Saturday, February 20, 2021

Contradictory ideas. Should Texas go it alone (buy local) or join the bigger power grids?

Yard sign I saw during a 2004 bicycle trip in California. Neighbors opposing a powerline.

Thinking about the electric power problems that Texas has just been through, there are a lot of suggested solutions that are contradictory. It's a sign of our times, contradictory ideas pulling in different directions.

One idea is that Texas should not go it alone. Texas has it's own power grid which is more vulnerable to local weather problems than a larger grid would be.

Maybe Texas should stop being so "go it alone" and join the larger community power grids? Either the vast Eastern US grid, or our large Western US grid.

Problem is, the reliability of large power grids works because power can be sent long distances. This is the opposite of the "buy local" mindset.

Here in the west, we rely on huge powerlines that interconnect, for instance, the Pacific Northwest to California. California is able to ride out heatwaves and air conditioning load by purchasing power from out of state. It can buy from the Northwest and even power that's normally allotted to British Columbia.

During cold winters, we often rely on help from California's generating capacity which is seen as excess at that time.

On the other hand, there are people that don't like big powerlines bringing power from distant regions through their neighborhoods. Another idea, of course, is to go more local. Alternative energy; such as windmills and solar power, can go both ways.

Quite a few people have the dream of being independent from the grid. "Just have your own solar panels plus the batteries needed for times when the sun isn't shining."

That's an alluring idea, but sometimes the sun doesn't shine, that much, for a long time. Batteries aren't great yet, but even the best of batteries do run out eventually. Then you need power from somewhere far away where the sun is still shinning, or a fossil fuel plant is still running. Maybe a nuclear plant that's still running.

To some extent, we may have to learn to live with power that's more intermittent; like the wind and the sunshine, or we have to put up with things like big powerlines and nationwide power grids. Big power companies and / or government systems; such as the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) here in the Pacific Northwest.

Ideas related to paying for journalism.

Here is an interesting article that someone put in comments on one of my Facebook posts. It's about the issue of subscriptions and paywalls.

I've suggested a "pay by article system" as I can't subscribe to the hundreds of publications who's articles come up in my feeds.

Turns out that idea is called "micropayments" and it's been (being) tried. It has drawbacks as described here, but there are some other ideas, described in this article, that might work even better.

One idea, used by the Guardian from UK, is to have journalism content remain free, but invite readers to make a donation subscription. You choose the price.

Article didn't mention this, but that's how NPR Radio works. The content is free. It's on the air, but it's even free on the web, for the most part. Many NPR radio stations even archive content so one can listen at their convenience. One can back and search the archive for shows from even past years. Usually the topic is well described with a thumbnail photo.

I often post content from various NPR stations.

Some print publications, like the Guardian, use reader donation systems similar to NPR. That might be an idea that catches on more widely.

Friday, February 19, 2021

How about pay by the article versus having to have a subscription to get past the paywall?

The topic of how to pay for professional journalism has come up in a new way. The battle between Facebook and Australia.

Australia is trying to get large social media companies, like Facebook and Google, to pay for news content that they use.

I have a slightly different idea that relates to this issue. More and more news media outlets are going behind paywalls. Usually they want you to subscribe, but articles from hundreds of media outlets come up in my social media feeds. I can't subscribe to hundreds, if not thousands, of publications.

My idea is to have a way to pay by the article. Possibly pay through a social media site that one could have an account with. Money could be held in an account on the site and a deduction could be made as one clicks past the paywall.

When I floated this idea, a few weeks back, a friend of mine with experience in journalism, commented that most media companies are pretty old fashioned so they don't embrace that idea. They are still thinking in terms of an old world with loyal subscribers.

Back in the olden days, media outlets made most of their money from advertising and to a lesser extent from subscriptions. The number of subscribers met more advertising revenue as ad buyers payed by audience size.

These days, lots of the advertising revenue has shifted to the social media platforms; such as Facebook and Google. In Australia, they are trying to tap some of that vast revenue source and bring it back to the companies that create the journalism.

Google has agreed to the Australian system, but Facebook is still resisting. This is an ongoing, evolving situation.

