Thursday, May 31, 2012

Congratulations Space X for successful mission of Dragon Capsule

A step in the history of expanding human commerce to more areas than just this planet. Some folks say private enterprise must have growth and an expanding economy to function. Since we are running out of elbow room on this earth, expanding into space is one answer. Space X is the first private corporation to launch a spacecraft to the International Space Station. The unmanned supply mission brought supplies into orbit, docked with the space station and then returned to Earth successfully. A historic step in bringing commerce to space. Several companies are now starting to get into the space launching business.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Naked and / or nearly naked bike ride 2012 planned for Bellingham

Sunday June 10 Around 11:30 PM to get ready ride at 1. Starts from yard behind 717 N. Forest Alternative Library.

Reprinted from Zack's posting on Facebook.

Some ride to feel free, others to protest an "indecent exposure" to fossil fuels. Whatever your reason, we invite you to vulnerably share the road with us on this soul affirming event!

Help us celebrate Bellingham's 4th annual Naked Bike Ride! We will start staging at 11:30 with body painting. At 12:30 please come to the legal debrief and discussion of intentions. At 1:00pm, We Ride!!!!

We will be riding on Sun, June 10th so if you have family visiting for graduation, please invite them! All are more than welcome!

Zac was interviewed on The Joe Show broadcast over Bellingham Progressive Talk AM 930 radio. Wednesday June 6 2012. Available on podcast. Scroll down to find that episode of The Joe Show. He also talks about Bellingham Alternative Library, Food Not Bombs, collective households, his bicycle/hitchhike trip to Cuba, (last year) and so forth. Interesting interview. Around 40 minutes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Bible is just a book of history and mythology

I grew up in a liberal church that I still have good feelings for. It basically thinks of the Bible as being a document of history and mythology. Can be interesting reading for folks studying the humanities, like reading Shakespeare, but not that good for prescribing how to live our lives, do politics or explain the origins of the world. We have science and a few other tools for that. While I don't use the Bible, I still think it's possible that there is something that folks could call a spiritual dimension to life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Would a shorter workweek be good for the economy?

Unemployment too high? Doesn't it make sense to distribute the work more evenly? While some people work full time and even overtime, others can't find a job. Would't it make sense to hire more people and relieve the load on the over employed?

Sounds logical, but it also depends on the reasons for the economic downturn. I've been an advocate of a shorter workweek for years, but I just had an interesting epiphany. Reduced work time makes a lot of sense if the downturn is based on environmental limits to economic growth. For instance, if there is a limited amount of work to go around due to things like shortages of water, energy, fish or timber. Then it makes sense to spread the limited work more evenly.

On the other hand, economic downturns might also be blaimed on weak market conditions. Basically this would be people not having money to buy enough products and services to maintain a reasonable level of employment. If this second situation is the case, then shortening the workweek might only exasurbate the problem. People who work less earn less money, thus leading to even softer consummer spending power and then even higher unemployment.

Both situations, as well as other factors, can lead to economic downturns. In some cases, the shorter workweek seems like a great idea, while in others, maybe not.

In the case of economic problens caused by environmental constraints, reducing work hours makes sense. It allows more folks to be gainfully employed in an environment of limits. For those who are now working too much, a shorter workweek can lead to significant improvement in the quality of life. Workers could have more time for family, friends, volunteer activities, excersize and even rest. It can be seen as a way to improve the quality of life without having to expand economic production.

More free time works, of course, if people can afford their rents, mortgages and other living expenses. Things like bubbles in the price of housing tend to sabotoge this concept. "Working less, consuming less and living more fully" doesn't sound very appealing if one cannot afford the rent. Of course downsizing to smaller residences can work, but even rents, or mortages for tiny spaces can be a high percentage of one's income in some locations.

Seems like the thinking for a shorter workweek would be a good way to deal with the worry about economic growth harming the environment. Maybe we can still grow and progress toward a higher quality of life by just figuring out how to give people more free time. Hurray for the 3 day weekend. Civilization can still move forward. It just has to progress toward more quality of life rather than greater consumption. Seems like preserving the concept of progress is important to most people, including myself. Who wants to just stagnate?

Of course some folks would say that environmental constraints on the economy are not absolute. The economy does find ways to substitute and do business even when limits are reached. For instance, rather than constrain oneself with limits on natural fisheries, just build fish farms and grow a lot more salmon than was ever available before.

More than a few environmentalists will cringe here.

