Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

BBQ place near where I live has a nice tree surrounded with their normal patio lights.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Fed walking tightrope between inflation and recession doesn't seem to work anymore

I recently came across an interesting article entitled, The Fed Sets Another Trap. If I'm understanding this article, it seems like it's author Stephen Roach is calling for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates back to more historically normal levels and reduce some of the money that's now in circulation. Interest rates are unusually low; an unhealthy situation in the long run.

Parting from this article, I have my own thoughts.

Raising interest rates poses the danger of slowing the economic recovery. On the other hand, low rates and extra money may be contributing to localized inflationary bubbles, not just in the future, but right now. Things like the price of urban real estate are spiraling up. Look at housing prices in San Francisco and other cities, for instance.

Walking a tightrope between inflation and recession is a job that the Federal Reserve has been ask to do since it's inception, but that job is becoming increasingly difficult. Should they do stimulus because unemployment and under employment is high, or should they put on the breaks because the cost of certain things are going up?

The cost of many goods and services are remaining stable, or in some cases going down. This is partially due to great efficiencies in the technology of production. These efficiencies are putting deflationary pressure on prices and the wages in the sectors of the economy that provide those goods and services. Other sectors of the economy see prices on the rise.

Just asking whether the Fed should tighten or loosen the money supply is not enough. We need to do something about the growing disparities in our economy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Passing through Christmas, Michigan. Summer of 1991 bike trip

See photos of my 1991 trip.

My mom didn't allow toy guns in my childhood home

My mom used to ban toy guns in our house while I was growing up. For a little while during my childhood, I thought she was a bit prudish as other neighborhood kids seemed to have lots of fun playing shoot em up. I would have to go to the neighbors to play with gun toys. What seemed prudish, back then seems quite sensible now, looking back. Toy guns can look too real, from a distance. That's one of the many problems with toy gun play. What seemed a bit prudish, or out of step with the norm back then makes more sense now. My mom had good insight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Walmart reliance on Medicaid, the wave of the future?

Companies like Walmart get a lot of flack because they rely on things like Medicaid to provide employee health benefits. If we had single payer healthcare, that would be the norm. The public, rather than private employers, would provide healthcare. It seems like that could be the wave of the future as employer provided healthcare deteriorates and the public sector picks up the tab.

The standard conservative and liberal camps, with their talking points, tend to confuse this issue. Liberals, who usually support single payer, still complain about all the private employers who's workers rely on Medicaid expansion and the Obama Care exchanges instead of employer provided health plans. Well, isn't that what single payer healthcare does?

Conservatives, who rail against government healthcare, don't do very much to provide private health insurance to employees. Companies, all the way from mom and pop businesses to mega wealthy corporations like Walmart, remain scanty on their employee benefits. If companies don't subsidize employee health insurance, government health plans, like the Medicaid expansion, fill the void. Problem is conservatives grumble about government providing healthcare. Remember, many of the more conservative states have refused to implement the Medicaid expansion.

Somebody needs to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why blaming the one percent may not be that effective

Since Occupy Wall Street fame, the figure of 1% top income percentile has become a popular meme. Why 1% instead of 2 or even 10%?

1 is a small number so 1% is not that many voters. It's politically expedient to say you are for the 99%. After all, 99% is a mandate that will always win elections, supposedly, tho it often doesn't seem to work that way.

The one percent meme is another manifestation of our search for a painless solution to the problems of society. Government is one tool to solve problems, but taxes which fund the government tend to be unpopular. Therefore, the easiest political solution is to try and impose unpopular things, like taxes, on as few people as possible. If only the 1% has to pay a new tax, then the 99% of voters don't have to pay, so the tax should be able to pass. Right?

For some reason, that doesn't seem to be the case. Do the 1% have so much power that they influence media and voters to literally buy elections?

That's part of the problem, for sure.

Another part of the problem is the percentage of people in the lower 99%, and especially the lower say 50% of income distribution who actually vote. I hear that 2014 election saw the lowest percent of eligible voters to vote since 1942.

Blaming everything on the 1% is a way to absolve oneself of personal responsibility. If social change is to happen, we all have to do our part be it voting or what we support with our dollars in the marketplace. The wealth and power of the 1% still relies on the mass market of shoppers and voters.

What about the top 2%, 10% or even 20% income percentile? America's income gap keeps getting wider between all income classes. Upper middle class has gotten way out ahead of lower middle class and the poor. Why can't so many working people afford medical care, for instance? Are doctor and professional incomes way above what most working people can afford? There's nothing wrong with paying doctors more than average workers due to the education and skills required to be a doctor, but one must ask what's economically sustainable. As planning for affordable healthcare is considered, we have to take into account what is sustainable. What can the premiums, for insurance and/or the taxes for government based healthcare sustain?

Unaffordable housing is another issue that the income gap brings up. How can folks making minimum wage afford to live in a city like San Francisco? Is it the 1% who has bought up all the residences making buying and renting unaffordable for the bottom 50% in that city? San Francisco, supposedly a bastion of liberal politics yet about the most unaffordable city in America.