I worry, a bit, that the Australian system might be helping the Murdock news empire too much. Articles say that payouts are going to Murdock, but I wonder if other media outlets get the payments?

Another thing I notice is that Yahoo brings up a lot of news from New York Times and other sources that are often behind paywalls. When the news is on Yahoo, it's often reprinted on Yahoo News, rather than directing one to the website; such as New York Times, that originated the news. Credit is given, however.

I wonder if Yahoo News buys the rights to selected articles to reprint for their readers for free? If so that would be a good model as well.

A new system does need to be figured out to pay for journalism.

NPR Radio's voluntary listener and corporate contributions seems to work quite well. Much of NPR's content is still free and not behind a paywall.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Biden not enthused about bailing out large student loans. Why has college gotten so expensive compared to so many other things in society?

Biden isn't real enthused about forgiving large amounts of student debt beyond maybe $10,000 of debt. There is a question of how many needs we can meet all at once and how much money we can print.

My own take on this is that there has been a growing gulf between a large segment of professional level salaries and the wages of a huge segment of the workforce.

This makes paying for college more of a burden. Even quite a few graduates, from college (especially in the arts), are not able to find high paying professional jobs to pay back large debt.

The cost of college, itself, has gone way up in recent years. It's been pushed up by the rising salary scales of professionals and colleges competing against one another to retain what they see as competent faculty; especially the star faculty and administrators. Positions at other universities and industries threaten to pay more stripping an institution of its most talented workforce.

At the same time, state supported colleges have seen a decrease in the percent of their operating budgets that the state pays for so they have had to rely more on raising tuition to meet their budgets.

Back when I was in college, state supported schools were quite reasonable in tuition. That was back in the 1970's. I was able to dabble into a lot of less practical studies and had a pretty good time. Money wasn't the entire game, back then.

These days, that's a difficult thing for the economy and low income workers to swallow.

Rush Limbaugh has died. I wasn't a fan of Limbaugh, but I just found out another fairly conservative host that I did listen to occasionally, Bill Wattenburg, died in 2018

Interesting that a titian on the right in talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, has died.

Radio seems "under the radar" for much of this country's population that watches more television. Still, radio is quite effective; like part of the forgotten underbelly of America. Lots of people do listen to radio while driving. Truck drivers, for instance.

In some rural parts of the country, it seems like about all one could pick up was either country and western music, or Rush Limbaugh. These are also areas where TV signals are harder to get and broadband internet is less available.

NPR provides, in my opinion, a more informative perspective and there are attempts to bring the NPR signal to many rural areas using various repeaters; including here in Bellingham.

I like to tune up and down the dial listening to a wide variety of radio. I'm more into radio than video; partially because I tend to fall asleep watching things. I do better with audio while moving around, such as at work, taking a walk, or cleaning house.

I also sleep to NPR, but that's a different story; like being read a bedtime story. Seems like the chatter of radio is more relaxing than the chatter that goes on in my own head.

I didn't listen to Rush Limbaugh. I prefer radio one can learn from. My impression of Limbaugh, from the few times I heard him, was that he was more rhetoric and less educational.

Another, basically conservative host, that used to be on KGO in San Francisco many years ago, was Bill Wattenburg. Said to be a scientist. He had worked at Lawrence Livermore Lab and UC Berkley. A big advocate for nuclear power.

I just find out, searching for this post, Wattenburg has also joined the ranks of the deceased.

One of the slightly lesser known conservative hosts I use to listen to has died. I just found out doing some Google search. A very good writeup about Bill Wattenburg. Bill Wattenburg passed away in 2018 at age 82.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Ironically, liberal areas tend to have more wealthy folks than conservative areas, but they also tend to have more will to tax their wealthy folks

My thoughts from a recent comment thread on Facebook.

A lot of people in the prosperous cities want to tax themselves and especially their wealthy neighbors MORE. Here in Washington State, progressive and wealthy Seattle area usually votes to tax itself more, if it can. In some cases, the metro area is restricted by state laws against taxation that tend to be more popular on statewide ballots where both urban and rural, more conservative voters get a vote. Even if liberal minded people are often thought of as part of the elite, in urban areas, they often support higher taxes that wealthy folks, such as Bill Gates would pay.