But still, the world is full of examples of new technologies and innovations that allow economic output to continue growing inspite of perceived limits. This factor also tends to make the shorter workweek a less popular idea among more than a few economists.

Still, I like the idea of having more time. It's a quality of life issue. Having more time is a way to improve the economy without necessarily having to always grow the economy.


Freight train going by as I write this blog post on a sunny day in Boulevard Park.

When the downturn is related to soft markets, rather than environmental constraints, a shorter workweek could be seen as exasurbaing the problem. Paying folks even less money to participate in the market. I just read that California is asking many of it's state workers to cut back to a 4 day workweek. Why? To conserve, not the environment, but the state budget. Seems like fiscal conservatism and environmental conservation have some things in comon. Limits. In the case of the state budget, it's a limited amount of money. Limits inspite of the fact that less government spending can put a damper on economic growth as state workers are a big part of the market that shops in private business. When there's a shortage of revenue, states can't just print money. In the long run, states have to balance their budgets.

The Federal government, and the Federal Reserve banking system can print money; so to speak. This gets into the arguements about fiscal stimulus versus a more "low growth" approach. We can print money, but there is the downside that printing money can lead to inflation.

Should we not worry too much about future inflation and print money to put people back to work? Are we too worried about deficits if the downturn is caused by anemic consummer spending?

A similar question could be ask if the downturn is caused by environmental limits. Are we too worried about harming the environment so we kill too many projects that create jobs?

Another question to ask is this. Are there ways we can use new technologies and business practices to create jobs in spite of various limits?

And finally, why are we trying so hard to create all these jobs and all this consummer spending. Wouldn't a lot of people be better off with more free time?

These are questions that there are no definate anwers to. It's good food for the discussion, however.

Some employers will say that they must give some workers overtime, even in a soft economy. They would say that there is no one else readily available to do the job who has the needed amount of training and credentials. This is when there is too much work that needs to be done; like a construction project that needs to hurry and get the job done on time.

Would my shorter workweek philosophy sabotage their business?

Not really, simply because I wouldn't advocate legislation requireing a shorter workweek. In each situation, people and their employers, need to work out what is best for their given circumstances.

Problems happen with "one size fits all" solutions. One size fits all as imposed by governments, or even businesses for that matter.

Rather than proposing legislation, I just wish to have good discussion. It's good to have conversation about the various balances between work, free time, preserving the environment and even preserving the budget. Downsizing and reducing the workweek doesn't get enough airplay.

Aside from legislation, discussion can help to progress human culture.

Let's be less productive. Interesting article in New York Times that someone brought to my attention. Discusses shorter workweek, but suggests another approach. Slowing down at work and going for quality rather than quantity of output. New York Times article by a Tim Jackson, professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey and the author of "Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going nowhere, but still outside

On Bike To Work Day, YMCA has "class outside." Stationery bicycle fitness class gets to go outside on that day if the weather is nice; like having the math class go outside.

Downtown Bellingham Celebration Station for Bike To Work and School Day. May 18, 2012.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

America's addiction to automobiles could sink Obama presidency?

That would be bad since things like gay rights and Supreme Court nominations are effected by the presidency. Americans grumble about high gas prices.

According to one conservative talk show host I listen to, Dr. Bill Wattenburg, Obama's administration may be shooting itself in the foot by overlooking natural gas for fueling vehicles. Instead, Obama officials have opted for more distant and harder to implement strategies; green energy technologies. Natural gas is not quite as green as some of the other ideas, but it's greener than oil and according to Dr. Bill, it is so plentiful here in USA that prices could be a lot lower than the oil based gasoline that so many Americans are grumbling about now.

Of course fracking for the gas is an issue and Dr. Bill tends to downplay those problems.

Wattenburg thinks Obama should issue an executive order getting the government to buy natural gas powered vehicles when it orders new vehicles. This major buyer would help jump start more natural gas vehicle manufacturing with the related infrastructure, filling stations and so forth to keep the vehicles on the road. We just need a big buyer, such as the Federal government, to get that ball rolling.

He says that finally, a bit late, Obama's energy secretary is starting to take natural gas more seriously and describing it as a "bridge fuel" toward greener technology.

I am not against natural gas, of course, but I'd also add that we should find ways to reduce dependency on automobiles in our city planning and personal lifestyles. If nothing else to reduce obesity.

I hope the gas price situation does not lead grumbling short sighted Americans into sinking Obama's hopes for a second term.

