Tuesday, January 30, 2018

But few people really understand what clean coal would be

In Trump's first state of the union speech he mentioned "clean coal." I got to thinking that very few people know what clean coal is. Practically no one, on the big national stage including Trump himself, explains clean coal. There is such a concept, but whether clean coal is economically viable, or not, is a very good question. Clean coal may still not compete with solar energy. In other words, solar might be lots better.

Clean coal basically means sequestering the carbon dioxide back in the ground, rather than having it go into the atmosphere. It means still using coal, but capturing the carbon dioxide from the flu gases and figuring out how to stash it away without it going into the atmosphere to cause global warming. An expensive prospect, but I think there's people in the energy industry, doing research on this.

Of course, there are still lots of people who don't believe global warming is happening anyway so that taints Republican ideas for sure.

If clean coal were to work, we could still use our vast coal deposits for energy, rather than having them turn into what's often called "stranded assets." Stranded assets are deposits that the energy companies own that they can't use. It's something lots of big companies would like to do as they have lots of coal and oil deposits on the books.

Still, it's more expensive than just letting the carbon pollute our atmosphere. It may even be more expensive than just developing solar power.

People are easily confused because true clean coal would do the difficult job of sequestering the carbon, but there's other types of coal power that are often called clean coal. Those types of power just scrub the dirty particulate matter out of the flu gas; the dust, and stuff that cause health hazard. That's fairly easy to do and is often called clean coal, but it doesn't take out the carbon dioxide, which is the greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide isn't poisonous to us and it's invisible. We can't smell it, but it causes global warming. Just taking out the particulate pollution is not really clean in terms of global warming.

Trump's speach pulls at heartstrings, but are the policies good?

Listened, on radio to Trump's state of the union message. He and his handlers, do know how to tug at the heart strings. Common for that type of speech. The way North Koreans treated that student who they detained and who later died was despicable. His parents in the chamber. Can bring tears to my eyes.

I'm sure there's plenty to criticize about the policies. I'll await various pundits discussing on tomorrow's NPR shows such as The1A and On Point.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Brain drain worry. Keeping up with peer institutions make college less affordable.

My earlier post is about memories of an era when college was more affordable.

Many people are wondering what happened. Why is college so much more expensive these days? Lots of theories, I guess.

I think a big part of the problem is another manifestation of growing income disparity. So many jobs that are low wage compared to the higher paid professional jobs. I remember a period, in the 1980s and 1990s, when there was quite a bit of worry that faculty pay at universities was falling behind pay in other states and other types of business. There were attempts to boost pay scales for the sake of talent retention. This added to the cost of running the school and, at the same time, the states were basically lowering the percentage they paid for the cost of running state colleges. Tuition had to carry a higher percentage.

Even though, I guess, total numbers are higher now, percentages are different. When I was in school, I think a full 70% of cost for running the college came from the state. Now it's more like only 40%. More total money from the state, than before, but lower percentage which makes a big difference.

Also it seems like the split within universities is more pronounced with college presidents and top administrators making a lot more while entry level and adjunct faculty barely get by.

Mounting costs for certain things, like healthcare and housing, add to this problem making living expenses for students more expensive while rising healthcare costs eat into state budgets; part of the reason why today's percentages are different in state budgets. The growing income gaps are not serving us well.

Below is a chart I found in a PDF file from WWU. It shows decline in percent of budget from state quite well. This isn't taking into account the figures for money from grants, Western Foundation and so forth. If that was figured in I don't know. Maybe less than 40%? It does look like the percentage from the state is making a comeback in most recent years.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Can we still afford the curriculum of general university requirements?

I think if I were in my 20s today, I wouldn't go to college. My confidence in the marketability of my skills isn't that high so I wouldn't want to incur a huge debt. Some other people have a clearer vision toward a lucrative career, but without that, the debt may not be worth it.

Back when I did go to college, the costs were much lower. My parents were able to pay my way so I graduated with no debt. They were only slightly upper middle class. If I couldn't have my way paid today, I doubt I would go. Instead I would live my life, kind of like I am living it now, looking for quality of life things that are low cost. I'd be spending some time at the university anyway, attending free discussions. Also I would be taking advantage of educational things in the community and on the net. Listening to a lot of NPR podcasts as I do now.

My mom was a strong believer that college should be about more than just preparing for a job. It's the virtue of being an informed citizen. She believed in the balance of humanities and sciences. Her own major was physical education, but she never used it vocationally. She did lots of volunteer work and was married to my dad who was a science professor at WSU in Pullman. I feel fortunate to have been brought up in that family; a situation made possible by affordable education.