Problem is, the State doesn't allow it, in many cases. For instance, cities can't impose an income tax though I think Seattle has tried that at the ballot. Washington State still has no state income tax.

I am remembering that Bill Gate's father was back of an initiative to tax the wealthy who make over (I think) $250,000 per year. I think Bill Gates, himself, supported the idea, but his own father was the main organizer of that initiative. That was Washington State Initiative 1098 in 2010.

That initiative did not pass the voters in a statewide vote. Rural areas, of Washington State, tend to be more conservative than the metro areas. There wasn't enough vote, even in the metros, to cancel out the vote from rural Washington. If King County (where Seattle is located) had been able to vote on it's own, I think that initiative would have passed.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Will too much money be created for Biden? Will it, someday, over stimulate the economy?

Some Democrats and a lot of Republicans are worried that so much newly created money will lead to more serious inflation.

It's nothing new, but the process of creating money has accellerated recently (I think), due to the pandemic. Accellerated under Trump's watch at first, but now likely to continue under Biden.

As for inflation, I have personally felt, for years, that different sectors of the economy have different inflation rates. Overall inflation, across the entire economy, is harder to notice. It seems to be under the radar to economists and those setting Federal Researve policy.

For instance, in many metro areas, where people want to live and the jobs have been, home values and housing costs have been skyrocketing for years.

Other prices, such as for electronic gadgets, remain low and even falling given the capability of the newer products over the older products. Think computers, smartphones and even the services that feed them. Think Google, for instance. It's free, but we do pay in other ways. Think Facebook, Amazon and so forth.

Inflation does happen in certain sectors, but it's harder to notice if looking at the economy as a whole. We still have to fund the government and in a political climate of low taxes, the money must come from somewhere. Creating money isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does have consequences that need to be understood and planned around.

For instance, lower income people are more impacted by housing inflation than others as the cost for a primary residence could be a huge percentage of a lower income person's budget. Higher income people are usually the folks making policy.

One possible solution to this problem, in my opinion, is higher taxes on windfall profits from; for instance, selling property after high apprieciation in value.

Other solutions would be to just keep printing the money at a moderate rate and provide subsidy to lower income people so they can keep up with the rising costs of things like housing, medical bills and education. Think of money as being like poker chips. Numbers in the computers.

Better planning, such as more density in some residential areas, is also needed. Even with the creation of money, there is no getting around the realities on the ground. The ways we plan and the ways we live, in our habitat called Planet Earth, matters.

Friday, February 12, 2021

A somewhat regular building could be an intentional community

Where I live. Washington Square.

I know I'm writing prolifically. One can scroll down my wall and see. Still, I must add how cozy living in this building can be during colder weather. My thermostat is set at 2 in a 1 to 5 scale. A thermometer, in my little apartment is reading a constant 74 F.

Maybe I should feel guilty, but I only have one small wall exposed to the outside. I'm surrounded by the warmth of the building.

I keep thinking about large buildings as communities. This building has parklike grounds around it and some residents have community garden space.

Downstairs is a laundry room, a dinning room and a library. Both the dinning room and library are closed, due to the virus, but they can be community spaces in more normal times.

I've often thought that large buildings could be both public and private (residents only) space.

For instance, the laundry "room" could be a "laundromat" that serves both the outside public and the residents. The dinning room could be a restaurant; maybe a restaurant with a banquet room for resident meetings and other rentals.

Some condo and apartment buildings have gyms which could be open to the public. This place doesn't have a gym, but gyms are common in residential buildings, these days. It could be a larger gym if also open to the public. Old style YMCAs used to be that. Hotel and even low income residence rooms upstairs with pools and gym space in the building also.

In a big building, the first floor hallway is often a shopping concourse. First floors open to both the public and building residents. Some buildings, like John Hancock Center in Chicago, are mixed use. Apartments, offices and even hotel rooms. At Hancock Center, there's a swimming pool on an upper floor. I have read that the Hancock Pool can be like a wave pool as the tall building sways in the wind.