I'd say it's more than just the top 1% that creates the housing problem. How about the top 10%, or maybe even the top 20%? There are many high paid tech workers, and so forth, who can afford expensive housing. They have crowded lower income classes out of the housing market. Here, the problem is upper middle class. If there isn't enough housing, the upper middle class gets first dibs. That is except for subsidized housing and folks grandfathered into rent control.

So it looks like it's a broader problem than just the 1%. It's society as a whole; to some extent. Everyone has some responsibility. That doesn't let the 1% off the hook, but the problems can't be solved unless more folks take responsibility. Landlords, consumers and voters. We all can make the difference.

I've heard it said that if we just raise taxes on the 1%, there wouldn't be enough money to make that much of a dent in the federal budget. The 1% have lots of money, but there are not very many of them. What about raising taxes on the top 20%? That's a bigger chunk of money. That's what our graduated income tax did before the so called Reagan Revolution.

Maybe some liberals, not to mention conservatives, wouldn't like the idea of taxing the 20% because there is a lot of rhetoric, these days, about the need to strengthen the middle class. Quite a few folks talk about the need to support a large consuming class. As economist Paul Krugman says, mass consumer spending creates more jobs and jump starts the economy more than the wealth of the 1%. Still, I think the upper middle class could do more to bring a fairer society. Seems like the upper middle class is becoming wealthy while the lower middle class is becoming poor. The real middle, in the middle class, is getting a lot thinner. Income distribution is a problem within the middle class leading to affordability problems in things like education, healthcare and housing.

Even lower income people bear responsibility. How we treat one another and our voting patterns do make differences.

Another thing to think about is the natural environment. Middle class consumer spending isn't always a wonderful thing. One has to think about the the carbon footprint, for instance. Mass consumption of gasoline, cars, houses and products has to take the environment into account. Going more green is best in all these things.

Another consideration is not just how much money someone has, but what are they doing with their money. Is someone in the 1% donating millions to good causes, or buying Congress? Is someone in the top percentile building a business and developing new technologies or just buying luxury homes and bidding up the price of everything from real estate to paintings?

There is more to the equation of a better society than just deferring all responsibility to the 1%. Sure, the 1% should pay higher taxes, but it takes the rest of us voters to at least show up at the polls if we want that to happen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Collage art I did in 1980s about contradicting demands of the voters

Sent to a Mail Art show about politicians in the 1980s. Discusses contradictory demands of voters. Scroll down to see dialog beneath each picture made of cutouts from magazines. Mantra is, we voted them in when they promised these things, then we voted them out when they gave us what we wanted; as in "be careful what you ask for as you might get it."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is America's welcome mat getting tired and overburdened?

There have been quite a few posts in social media about the Statue of Liberty not turning it's back on the world, but turning its back on New Jersey.

In my files of old art collages is a copy of this piece I sent to a Mail Art show in the 1980s. Theme of the show was "Liberate Liberty." One was encouraged to interpret that however they wished. I doctored an image from National Geographic Magazine to make this piece. Taken from the Jersey shore, I think from some article on population growth and the environment.

My question was, is Liberty's welcome mat getting tired and overburdened?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Charles Manson has name recognition going for him in our celebrity fixated culture

A young woman wants to marry Charles Manson, even though he is in prison. Adolph Hitler sells a painting, even though he is dead. The power of being a celebrity. Famous and infamous. Too many people coast on name recognition and audiences still rely on it more than they should. Remember the lesser known brands, or at least take time to look beyond celebrity status. This applies to politicians as well. Name recognition should not rule the day.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Mail Art piece from Berlin Wall

25 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell and sometime around then, I got this art piece in the mail from Germany. Dust from, I assume, the wall enclosed in plastic at the center of the photo. Back then, I was participating in a grassroots network of pen pal artists who sent creativity to one another, sort of like the sharing that ordinary people are doing today on Facebook. Back then, there was no Facebook and the art traveled through the mail. It is called Mail Art. Some people still do Mail Art.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

A lot of government red tape comes from local rather than national government

Folks who vote for Republican leaders at the national level are barking up the wrong tree if they are doing this to reduce regulation on small business. Much of the regulation of small business comes from local government such as city, county and state. Local rather than national government. Small business is often saddled with various local zoning regulations, fire, health and safety codes, certification for certain professions, building permits and business licenses. Then there's also the many environmental rules for wetlands, farmland preservation, water restrictions and so forth.

There are federal regulations as well, but many of the ones that come to my mind relate to Wall Street. There's federal agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as federal banking rules. Some of these rules may have been too lax leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Do we want to deregulate Wall Street more, but still saddle small business with local regulations that are overlooked by national politics?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Washington State I-1351 could harm state social services, parks and other needs

I think I'll vote no on 1351, the class size initiative.

I don't always follow party line thinking. Democrats may be horrified, but I think I will vote against Washington State Initiative 1351 mandating smaller class size. Problem is, there is still no extra funding source, in that legislation, to provide this money. I'm worried that it might force the state to slash other things, such as social services, state parks and even college education (which isn't K-12) to come up with the money. Smaller class sizes, especially in the early grades, are desirable, but I am afraid they will not be able to find the money and may be forced to cut other things that the state needs.