Riprap along the shoreline

Bricks from buildings torn down, concrete chunks and other things along the shore of Boulevard Park. Summer weather is beginning in this area.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interesting piece on the economy during various recent presidents

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Video has graphs showing more private sector job growth during the terms of Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama. Graphs also show more public sector job growth during the terms of both Bush administrations; Republicans. Opposite the rhetoric of what Republicans promise to bring. Ironic.

I'll add a bit more analysis.

During Clinton terms, private sector grow from the technology boom associated with the internet being new. This illustrates my belief that when there is a new frontier; either physical (like settling the American West) or technological (the internet) our economy can grow. Also Democrats can be credited with progressiveness and innovation; aside from the fact that they can also be accused of some innovation killing regulation. Of course some regulation is always needed. It's finding the balance.

Under the Bush years, public sector grew since we were fighting wars; both Iraq wars. Also; especially after 911, there were huge concerns for national security. This tends to grow government. Remember, the military is part of the government.

Also the big bank bailout in 2008 fell during the end of the Bush years. Much of that has actually been paid back, so I hear, but it's on the Bush side of the ledger.

Now we come to Obama. Private sector job growth seems to be picking up again. Sluggish, but it's happening. Partially due to drop in US dollar which is starting to make US exports more affordable again. In the past, we have priced ourselves out of world markets, but this situation is beginning to change.

Public sector jobs started with a bit of a spurt, due to the Obama Stimulus Package, but this didn't last long. Basically the stimulus has expired and now the budget cuts are happening in full due to years of recession and high government spending under both Bush and Obama. The cuts at both local and national levels are leading to a big drop in public employment during the Obama years. Something, ironically, the Republicans keep calling for.

One moral of this story is, we can't totally blame the president, either a Republican or a Democrat, for the economy. Economic circumstances are often bigger than one presidency.

I still like Obama.

Also remember that for a while, we did have a federal budget surplus under President Clinton; a democrat. We started to pay down accumulated debt, just a bit, during those years.

Nice memory.

Video also shows Romney in a photo op with New York firefighters. Ironically, Romney also calls for cutting government workers, of which firefighters are usually part of.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Historic moment

The president of the United States has spoken out in favor of gay marriage. Thank you President Obama. His views, and society itself, gradually evolve toward the future. I like front page of New Yorker Magazine May 21 2012. The White House with rainbow columns.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bringing coal all the way around Robin Hood's Barn may need more siding track

A tight fit?

If we get the Gateway Pacific coal terminal north of town, it looks like parking and access to Boulevard Park, in Bellingham, might be in question. A consultant says we might need more siding track to deal with congestion between various freight and passenger trains. Siding that could cut off access to Boulevard Park.


Update May 14 2012

A more detailed article has came out in Bellingham Herald May 13 where a railroad spokesperson says that Bellingham siding may not be necessary for the coal port. That siding plan has been looked at as part of the bigger picture for overall increasing of freight and passenger traffic along the line.

It seems like the rail line north of Everett is running pretty close to it's comfort zone for capacity with it's current load.

My guess is, the railroad track capacity issue may be a deal breaker for the coal port plans north of Bellingham. Other port proposals, that are farther south, are also vying for some of that coal traffic. Some port proposals in Tacoma, along the Columbia River and in Hoquium area are being considered.

Some of these ports may be more shallow that the Cherry Point area north of Bellingham, but they are closer to the mines in terms of rail distance since it seems like the coal has to go through those areas first before it comes up this way. The coal comes west through the Columbia Gorge; probably because that avoids bringing it up over the Cascade Mountains?

Maybe we are spoiled? Here in Washington State, we are lucky to be getting most of our electricity from hydroelectric power. China, which burns much of this USA coal, is not so lucky. Some coal trains are already headed through town to a coal port that's just across the border in Canada.

Also we may be kind of lucky, here in USA, in another way. We seem to have plenty of natural gas. There is still greenhouse gas worry from burning natural gas for power, but not as much as from coal generally; though there is worry from the process of fracking to obtain much of the gas.

China may not have discovered as much natural gas, relative to their power needs, as we have here in USA; so far at least

Still the big issue of global warming, on a world wide basis, should give folks pause. Maybe we all, including China, need to push more for things like solar and wind energy. Possibly safer forms of nuclear as well.

I keep reminding people that for various reasons I transport myself mostly by bicycle. My energy footprint is fairly small compared to many Americans, at least.