Friday, January 27, 2012

Remember Governor Moonbeams? Now there's Newt Gingrich

Thinking outside the confines of the box, California Governor Jerry Brown was called Governor Moonbeams back at the time he was seeking nomination of the Democratic Party for US president around 1980.

Cynical pundits can now put the moonbeams label on Newt Gingrich for his recently revealed proposal to establish a colony on the moon by 2020.

If "liberal" Jerry Brown gets laughed at for thinking outside the confines of some journalist's cubicle, folks can now laugh at "conservative" Newt Gingrich.

Thinking beyond the mundane is something I applaud, but one does have to ask, where's the money going to come from for "fast tracking" a moon colony; especially while Republicans, like Newt, try and downsize the government. Of course government isn't the only source of money for space technology, but corporations don't seem to be clamoring for a moon base in the near future.

By the late 1970s, Governor Brown expressed a fascination with outer space and proposed that California launch its own space satellite. His 1980 campaign slogan was "protect the earth, serve the people and explore the universe."

In a nutshell, that's basically what society should be doing, but Brown got snickered at for presenting the "big picture."

So now it's Newt's turn. snicker, snicker. Who's going to pay for said moon colony?

Yes, even Republicans can be accused of idealistic dreams, thinking outside the mundane. Something I'd often applaud, being a space exploration advocate myself, but if Jerry Brown can get flack for this, so should Newt Gingrich.

Speaking of California, where far reaching ideas can percolate and Jerry Brown is now serving again, many years later, as governor, there's another way out proposal. This time it's not from the governor, but from another Republican; like Newt Gingrich.

Congressman Dan Lungren is toying with the idea of draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to expose another Yosemite like valley in California. It's quite a dream to have a second valley like the majestic valley that graces Yosemite National Park. There's a cost, of course, which would be draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Hetch Hetchy now provides water to the city of San Francisco and much of its surrounding area.

Hetch Hetchy Valley was flooded by a dam built early in the last century. That dam was opposed by an early environmentalist, John Muir, but the water stored in that reservoir has served San Francisco for decades. Draining that reservoir means having to find a new way of suppling San Francisco with water. It could be expensive; especially, as employees of the San Francisco Water Department point out, if it involves burning energy for pumping water all the way to the city. That water can currently flow all the way through a gravity feed system. Loss of the high reservoir (Hetch Hetchy) would, most likely, make pumping more necessary.

Is the San Francisco water department just a bunch of government bureaucrats who say it can't be done, or are they the true one's watching out for the taxpayer's pocketbook?

Lungren has proposed at least doing a study to look into the feasibility of this dream for a second Yosemite, but critics remind him that money is tight.

Dream on, both Republicans and Democrats. I can't fault folks for striving to have achievements beyond the mundane. As we dream, we all deserve the term moonbeams and we should be careful when we poke fun at people. Those who dream of living in glass houses can't throw many stones.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bike path to Barkley Village in the snow

Bellingham is having one of it's fairly rare snow events. A few folks still bike, but I prefer walking in the snow. Yesterday, I had a reason to go to the Barkley Village district. Took the bus out there and then walked back.

Little Tokyo restaurant has a welcoming glow in the snow.

Plaza across the street from Little Tokyo.

Barkley Village is sometimes called a "new urbanism" style of development. Slightly more density than the average strip mall sprawl. Some multi story buildings with use of brick and a "Main Street look" along New Market Street.

One of the things that causes me to go to Barkley more often than other satellite developments in Bellingham is the ease of access along Railroad Trail. It heads through the woods behind Barkley Village.

Being a non driver, trails make a difference to me.

Other developments in Bellingham, like Cordata and Bellis Fair Mall, are out where the sprawl is horrible. Few trails or pedestrian facilities. All built for the automobile. There are plans to retrofit some of those areas, but progress is real slow. Barkley seems more accessible to non drivers.

There still is plenty of parking for those who participate in mainstream culture. One of Barkley's biggest features is a 24 hour Haggens Super Market. It's near a large parking lot which also serves as the parking for businesses along New Market Street.

Across Woburn Street from the Haggens is a big construction site. New movie theaters. I hear 17 screens? Lots of grading. There will most likely be a big parking lot. Also some artificial wetlands for storm water retention.

One wonders if a big theater project will work, but at least it doesn't look like we're in a recession when you see the construction equipment going. Bellingham gets some spin off from the robust economy of Vancouver, BC, just across the border. It's still hard to find work here, but Vancouver's economic engine is close by. Shoppers come down to Bellingham to buy milk and other products by the truckload.

Canada is where the controversial coal trains are headed which rumble through Bellingham. They go to a coal port in Canada. Controversial because there is a proposal to build more port facilities on this side of the border which would likely increase the coal traffic being exported to "power house economies" in Asia.

Meanwhile the snowy world of the bike path is only a few feet from commerce.

Below posted January 10 2012 on a day that wasn't snowy.

Freeway looks kind of neat when crossing after sundown.

An hour or two earlier heading east.