Raising more revenue, for the state would be a good thing, but this initiative doesn't address that. One of the problems is that Washington State has a very regressive state tax system. Much of the state revenue comes from sales taxes which tend to hit low income people harder even though food is tax exempt, at least.

Still, much as people grumble about income taxes, the graduated income tax that many other states have does a better job at taxing the rich, so to speak. Also there are a lot of financial transactions and so forth that are tax exempt. Tax reform is needed to make our state tax system less regressive while possibly raising more revenue. In the meantime, I worry about the non K-12 things that the state does, such as mental health services, parks and so forth that might get squeezed out in the budget battles.

Some folks support initiatives, like this, which could force the issue so the state might raise more revenue and deal with tax reform. I am afraid that's kind of a game of chicken. If anti tax people don't blink when K-12 pushes its way, the other needs in the state loose. In the long run, these other state services are also good for kids and education. For instance teachers need things like parks and museums as places to take class field trips to. Also, of course, without adequate social services, many of the children are less prepared to learn.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bridge for Bellingham bike trail hoisted into place

They are finally fixing the bridge for the bike trail across Whatcom Creek just north of downtown. A year, or two ago, a fire damaged the trestle. A new bridge is being put in place and I happened to be riding by at just the right moment.

Video of bridge being hoisted into place.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beautiful big old trees like this as I continue my bike trip

Now in the Eugene, Oregon area. Spending some time in the McKenzie Valley.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Quantitative de eseasing?

If quantitative easing means putting more money into circulation, what is the opposite? Quantitative De easing or how about diseasing? Taking money out of circulation. On my bike trip from Bellingham to Eugene, I stopped in this bar in south west Washington where customers take money out of circulation, write on it and paste it to the ceiling. It's art. Hundreds of dollars worth. Also good food served there. Must be a common practice. Dollar behind the bar, only this is lots of money.

See also: Quantitative Easing Versus Moores Law.

Friday, August 15, 2014

At Deception Pass Bridge on my bike trip

Took the short walk on the trail under the south end of the bridge.

I got to talking various routes with these folks who were cycling from south part of Whidbey Island to Bellingham. When I mentioned my web site, they gave me high fives as they remembered my site as one of the sites with biking information about the area. They were glad to meet it's author. I'm pictured second from left with three of the people from that group.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

South leg of my 2014 bike trip begins. Heading down into Oregon.

Storefront in Mount Vernon, WA. I went through Mount Vernon on my way to Anacortes. Next headed down Whidbey Island as far as the Port Townsed Ferry.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Bombing them with water instead of butter

I remember at the start of the second Iraq war the phrase was going around to bomb them with butter and aid, rather than lethal weapons. Well, now that's happening with water and food supplies for that minority group that the ISIL has trapped in a mountain range hoping that they die of thirst. The minority groups need help and the US is offering that. At least there is some humanitarian concern out there.

Story below is a bit outdated. More recently in the news the White House has started to try and do something. Story describes the dire situation at least. Hard to know what the best strategy is to combat the hatred in this world. Story.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A "choice anxiety" situation I would not envy for Hillery Clinton

Deciding whether to run for President, or not, would be a hard decision for Hillary Clinton to make. On the one hand, a chance at being the first women US president in history. On the other hand, would her health hold up to the long and arduous campaign trail, not to mention the presidency? I'm glad I'm not in her shoes. Talk about "choice anxiety!" decisions like that can keep one up, tossing and turning, all night.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Long before Obama, Congress was impossible on immigration reform

Boehner claims that immigration reform can't happen in Congress because "the American people and their elected officials don't trust Obama to enforce the law as written." "Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue."

I, Robert, think that Obama's use of executive order is kind of a non issue. Instead, I think a lot of T-Party style Republicans have been rattled for years, including during the Bush years, by illegal immigration. This has created a "build the wall rather than reform immigration" mindset in much of Congress. There's enough "build the wall" mindset in Congress to block reform regardless of what Obama does.

It's true that some of that political mindset comes from the fact that over many years, more people have wanted to come to USA to live and work than are legally allowed by the number set in our quota for legal immigration. This was a big issue during the Bush years, ironically more than during the Obama years. Changing demographics and other factors have slowed the flow of illegal immigration during Obama's watch. Former President Bush was also hoping for immigration reform, but even he ran into congressional inaction against his proposal for a guest worker program.

Seems like everyone talks around the true issues. It has to due with certain times in our history when more people want to come to USA than our legal quotas for immigration allow. We should be asking, is the quota for legal immigration too low and not reflecting the reality of farm jobs and so forth in this country? On the other hand, maybe this country is starting to get too crowded. Maybe we are just experiencing being part of a planet that's still having population growth.

Article in Yahoo News that inspired this comment.

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's a little late, but now they are saying Bush Senior worried about sectarian division in Iraq as a reason not to go all the way, so to speak

Now they tell us.

I hear that George Bush Senior didn't go into Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein, during Iraq war 1, because he know that destroying the Iraqi government would just lead to the type of sectarian fighting which we're seeing today.