While I was going to college, I did have my own struggle with humanities requirements. I was never much of a reader. I'm definitely not a speed reader. Some of the general education requirements seemed irrelevant to me back then. Kind of distant and theoretical. I had my own humanities issues dealing with campus life, coming out as a gay person and so forth. My own life situations spoke so loud to me that I had trouble putting my life experiences aside enough to concentrate on the classics. I knew that there are insights one could get from that study, but it was hard for me to make that connection.

Fortunately, when I got to college here at WWU in Bellingham, they had just done a major revamp of their general university requirements; the GURs. They were starting to put aside a fairly rigid GUR curriculum and were adopting more of a smorgasbord system with a lot of choices to fill each GUR category. They offered choices in several categories of sciences, humanities, and ethnic studies. Ethnic studies was a new addition, I think. The definition of a well rounded education keeps evolving. We had a certain number of classes required from each category. Lots of choices. I tried to avoid classes that had a heavy reading load. The system worked pretty well and I made it through. That was back in the mid 1970s.

Back then, WWU was facing a very different situation than it is today. When I entered college, the student enrollment was going down. Imagine that today as these days they turn away students and face enrollment ceilings. Part of the reason for the shortage of students was their rigid system of humanities requirements which is a big reason why they were adopting the more open "choice" system. Demographics effected enrollment also as the Vietnam war was winding down and the push of people going to college for draft deferment was basically over. They had more faculty than the enrollment could justify so they were under some pressure, from the state, to boost enrollment and also lay off faculty and staff. They had a program called RIF meaning "reduction in force." People nicknamed that "ripoff in force." Eventually, as I got toward graduation, enrollment was going up again and the situation was stabilizing.

There's been lots of history since then, but I thought I would share my own college experience. I think I did get a good education with a variety of topics. A broad based education, but also a lot of choice within the parameters as I tried to take classes that interested me. I was glad to be able to take lots of electives. Took me 5 years to get a 4 year degree. I was able to go "the scenic route" so to speak.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Open house at Granary Building on Bellingham's waterfront

Screenshot photo from my Facebook post after the January 17 open house and planning discussions. It was good to see the inside of that building they have been working on. What I wrote and my photos are also in my Granary tag on Flickr.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Yes, I guess the Democrats are flilibustering, but there's a way around

Republicans are blaming Democrats for the government shutdown because Democrats are basically filibustering the debt ceiling bill until it includes relief from deportation for the Dreamer people. President Trump kind of started this problem by using executive action to try and deport Dreamer people until legislation can be passed to resolve the issue. I would guess that an easy way out of this impasse, now, is for Trump to delay, or totally scrap, the executive action on deportation. Maybe delay it by a year or even half a year? That should take the pressure off that issue so the government can reopen. Then Congress can continue to try and resolve that issue. He's probably afraid that Congress will be run by Democrats next year.

Friday, January 19, 2018

If federal government were drowned in a bathtub, the west coast blue states might form their own country?

Some conservatives say that they want to shrink government down to where it can be drowned in a bathtub. I got to thinking, if the Federal Government capitulates the the states can form their own countries. Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada are a big cluster of what are called "blue states." That would be a great country. Things like Social Security could be handled by our state, or "left coast" country.

Maybe the US is too big to govern; especially if any one political party totally dominates. I wouldn't want to see USA break apart, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.

As for the red and blue political divide, that situation wouldn't be solved, tho, as there is a lot of red and blue in each region. Rural areas tend to be more red, urban areas, even in Texas, tend to be more blue.

The idea of red blue divide is pretty stark as I know folks who could be classified as red that are basically nice people even though I'd be mostly classified as blue. I tend to not wish to divide people too much. Still, just the size of the country is a factor. Aside from the red blue divide, it could be that smaller countries work better anyway.

Who would pay off the federal debt? Everyone would just walk away from it. Sounds tempting, but I know it wouldn't necessarily be that simple.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Shithole countries sounds like a comment some people would say after a few beers

This column, by Rex humppke in the Chicago Tribune, lays it on pretty strong. He might not like my first response to Trump's "shitholes" comment either, even though I am not a Trump supporter. My response is that the shitholes comment sounds like something a few people, I know, might say around the water cooler, or after they'd been to the bar for a while. I think there is lots of off the cuff, derogatory talk among people in general, but we aren't used to hearing it from the president of the United States. Ideally, it would be nice to strive toward civility. Authenticity and honest expression of feelings can be a virtue, but there is an awful lot of negativity going around.

T shirt for I ❤️ Shithole Countries. Seen at Bellingham Peace Vigil. Things like T shirts come out fast these days. Focus of my camera isn't the best in low light, in a hurry at least.