As for the idea of having a library in the building, I am remembering when Bellingham Alternative Library was in the living room of a place called Sushi House. Sushi House is still in existence. I think it is still what they call an "intentional community," but Alternative Library has moved, over the years, to various other locations.

I'm remembering when Sushi House had a big "Open" sign in the front window for the library. That house was a bit crowded. I would guess it would not have been an easy place for sleeping. Some spaces where folks were sleeping in bunk beds.

For interesting community events, I was happy to live near Sushi House, but glad I wasn't living in Sushi House.

As for this building, where I live, (Washington Square) each apartment is self contained. There's plenty of privacy for me and it seems to be quiet. It's a bigger building than the house that Sushi House is in.

I also think about the concept of Arcologies. The city in one building concepts, like Arcosanti in Arizona. Seems like that never got off the ground though it still exists.

Arcosanti is in a rural setting. My idea of multi purpose buildings would be in urban settings so ground floor public spaces, such as the restaurant and laundromat, would be more accessible to people in the surrounding area.

Impeachment may not find serious letter of law violations given the makeup of Senate, but cultural lessons should be learned. What happens when one foments hatred?

I've been listening to talk, on the BBC from London (via NPR), about the impeachment trial today. News inspiring my own thinking.

Seems like this is more of a cultural learning experience. What happens, in society, when people foment anger, finger pointing, hatred and so forth? Why do people keep going down that road?

Was the letter of the law severely broken? Is the Senate, with it's politics and rules, able to really function as a jury to decide this?

More important than the outcome of the impeachment trial was the 2020 election, of course. Donald Trump is no longer the president. Democrats made gains in the Senate, but barely by the skin of Kamela Harris's teeth; so to speak.

Whatever happens, I think Trump is still in a lot of trouble. He hasn't been pardoned and even if he were, a pardon doesn't cover all his legal issues. New York State is after him; for instance.

Meanwhile I think it's important for us to look at ourselves in the mirror. Things like the Capitol Insurrection should give us pause. I'm critical of hatred and violence on both the left and the right, but the Capitol Insurrection seems to be the grand daddy of it all.

About my writing

Some people talk about an addiction to Facebook. I think (looking at my situation more broadly) I'm addicted to writing.

Maybe that's a good thing, but it's all about circumstance and a matter of opinion.

I do like to write to various outlets including; even personal email. I also like writing for the Betty Pages, my other blogs (outside of Facebook) and the captions I use with photos on Flickr.

Facebook seems to bring the most engagement and feedback.

Flickr brings raw numbers. Over the years, I am approaching 5 million clicks. Pageviews, but not a huge number of comments.

Admittedly my most "popular" pictures on Flickr (maybe accounting for 2/3rds of the pageviews are from years ago when there were lots of cameras at the paint party before the naked bike ride. One of the cameras, in those early days of the ride, was mine.

Out of around 6,000 photos I have on Flickr, only around 230 are from the naked ride yet they account for the bulk of the hit count. These are accessible to people who set their Flickr preferences to "adult."

Other photos are mostly from bicycle travel around town and in other regions.

Captions bring pageviews as the non adult pages are searchable in Google. These pages bring the most comments on Flickr, but no where near as much engagement, on a daily basis, as Facebook.

Many of my Flickr photos are in the WIKI as well as I put them under Creative Commons license.

The things I have online are basically stored in the cloud. Quite a few people store data in the cloud for backup. My cloud storage is open for the public to brows.

If the rich aren't paying enough taxes, they will pay through the hidden tax of inflation

I guess, some of the super wealthy have too much money that they can't use so they have to park the money.

Maybe they can't use it to build a business? For some reason, many of them don't seem to be doing this. Regulation? Lack of market? Most likely lack of imagination. Also risk adverse personalities.

Anyway, they hoard money. Some of them tend to hate taxes.

Now that America looks like it will crumble without big spending our way out of the pandemic, the practice of Quantitative Easing will accelerate.

One way, or another, the rich will pay; probably through the hidden hand of inflation due to, basically, "printed money." Really just numbers in computers these days.

Be careful of your monetary expectations for the future. The future, however, can still look bright.

Money doesn't even have to grow on trees. It's numbers in computers.