Why wasn't this talked about before Bush Junior started the second Iraq war? Back then, people thought Bush Senior didn't go into Baghdad because it wasn't called for in the UN mandate. That mandate only called for pushing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Back then, a lot of people thought, "if we could only unseat Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis could build a democracy." People thought that only the limited nature of the UN mandate prevented us from, supposedly, creating a democracy in Iraq during the first war so Bush Junior thought "just no UN mandate, what a flimsy reason, let's go ahead and do it."

Well now, hindsight is better than foresight. People are saying Bush Senior thought all along that the ethnic situation in Iraq was unsolvable. If we had known that all along, maybe the second Iraq war could have been prevented.

I know, there was also the weapons of mass destruction myth and so forth, but at least the "let's bring them democracy and free them from that dictator" myth could have been avoided. I even almost bought that myth, myself, admittedly.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When people in Iraq keep fighting each other, we are probably best to stay out

I hear in the news that the insurgents taking over in northern Iraq are even worse than Al Qaeda. Even kicked out of Al Qaeda for being too brutal. How can anything be worse than Al Qaeda? Wasn't Al Qaeda about as bad as one can get? I guess Iraq doesn't work as one country. Trying to hold it together is just a waste of money, not to mention lives. Iraq is Kurdish in the north, Sunni in north central and Shiite in the south. The most stable part is the Kurdish area. I think Iran is trying to hold Iraq together, or at least keep the Shiite leaders in power. If we (USA) do the same, we are strange bedfellows to Iran. History makes strange bedfellows. I doubt there is much we can do. Iraq is bound to disintegrate for now, except for the Kurdish section. That part seems most stable of all.

On the other hand, remember Somalia being a mess? I now hear that it's starting to get better. They're just starting to get tired of killing each other, and/or the most violent have killed one another off.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What does World Naked Bike Ride have to do with global warming? Is it a shaky philosophical stretch? My own reasons to ride.

Why bike nude, or even semi nude? There are about as many answers to this question as people who participate in the WNBR rides in various cities around the world. It's certainly an attention getter. In this world of "information overload" nude and colorful cyclists aren't as easy to ignore as a stack of manifestos.

Many will say that it's a protest against the use of fossils and global warming, but others would ask, "what does nudity have to do with global warming?" Some will say it's about body freedom and casting off the barriers, such as clothing, that often divide us.

The concept of vulnerability comes up also. Demonstrating the vulnerability of soft human bodies among the hard steel environment of cars; like the phrase "visualize bicycles." In a way, that seems like kind of a negative message. Might scare people away from bicycling in the world of steel automobiles, but there is another aspect to stepping outside the cover. Coming out of the shell can also mean exposing oneself to other people as well as positive experiences.

Going places on bike, foot, or even public transit can open one up to meeting more people. Chance conversations from stopping beside friends along a trail versus being inside the box of an automobile fighting freeway traffic. Fellow cyclists and walkers can be opportunities for interaction, versus morons blocking traffic. Last time I biked around Lake Padden, here in Bellingham, (I had my cloths on) I stopped and visited with 5 people I knew along the trail. That's partially from living in a fairly small area where I know a large percent of the population, but also it's from getting outside the box and being seen. Boxes can be suburban homes, cars or whatever. The bike is a friendly way to go.

Still, people wonder why WNBR riders go so far as to expose their genitals? Again, there are as many answers as there are people who do the rides. Not everyone goes that far. Many of the riders are actually clothed. Some, like me, wear scanty clothing (though I was more nude for the dance). Also the body paint is a big part of the rides. It's kind of like a town parade. While not everyone is painted, some of the body art is incredible. Brings lots of smiles to passersby. In 2014, Bellingham ride took place during the monthly Art Walk Friday.

Some of the riders who expose their genitals try and say that it's not related to eroticism, but I might ask, who are we trying to kid? Eroticism is a part of life and it could be the biggest draw for crowds watching the rides as well as viewing the many photos that go on line afterwards. I say, might as well use the erotic draw for something positive. Eroticism is used to sell cars, televisions and then the weight loss programs needed by folks who sit all day. Why not use this psychological energy to promote bicycling and other active lifestyles? I once heard an ad for a sleek sports car that said, "the shape you want to be in." How about promoting bicycling lifestyles in this way. Think of all the money people spend on diets.

Once we encourage more folks to bike, for personal reasons such as health and fitness, or meeting interesting folks, there is less fossil fuel burned when people are biking rather than driving. There's a connection.

Of course one need not be a supermodel to be part of the rides. It's for everyone of all shapes and sizes and its non competitive.

I think there is a big connection between dancing and bicycling and I'm glad the Bellingham WNBR ride ended with a great dance, this year (2014). If one can bike, one can dance and if one dances, especially through the dreary winter months, one is ready for biking come better weather. Both dancing and biking are good ways to keep the cobwebs from forming in our minds and bodies and also to get out and mingle with some fun folks.

My Flickr gallery from the local rides.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Another fun WNBR ride in Bellingham, 2014

An estimated 190 rode this time and possibly 1,000 lined the streets. Biggest WNBR ride in Bellingham's history.

