bike ride to Point Whitehorn on a beautiful day. Rising gas prices don't effect me, except maybe a few cents rise in the cost of chocolate milk.

Point Whitehorn is up near BP oil refinery in Whatcom County. Maybe 15 miles from Bellingham. Up above is the Point Whitehorn Road which is blocked to cars and beautiful for bikes. From there, the bluff is too steep to access the beach, so last Saturday I decided to go on to the beach. It's accessible on a trail that takes off from the end of Grandview Road. Grandview bends and turns into Koehn Road for a short way into the trail head parking lot. First part of the trail is flat and seems okay to bike until a sign says "hiking only" toward the end where it's steep just before the beach.

Zooming in on tanker ship at BP oil refinery dock.

On my way out, I took Slater, Lake Terrell and Kickerville Roads. Coming back I went through Ferndale and had a nice tuna sandwich.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

From the NBC Radio studios at Rockefeller Center

Oil painting of Rockefeller Center I did in early high school. Around 1970.

Back then, I was playing a game with some friends where we were picking out blocks in our town of Pullman. We were drawing maps of those blocks and claiming them as our domains. My friend Jeff had about the best block in town. The central block of the Washington State University campus with gyms, pools, the union building and so forth. My block had some dorms, but not much else except farmland.

Thinking outside the box, I decided to look beyond the confines of Pullman and claim Rockefeller Center in New York. I figured, Rockefeller Center qualified as a "block" because it's blocks are all connected with an underground shopping concourse; so I thought at the time.

3 connected city blocks in New York City, like a planned unit development. The size and variety of this domain fascinated me.

It also housed the NBC studios; both radio and TV. Unlike most kids, I wasn't glued to TV, but radio was a different story. I lugged around a transistor radio that I got for my birthday during 6th grade. NBC radio was my weekend lifeline to Rockefeller Center. Monitor was the show; a weekend magazine of news, interviews and music. President Nixon, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War and the Apollo program all came through my radio. They even had regular tips from a psychologist named Dr. Joyce Brothers.

After almost 40 years, the ads are even interesting. I've recently found a web site with podcasts that bring back many of those old memories. Monitor Beacon Net. It's archived quite a few things including many of the Monitor shows that ran during that show's tenure between 1955 and 1975.

Entertains me via MP3 player as I do my custodial shift.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Good news. Osama Bin Laden is dead

Very good news. I'll remember this day. Glad no American serviceman were lost in this operation. Good news for President Obama, USA and the world. Hopefully this turn of events will help bring more peace in this world. I feel funny celebrating someone's death, but in this case, it's pretty good news.