Friday, January 12 2017.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Paying the rent by selling xerox copies, or other things, more an improbability in today's economy

Interesting how the price of a xerox copy hasn't changed much since my college days in the late 1970s. Around 5 cents. Back then, making copies usually met putting nickles in the copy machine. There were a lot of them located in Wilson Library at WWU. A few places were more expensive. The copy machine at the City Library was 10 cents a copy.

Late 70s early 1980s saw the advent of retail copy outlets. Buying in bulk could get the price lower; like 3 cents a copy. There hasn't been much inflation in the world of xerox copies and many other goods and services that make up our economy and provide wages. That's probably why wages tend to be lagging behind inflation. For large segments of the workforce, wages are based on the price that businesses can get for the goods and services they provide. Technological advance, outsourcing, and competition tends to keep prices down. In some fields, like computers, prices drop.

Meanwhile prices in just a few sectors of the economy have gone up. For instance housing. When I was in college, I rented a room in Bellingham for $55 per month. That was a pretty good price even back then, but it would be unthinkable today. Healthcare is a lot more expensive also. Another big change is tuition at colleges. No wonder people who work providing inexpensive goods and services have trouble affording these things.

Somehow, we need to deal with the growing gaps in our economy. The discrepancies between various sectors. This isn't necessarily the problem of inflation or stagnation.

Seems like part of the problem is that we look at the economy as if were one monolithic block. Then we ask does it need stimulation or do we need to damp down inflation? Problem is, the economy is not one monolithic block. One set of gas or brake peddles no longer makes sense. Today's problem relates to the vast and growing discrepancies between different people and sectors of the economy. That needs to be addressed through various means such as graduated taxes.

This problem has many implications such as battles over where to set the minimum wage where one side wants to raise it so people can afford to live while the other side says it will cost jobs since businesses may not be able to raise their prices accordingly. This especially may effect small business and businesses where the top executives don't make huge salaries. Of course in the businesses where the top makes huge salaries, they can redistribute within the business, but not all businesses are in that position.

Another implication of this problem is environmental. People often feel that the road back to being able to afford the cost of living is increasing prosperity. Just sell more stuff. Problem is we are drowning in stuff and revving up the economy has serious implications for things like the carbon footprint. Serious implications for our psychology as well if life becomes a rat race filled with overtime work. We really need to figure out how to have quality rather than quantity when it comes to prosperity. Part of quality is less discrepancy in wages, prices and so forth within the economy.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Nuclear button size like game of Rock, Paper, Scissors

Comparing the size of one's nuclear button makes me think about the old game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Paper seems weaker so it can be cut by scissors, but scissors can be broken by rock. Rock has the biggest button, I guess, but does Rock always win? Not really as paper can cover rock. In that case, paper wins.

One can think of paper as being the damage that can be inflicted by a small power, or terrorist group. Even our big industrial civilization has vulnerabilities. It's best not to taunt fate.

It can be tempting to exhibit an air of confidence when one feels they have power, however. Several years ago, I remember a meme, going around, about the West versus something in the Middle East. I forgot the exact details, but I think the caption read.

"We hear that you don't allow your women to do military service." "Well guess what." "We do." It then shows a picture of women pilots headed across the flight deck of a powerful looking aircraft carrier.

Even quite a few folks on the left liked that image which was circulating around on a Veteran's Day as I remember. Empowerment of women, compared to the situation in some other parts of the world. That's one of the threads of thought.

Still it's something to be wary of.

Friday, January 05, 2018

I am not that enthused about the concept of a "bucket list"

I am not that enthused about the concept of a "bucket list." It's a new concept, I think. It's the list of things one wants to do before they die; like places to visit and so forth. To me, it just seems to put too much pressure on living. I do want my life to be interesting, but without the pressure of fulfilling some checklist that no one, including me, will likely remember 100 years from now anyway.

There may be enough bandwidth for all anyway

As I see it, lack of net neutrality may, or may not be a problem. Depending on whether the situation can be best described with "Zero Sum" thinking, or not. Zero sum thinking is where one thing's gain would be another person's loss. If internet providers have to slow down data, from some websites, in order to speed up service from others, then it is a bad thing. On the other hand, if there is enough bandwidth and abundance for all, it might not matter. It might not matter even if internet service providers decide to innovate in the way of creating some new kinds of connections to certain types of content. If there is great abundance, which is often the case in electronics, there may be always enough for everyone; bandwidth that is.

Abundance is less evident in economics, or at least in figuring budgets. For instance, here in Washington State where the Supreme Court is ordering state government to better fund K-12 education, zero sum realities mean that other state programs, such as state parks, would have to be cut. In this case also, maybe we can expand the entire pie of state funding so providing more money to education doesn't have to take things away from other services.

It's easier to do that in the world of technology than it is in the world of economics, however.