Stay tuned for more photos and ideas. I didn't take quite as many pictures as on other rides. Too busy having a good time to work on the logistics of camera.

Here is an image someone took of me that turned out nice. I was only partially nude on the street, but totally nude for part of the dance. Maybe the dance was the best part. High energy, good music. A band named Br'er Rabbit and then a DJ. Even some old style favorites from the disco era. People throwing the leftover paint at each other.

I danced barefoot for a while, which people are asked to do at the free form dances in dance studios that I go to. Problem here is that there was gravel under the straw that they laid out on the outdoor dance space. For some people, lying on a bed of nails can be pleasure, but not as much for me, so I put my shoes back on. Most folks had their shoes on, but some neo-hippies still went barefoot.

It sure was a lot of fun clear till midnight. Maybe the dance being the best part, but all of the event was fun.

I feel very fortunate to still be enjoying the energy at this stage in my life and also fortunate for the diverse group of accepting people who did the ride, volunteered, watched the ride and the community of Bellingham for allowing it. Special thanks to Zach Roberson for being at the focal point of the rides each year.

Some of my images from the rides in Bellingham.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Bellingham naked and clothing optional ride on Friday June 6th 2014

Very good article in Bellingham Herald. Interview with my friend Zach.

The sixth annual Naked Bike Ride on Friday, June 6, will, in fact, have people wearing clothes.

"A lot of people plan to wear clothes," said Zach Robertson, one of the event organizers. "It's 'clothing optional,' so no one has to go naked. It's more of a space for people who want to be naked to be naked."

Body painting starts at 4 p.m. and there will be a legal debrief and a raffle before the bike ride at 6 p.m.

The route is set to start at the Hub Community Bike Shop on North State Street and loop around downtown on streets including Holly Street, F Street, Dupont Street and Railroad Avenue. Click here for a map of the exact route.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the bike ride regardless of how they feel about their body, Robertson said.

"I hear a lot of people say, 'No, my body's not good enough for this,' and it makes me sad," he said. "It's through the naked bike ride that you realize the human body is not very exotic and it's also not taboo. It's mundane."

The naked ride starts a lot of important conversations, Robertson said. For example, there's not much difference between a bicyclist wearing clothes and a bicyclist not wearing clothes, but the ride draws attention to driving safety around bicyclists. It's also an opportunity to talk about issues with fossil fuels and body image. Those, organizers say, are the reasons behind the ride, which is part of a worldwide movement.

Robertson said he hasn't heard anyone accuse them of looking for an excuse to go naked in public, but social change often brings criticism.

"We're looking to be as gentle and communicative with people as possible. When you're doing something different, there's often a critique," he said. "But it raises a conversation that needs to be had."

About 120 people participated in the bike ride last year, Robertson said. This year Chelle Beautiful will be available to body paint anyone who calls in advance at 360-599-5036.

See more details on web site.

Link to article.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A person like god would have gotten awful bored waiting for Earth to get more interesting

I would think that a personal god, in our image, would have gotten awful bored waiting around so long to create us humans for his entertainment. If he existed, he must have spent the longest time watching over billions of years when earth's inhabitants were mostly bacteria, molds, insects and small creatures. Then there were things like the dinosaurs, but I doubt their conversation was that interesting. Maybe he would have had to duck across the universe to other planets where more interesting, human style, things were going on for all that time. I'm thinking "human centric," right now. I doubt such a human like creature of a god ever existed. Not in the form we imagine at least.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Remembering "all your base are belong to us" in light of the Bellingham tortilla fad

There is a mystery fad in Bellingham. Tortillas in various spots around downtown as if placed by a prankster or an artist. Lots of folks talking about this, creating Facebook groups and so forth.

Reminds me of a silly video that went viral a few years back. A picture from my web site got used in that video. News stories were a "flash in the pan" of national TV and magazines for a bit. Watching that video these many years later brings me on a "retro early 2000s computer culture trip."

Last week, the tortilla talk turned toward whether this whole thing is a racial slur. Are tortillas appearing around town to harass Hispanic people?

Who knows. The person, or persons, placing the tortillas have not been identified so no motive is known.

That early 2000s video may have had some international slur to it as well. Turns out the video is making fun of a Japanese game company which marketed a product in USA and didn't translate it into English very well. A phrase from the game reads, "All Your Base Are Belong To Us." That phrase is the basis for the entire video.

My image is just one of many images in that video, but it is now the thumbnail on the You Tube entry. Original sign on my web site said, "Bad Route Road." I passed this sign during my 1993 bicycle trip across USA. Original picture. The video doctored that sign.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solar energy proposals, such as Oklahoma SB 1456, bring questions to my mind

Is it worthwhile for people, with home solar installations, to sell power to the power grid during periods when the solar installations are producing extra power? Maybe the cost of safely collecting this power, from all these small sources, is higher than the value of that power? See more article below picture.

Solar collectors on a house I biked past today. Power line in the background.