I think one of the world's biggest problems is that people take money too seriously. Money is an artificial creation. It doesn't even need to grow on trees. Civilizations create it by computer; these days.

Problem is, people and technology have to work to create the goods and services that money buys. If too much money is created, it causes inflation; like in Venezuela; an extreme case.

We have some ways to go before the inflation of creating too much money turns USA into Venezuela. We still have a lot of leeway to create enough money to help us cope with the virus and other needs without raising taxes.

Maybe raising taxes; especially on people just parking money and not really using it; is a good idea in my opinion, but not politically expedient.

In reality, money regulates the economy of goods and services. It allows us a path to building the economy, but the economy has problems. Money is basically like poker chips, I guess.

As the economy gets too convoluted and debts get too high, it may be time for a "debt Jubilee." This is when impossible debts get forgiven, I guess.

It doesn't come without costs. Home values, bank balances, retirement savings and so many expectations all have to be on the table if there is to be a debt jubilee since debt owed is someone else's expectation of net worth.

At least that is how I see it.

If we are to navigate these changing times, address the current needs as well as climate change, everyone's expectations about their net worth will have to become more flexible.

Expectations are hard to let go of, but we can't all have it all, all of the time.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Are politicians the swamp, or maybe they are just swamped. So many emails they can't answer so it looks like they aren't listening.

I got to thinking about terms that have more than one connotation. There is the "swamp" as in draining the swamp. Supposedly there is a swamp in Washington, DC, but there is another connotation of swamp, or actually, "being swamped." That might explain why it seems like politicians don't listen to the "people." They are swamped with too many emails so they usually don't have time to write a personal email back to constituents, unless they are very local politicians who work on a smaller scale.

The other term I thought of with more than one connotation is "echo chamber." An echo chamber can be folks who only want to deal with people who agree with their politics, such as in the "filter bubble" defriending mechanism on Facebook.

Another connotation of echo chamber is an argument that can beak out between opposing points of view as anger and accusations ping pong back and forth; like in an echo chamber, amplifying the outrage.

Learning to live without the Keystone XL Pipeline, fossil fuels and even football?

It could be difficult, but our economies, both US and Canada (the rest of the world as well) should really become less dependent on fossil fuels. Big news in Canada these days.

One of Joe Biden‘s first actions once he becomes U.S. president Wednesday will be to slam the door yet again on Canada’s politically fraught Keystone XL pipeline expansion, transition documents suggest.

Canada's prime Minister, Justin Trudeau probably made a big mistake placing so much effort on trying to get those last pipelines built out of Alberta.

Like anyone trying to get elected, there are a lot of tightropes Trudeau had to walk. To not build can be disruptive to the way our economies have worked for many decades. Life is changing and new economies can emerge. There is opposition to oil infrastructure on both sides of the border.

It's not easy to turn that ship around. Giant economies, like giant ships don't turn easily on a dime. Both US and Canada are large and intertwined economies.

Maybe they should have not started construction so the problem of "cut your losses." wouldn't have occurred.

Makes me think of the debt that the WSU football program faces in Pullman. Traditional patterns die hard as in stranded assets, but new beginnings can happen.

Like investment in a fossil fuel, WSU's Cougar Football Team is way in debt. My home town is Pullman, WA.

Well over 100 million dollars. The program is supposed to be self supporting from TV and Stadium ticket sales, but has been running a deficit for several years. Now the situation is compounded by corona virus. Empty stadiums and TV revenue down; especially when games are cancelled due to potential virus in the team "bubble" even with no fans in the stadium.

Should WSU eliminate football, or maybe drop down to a less elite conference (grouping of teams) than the prestigious "big schools" Pack 12?

Football does mean a lot to some people, not necessarily me. Another problem is the investment already sunk into this program. It's hard to just walk away and wonder who pays for the coaches salaries that are already like water down the stream, or the drain, I guess. Who pays for classy athletic facilities that have already been built?

WSU stadium sits empty much of the time

These ideas could be better than Universal Basic Income, but still in the spirit of UBI.