While I-5 looks pretty ominous, or might I say "majestic," I'm glad I'm on the bike trail.

Autumn view along Railroad Trail. Image taken in 2010.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gay liberation may be the most successful of movements loosely called the left

I remember when proposals to legalize gay marriage were thought of as radical and way out on the fringe of suggestions for adopting as planks in the Democratic Party platform.

Forward just a few decades to now and Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire feels Washington State is ready to legalize gay marriage at the state level. I'll have to hand it to the gay rights movement. Gay rights may be the most successful social cause that has been associated with left leaning politics.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons. Gay rights demonstration 11 July 1976 at the Democratic National Convention, New York City. Leffler/Library of Congress via pingnews.

Washington has had domestic partnership for gay and lesbian couples over the past few years. Sometimes called the "everything but marriage law," but now we may be ready for that next step; calling it marriage.

A few states have already taken that step and most importantly the whole nation of Canada has legalized gay marriage both at the provincial and national level.

What has happened to other causes brought up at various Democratic Party conventions over the decades? For many years, people have been marching for world peace. Are we any closer now than we were in say, 1976?

What about reducing our carbon footprint? Many a conference on global warming has come up with resolutions, but has the footprint actually been reduced?

How about fairness of income distribution? Especially in American society? Are common people getting a better deal than say in 1976?

Many would answer no, but in spite of what has seemed like gridlock over the years, the gay movement continues it's gradual progress. How can this be, when it was thought of as one of the most fringe of the causes, not that long ago?

Gay rights advocates deserve some pride for their successes. At the same time, one does have to wonder why other causes have been stuck in neutral all this time.

Besides gay rights, it seems like the most obvious progress being made in society is on the technological front. Back in the 1970s, no one had Smart Phones, access to Google or web sites.

Technology keeps marching forward though some would say more technology is not necessarily progress for the better. At the same time, of course, there are some who say that progress toward gay rights is not really for the better either. There are still folks adamantly opposed to things like legalized gay marriage.

Even within the gay community, itself, there are some who miss the days when gay life was more clandestine; more underground. They would say it had more color back then.

There is the famous comment that goes, "Promoting marriage among gays?" "Haven't the gays suffered enough as it is?" This implying marriage isn't really all that great.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the concept of traditional marriage, but I am in favor of fairness and equality among both gay and heterosexual folks if they do wish to get married.

As for some of these other causes, like low carbon footprint or peace in the world, I don't know what's holding us back. Around the edges, maybe we can say progress is being made. Contrary to popular opinion, the rate of violent crime is actually dropping, according to recent crime statistics I've been reading. That's the rate of violent crime on a per capita basis, here in USA. Maybe that's a sign of progress toward more peace in the world.

In other causes, such as lowering the carbon footprint, it seems like some progress is being made behind the scenes, if nothing else. The technology for more efficient solar collectors is on it's way; so they say. Bike paths abound, throughout Bellingham at least, but its hard to say if use of these paths has gone "mainstream" or not.

Speaking of bike paths, another metric for measuring social progress could be in looking at the health of the population. After years of "wellness programs" are we any healthier than before or are things like obesity and diabetes on the increase?

Sometimes it feels like we're just running no place in a squirrel cage. Obesity seems to be on the rise, but at least less people are smoking. Maybe there's some progress.

Fairness of income distribution is really a tough one. Seems like society is just going backwards on that, but the descent into "income gap hell" is not as pronounced as one might think. Technology comes to the rescue again. At least poor people now can have access to things on the Internet that even the wealthy couldn't have dreamed of enjoying decades ago.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Obama can only bat the bad balls (bills) Congress sends him

When Obama reluctantly signed the recent defense authorization bill, maybe he should have vetoed it instead. He is getting a lot of flack for signing it because of the provisions about detaining US citizens. A real turkey of a bill. I think his only choice was to sign or veto, unless he has line item veto. That bill may have been the best bill this Congress, with the Republicans in the house of Representatives, could have sent him. The best this Congress could do. Good question to ask is, should he have just vetoed the whole thing and let the military starve for lack of funds?

Maybe he's like a batter in a baseball game who bats bad balls (bad bills) since that's the only balls the pitchers send him.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Ron Paul could teach Republicans a few lessons, but Obama still makes a better president

Those who preach small government could learn a few lessons if Ron Paul were to really get the Republican nomination. A true libertarian in a more purist sense, Paul supports really cutting things like the military. Other Republicans talk small government and taxes, but still continue to support things like Homeland Security, Veterans benefits, the military, border patrol, Medicare and so forth. Things American people have become dependent on. Talking low taxes, but not cutting back on these things means deficit.

Libertarian thinking, which really would call for cutting back the government, is a good discussion point. A discussion point that could be turning Republicans inside out especially if Ron Paul were to get the nomination.

Still, I would hope Obama wins the presidency. Libertarian ideas make for an interesting part of the discussion, but small government would not provide the safety net, civil rights protections and environmental protections that we need, not to mention things like federally funded research and development. Libertarians would most likely lead to a world dominated by corporations and the most powerful. Even worse than today.