I keep reading about utilities that now wish to charge a fee to customers who have home wind or solar installations. A fee for selling power back to the grid. Wouldn't this mean that the utility just doesn't pay for that power anymore? Currently the utility credits the customer for that power. Right? Maybe they just want to credit the customer less? None of this has been explained very well.

One wonders what the true economics is behind these proposals, or if utilities, in some states, are just trying to wipe out alternative energy? Are they all friends to the evil Koch Brothers? Is this just a sinister plot, or is there some real economics behind these proposals?

Is it really worthwhile to sell power back to the grid? If the costs are higher than the benefit, why would anyone want to do this? If utilities start charging the owners of rooftop solar panels for the privilege of sending their power back to the grid, wouldn't the owners of the rooftop panels just not send that extra power to the utility? Wouldn't they just use their solar panels for their own power and use power from the power grid at times when the solar doesn't provide enough power, but not try to sell the extra power back to the grid?

This brings up the question of storage, which is also a bit expensive, but coming down in price also (like solar panels). Maybe it's better for the owners of small rooftop operations to find a way to store energy, during times of excess power from the solar collectors, rather than selling it back to the grid? Is storage a better strategy than selling power back to the grid? Storage, such as batteries within the home, for times when less solar power is available; such as for use at night.

These proposals, such as Oklahoma SB 1456, that keep cropping up in a few states, bring questions to my mind.

Finally, an article that explains the science behind this beyond just the politics. Explaining the problem some utilities face integrating distributed solar into their power grids. The need for better storage. Thanks to a reader for pointing this out. Vanadium: The metal that may soon be powering your neighbourhood BBC News Magazine June 13 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trying to prime Western Washington University's sometimes balky minority pump

Always a mystery why some topics go viral while others don't. WWU President Bruce Shepard's comments about wanting Western to be less white, or at least have a larger percentage of minority students than it has today, has gone viral and hit national media.

I am only slightly critical of these comments just to say that the stir is somewhat of a waste of breath. A bigger problem, in society, is the growing gap between income classes which contributes to the barriers of getting into college. The cost of college, enrollment ceilings and so forth. This effects minorities, but it also creates the perception of a "zero sum game." If we provide more to some (minorities) we have to take that away from others (whites). Ideally, there should be enough abundance for all.

There has been a long history of trying things, like I remember a College Of Ethnic Studies, at WWU, which was created in late 60s (I think) and later dissolved in 1975. It sputtered due to soft interest and limited funding. Artificially trying to entice more minority students, to WWU, could be hard if minority students tend to cluster in areas of larger population. In larger populations, there are enough people, of the various minority categories, to get the ball rolling on various clubs and so forth so people feel less isolated. A certain population level creates a threshold size to get various clubs and activities for one's special interest off the ground. I remember, WSU, in Pullman, seemed to have a much larger African American student population than Western, over the years. Part of that might just relate to the size of the student body and what can be offered in terms of clubs and camaraderie.

As for income gap, all the college presidents and top personnel, as a class, are making much higher incomes relative to the rest of society than they did back in my college days of the 1970s and budgets are tighter.

A Google search has brought me to this article, from years past, about Western's College of Ethnic Studies and another college president. The story of the traffic stop is hilarious.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Random lottery may be more representative than popular election given money in politics

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions, such as the one today and Citizen's United, things have evolved to the point where popular vote doesn't create governing bodies that represent the people. Maybe it never did. Popular election elects people who win a popularity contest and, these days, that means people with money for media. Popular elections still may be the best thing we have as in saying, "democracy is a terrible idea, but all the other options are worse."

On the other hand, there could be merit to some other options besides popular vote; like random lottery for selecting members of a representative body. A random lottery would be better at selecting a representative cross section of the people than popular vote. A random lottery would select people from every walk of life including janitors, the disabled, scientists, teachers, farmers and whatever. Not necessarily just people who can manipulate media for name recognition.

Going viral on the internet, even without having money, is one counterweight to money that still exists in popular democracies, but that factor may not be enough. Maybe at least one body of our legislative branch could be selected by some kind of random lottery if we totally redesigned the system.

Friday, March 28, 2014

How I learned an important tenet of Inflation (universe that is) Theory

Even though this isn't the gravitational waves. It's an old image of the cosmic background radiation in microwave and wow, I love the colors. Image: A map of the CMB created by the COBE satellite (credit: NASA, DMR, COBE Project).

Here's another image, more related. AP Photo/BICEP2 Collaboration, I found on Diane Rehm Show web site. Several interesting interviews coming out.

In my file box of correspondence is this letter from National Geographic Magazine, circa 1983 (image below). I bring it up in light of the recent discoveries about the Big Bang Theory related to gravity waves in the cosmic background radiation.

The recent finding is strong evidence for the "inflation theory" version of the Big Bang. Inflation theory has been around a while and was featured in a 1983 addition of National Geographic Magazine. They did a big colorful feature on theories about the origin of the universe. When I read the article, back in 1983, I thought I had found a mistake. Article talked about the edge of the universe expanding billions, or maybe even trillions, of miles during it's first seconds of life. I thought, "how can that be as it would be traveling faster than the speed of light?" Supposedly nothing can travel faster than the speed of light so I wrote them thinking I had found a mistake.