A Universal Basic Income could endanger vital public services in favor of a meager income. Money for just the UBI would likely not be enough to cover safety net needs such as housing and healthcare. Support for those things could be taken away to make way for the UBI in a limited government budget.

With so many of the jobs paying less and less, as time goes on, compared to other sources of income, such as real estate, investments and retirement, the concept of a UBI is appealing. Problem is, it may not be the best way to provide for people's needs.

Housing assistance, universal healthcare, affordable college and good transportation might be better ways to supplement low wages than just writing everyone a check.

Seems like wages, from work, are declining as a percent of the total economy; influences of things like automation, globalization and wealth discrepancy.

One ought to be able to hold a job that is still needed in society, daycare work; for instance and live adequately. Maybe even raise a family; if so desired.

UBI would be one path to this, but probably not the best path. A strong social safety net might work better, in my opinion. Also in the opinion of this article.

I think protesting is overrated. Other means might work better to bring social change

I've been thinking that protesting is overrated. Not that protesting is all bad, but it's overrated as a means toward social change.

More important, to me, is civil discussion and learning. Evolution in thinking. Another important thing is how we live our lives. How we treat people when we do have some power; like on the job or as customers, landlords, tenants and neighbors.

It's important what we consume from the environment. Basically, how we live our lives can make incremental changes each day.

At best a lot of protests seem to be just preaching to the choir. Easy for others to just pass by and think, "there are those (fill in the blanks) again." Passing traffic barely has the time to pay attention to signs and if it does, it's mostly just the sound bytes they've already stereotyped.

At worse, protests that lead to disruption and / or safety concerns can lead to severe pushback.

Seems like when the protests for more Democracy in Hong Kong may have created enough disruption to create worse pushback. I think Hong Kong is more oppressive now than it was before; at least from what I gather in the news.

Seems like incremental change works better. Usually things don't get fixed overnight. Some protests are good, but they can go too far and create unintended consequences.

What if interest rates go up?

Interest rates have been so low for so long, they would have a ways to go even before reaching historic norms. A perception that there will be even less breaks put on federal spending due to Democrats in both houses of Congress and the presidency of Joe Biden can bring speculation that rates will go up.

I think there's been lots and lots of spending anyway and rates have been low.

Sometimes, almost like fads, things like interest rates, or commodity prices will fluctuate. They may spike like panic buying and then fall again.

I remember when electricity rates on the spot market went into panic buying mode. That was a big factor behind the demise of Georgia Pacific Pulp Mill in Bellingham back around 2000. Electricity rates fell again.

Funny coincidence. It made toilet paper; another thing now talked about related to panic buying during the pandemic.

I think interest rates have been too low for years anyway. Existing assets, like homes, have been inflating in price. We'll need to build some new things for infrastructure and for creation of meaningful jobs.

If the federal Reserve prints money anyway, it ought to provide a special window for government to borrow from at bottom rates while homeowners, art collectors, speculators and so forth have to pay the regular market rates.

I know, I sound like a socialist.

Some private money goes to things besides places to just park the money. Elon Musk seems to find exciting uses for his money. Maybe blasting a car into space wasn't the best idea; except for symbolically inspiring.

I'm a fan of science and space exploration however. Electric cars are needed and better batteries. Things that Elon Musk's companies do as well.

Why would former President Trump even need social media? Regular media gives him plenty of voice.

When Trump was banned from Twitter, I wrote on Facebook...

I hear that President Trump has now been banned from posting on Facebook. Maybe that's a good idea. I don't have a strong opinion about that. I've often thought that famous people don't really need social media. They have access to the regular "big time" media any time they want. Social media seems more important as an outlet for us little people.

I remember this segment of a talk show, I heard, back in the 1990's I think it was talk show host Jim Hightower. When the World Wide Web was new, someone called up and suggested Hightower get a web page. Hightower answered, "A web what?" The caller tried to explain.

"Anyone can do it." "People can see it worldwide."

Hightower interrupted and started ranting, "why the hell would I need a website." "My voice is heard on a hundred radio stations from cost to coast and even around the world." "I have millions of listeners." "Many of my stations have 50,000 watt transmitters."

He went on and on, like a thundering Wizard of Oz and eventually moved on to the next caller.