I thought, maybe they'll even print my letter in National Geographic. It's hard to get a letter published there as they have millions upon millions of readers. Letter didn't get printed, but I did get this interesting form letter back. Letter was to all of us folks who brought up that question and thought we had found a mistake. One of the letters on that "non mistake" was printed and the rest of us got this form reply.

Turns out the universe, itself, is exempt from the rule that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Space/time, itself, can travel faster than light, but nothing within space/time can do so. That's a major tenet of "inflation theory." That's also when I first learned about inflation theory. Space/time itself inflating, like a bubble for a brief moment, faster than light.

That was back when inflation theory was still just one of many theories. Now, 2014, its still one of many theories, but due to the recent findings in the cosmic background radiation, inflation theory is gaining traction.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unlikely we can push Russia out of Crimea, but we can push for human rights

It would be hard to get Russia out of Crimea as I think the majority of Crimean s' welcome them. Also it's former Soviet Union territory. Economic sanctions might be good, but to what end? Also it would be hard to get the many countries of Europe, dependent on Russian gas, on board. I mostly favor economic sanctions, but have some reservation as to what outcome we can realistically expect the Russians to do. Seems like they are not likely to let go of Crimea for quite a while at least.

A more likely scenario would be to push for better human rights within Russia which would also mean better treatment of minority groups in Crimea such as the Tartars and Ukrainians. Remember Russia's treatment of gay people as kind of a "canary in the coal mine" foretelling treatment of minority people's within regions under Russian rule.

The west can try to bolster Ukraine's economy and use it as an example of good governance as well as economics. Yesterday, I heard a good interview on Diane Rehm Show about this situation. Former US ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock actually hinted, in this roundtable discussion, that Ukraine might be better off without trying to hang onto Crimea with it's Russian majority. We could push for better economy in Ukraine. I hear things are going quite well in Poland. Ukraine can be another example, like Poland of how to do things right.

Pushing for human rights is a good idea. The international community has a stake in what goes on within a sovereign country. For instance, neighbors have gotten stuck with floods of refugees from the appalling situation in Syria. I hear that refugees are 1/3 of Jordan's population these days. Jordan, some other countries and the international aid agencies are being overwhelmed.

Pushing for human rights, within sovereign nations, is important, but it seems very hard to convince the Russians to withdraw from Crimea. Maybe in the long run, some sort of international peace keeping deal can be worked out and continued pressure within organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which the Russians, Europeans, US and many other countries are members.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snow on Sehome Hill

Pruned tree near Sehome Hill observation tower on the snowy day of February 23 when I went for a walk. See 10 more of my snow pictures around Sehome Hill and Western Washington University campus. Snow if fairly rare in Bellingham, but when it happens, we go out and take pictures. Then share on social media.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Would Keystone Pipeline be a road away from the minimum wage economy?

"Minimum Wage Economy." A catchy phrase uttered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal after a White House Governor's conference. Criticizing Obama's push to increase the minimum wage, this governor feels "we can do better." He said, push for economic growth and build the Keystone Pipeline.

What would building the Keystone Pipeline do to prevent a minimum wage economy? Not much. Not much in middle class jobs as I've heard possibly less than 100 folks would be needed to run it. That's not counting temporary construction jobs, however, but still not much in the way of new job creation. Maybe there would be some government jobs, from local jurisdictions being able to tax what flows through the pipeline, but still not much. Especially not much since I hear that the refining end of the pipeline would be in low tax jurisdictions.

As for harming the environment, maybe Keystone wouldn't even do that much either. If it weren't built, the oil would be shipped another way; like by rail as long as people keep consuming it. So, one should ask, what's the point of fighting?

So many of the things, like Keystone Pipeline, and to some extent even the minimum wage, are red herring issues. Not really the big things we need to be thinking about, but good fodder for our polarizing debates.

Higher minimum wage is another red herring. I basically support it, but I don't know if it would do that much good. It would just push the problem around like so many legislative solutions do. Employers, who tend to pay minimum wage, would just pass the added cost on to consumers and they might also layoff a few workers. It's kind of like trying to solve the problem of not enough affordable housing by imposing rent control. These kind of solutions tend to just push the problems around. Helps some folks lucky enough to hang onto their apartment with artificially lowered rent, but doesn't create the incentive to build more affordable housing.

The minimum wage economy may be just the reality of our economy. Like it our not, our economy creates a lot of low wage jobs regardless of who's in the White House. It seems like the "new normal;" the new normal for the foreseeable future at least.

Government can help in a lot of ways, but the political will to do this is not evident for the moment at least. Higher taxes on rich folks could create more of a sense of fairness between income categories in society. Basically the idea of a graduated income tax which we used to have back in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. We've gotten away from that policy in recent years. Also government spending on infrastructure can stimulate the economy to possibly create more middle class jobs. Economists like Paul Krugman say that this stimulation would help to jump start the economy so the private sector would eventually create more jobs in the long run. Kind of like priming the pump. In today's political environment, such measures seem unlikely, but politics can change.

In the mean time, here is a coping strategy to deal with our current situation of low wage jobs. We can learn to live with a low wage economy and not only survive, but learn to thrive. Governor Jindal would say that this is "putting up the white flag." Saying we're defeated instead of pushing growth; like, for instance building pipelines.

What are the solutions for a minimum wage economy? Accepting the fact that a lot of jobs are going to be low wage; in the foreseeable future at least, so we need to plan for low wages. Bring down the cost of our living. I realize that bringing down the cost of living could further dampen demand in the economy thus leading to even lower wages overall. Maybe this isn't the best argument, but lowering consumption does have a few good ramifications. Its a strategy for lowering the carbon footprint. Keeping in mind our environmental crisis. Until we develop greener technology, we may need to just consume less on average. Also more simple living offers some positive effects for individuals. Life that's not as much of a rat race. Possibly less obesity. The joys of simplicity.

This is where my kind of solutions come into play. Things like smaller houses. Cottage homes, for example. Even mobile home parks. These cottage home / mobile home / intentional communities can work in smaller cities where there's space.

What about urban areas like San Francisco where mobile homes can't be placed and even studio apartment rents are outrageous?

In urban areas, the solution can be advocating even more density. Building up and infilling. Build more studio apartments and cater to the changing demographic which is becoming less family oriented. Cater more to single people. Seniors, for instance as that portion of the population is growing. You say, what about young people? Well, many young people are less likely to be in large families as well, these days.

You say the central city is already maxed out when it comes to density? OK, we can densify the suburbs around the central city. We can make the suburbs more like the central city with transit, walkable neighborhoods and so forth. Everyone shouldn't have to live in the central city to be able to walk to work, or take transit at least. How about retrofitting the entire metropolitan area around the central city to make it all more sustainable; more affordable and more walkable?

That's what I call planning around a minimum wage economy. Make our living arraignments more affordable. This would have a big impact on transportation also. Make it so people don't have to own a car. Yes, bicycling, walking and public transit. Also better for one's health.

Speaking of health, don't we, Americans, spend way too much on health? Lots of unnecessary tests, procedures and medicines. Maybe we can rethink how we are dealing with our health also? Save lots of money here.

There are many examples of how we can live better and plan our environments with lowering the footprint in mind.

Some say, this concept of more sustainable living is putting up the white flag. Well, I can sort of understand that. I'm not necessarily against prosperity and yes, I might surprise folks in saying that I do think technology can fix a lot of problems. As much of a fan of the bicycle that I am, I also look forward to cars that run on hydrogen fuel which could come from solar power. Even, maybe, nuclear power. I'm also a fan of the self driving Google Car. I believe the Google self driving car could significantly cut down of a terrible scourge in current society - the highway traffic death toll. Part of the reason why I'm not into driving, today, is the over 30,000 highway deaths per year, that the automobile creates in it's present form. Yes, in the future, I believe we can do better, with technology. Self driving hydrogen powered cars and so forth.

In the meantime, as the panacea of technology is still on its way, we can do better by also learning to live more sustainably. Living a lower and healthier footprint. A more peaceful life with less rat race; hopefully.

The long term solution to our environmental / economic woes is going to be both smarter living and also new, less fossil fuel dependent, technology. We can do better, but we all, both us and our governments, corporations and institutions have to learn to do it a bit differently.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

State constitutional mandates putting education as #1 can be problematic

Some states, like here in Washington, have constitutions that say education is the number 1 paramount duty of state government. While education is important, this old edict can be problematic as it doesn't necessarily mean that the state budget gets larger. Sometimes it just means that education crowds out other important state functions, such as survival needs of low income people, public safety, parks and the environment as well as roads and infrastructure. It's all important. Also, here in Washington at least, the constitutional mandate only applies to K-12 education and still leave higher education outside that box.

Education is important, but the rest of society needs to be functioning as well. Just about all of society can be seen as part of the educational process. Access to healthcare can mean the advise of doctors in diet and lifestyle; important education. Parks can mean museums and interpretive centers which can be highly educational. They can help teachers and schools with field trips, for instance. Public broadcasting, educational content on the internet, it's all important. Yes, schools are important, but sometimes an old constitutional mandate becomes problematic; like a straight jacket, especially if there is nothing to increase overall revenue.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

How do we solve global warming? a preamble

New Preamble to my web site main menu.

How do we solve global warming?

Technology of course. Ever evolving solar panels, hydrogen fuel, better batteries, electronics that becomes more sophisticated while using less energy.

Is that the whole story? That's part of the story, but what about slowing down? What about making society's pace more tranquil, more user friendly. What about less rat race, more bicycling, less obesity, shorter workweeks, less pressure; life in the slow lane?

I think both approaches to solving the problem of global warming can work together. No need for a war between the high tech advocates and the concept of slowing down. It can all get us to better solutions. The solutions related to slowing down are especially needed in the short run until the technological solutions become more available.

Explore the labyrinth of my website and blog as I post photographs and writings that are usually around these topics of lifestyle and technology as it relates to sustainable economics and especially my very photogenic interest in bike touring.

Main menu to my website which links to this blog and more.