Thursday, December 29, 2005

Are Our Civil Liberties Being Eroded by Working Too Much?

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin.

That quote is quite popular these days. Floating all around the Internet as well as on various radio talk shows, letters to the editor and the like.

I recently heard one talk show host ask, "why aren't people more outraged?" "Why aren't folks marching in the streets?"

Well, this might not be your typical answer, but it's true.

People are just too busy, working full time, or overtime.

Folks are too busy just commuting to their jobs. Getting up early in the morning, fighting traffic, arriving at home real late. Were is the time, or the energy, for anything else?

It seems like many are willing to give up liberty in exchange for security and creature comfort. Nice homes, higher paying jobs, good retirement plans. Is the price our liberty? Is there any time left for living?

Of course some people love their work so much that doing the job can be pure liberation, but others spend much of their lives doing work just to pay the bills not to mention all that time spent sitting in traffic.

I recently went to a web page of Franklin Quotes. The first quote to come up was that famous one about essential liberty and temporary safety. The next quote to come up is this:

"Eat to live, not live to eat."

Have people sold out their lives to so called financial security? Are they working themselves to death?

There is a growing movement to "Take Back Your Time," or at least take back some of it. How about a shorter workweek? How about longer vacations? More time for family, friends and community and activism. More time for a better world.

Here is a link to this friend's new blog.

People For A Shorter Workweek.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Demise of the Bellingham Weekly?

Maybe I am "kicking a dog when she's down," but I must say I didn't read much of the Weekly while it was publishing.

Recent headlines in other media, such as the Whatcom Independent, have brought news of problems at the Bellingham Weekly. Financial difficulties and some conflict between co-owners.

A bit too complicated for me to try and contemplate. Maybe it will rise again.

I just know that there are a lot of alternative publications around town, not to mention (of course) blogs and web sites.

I think Bellingham Herald has been the largest over the years, but I once heard that Bellingham Weekly printed more copies. It was offered free around a large area of Northwest Washington, published weekly while the Herald is by subscription and published daily. The Herald has a good amount of it's content on-line for no charge.

Maybe one could view the Herald as the "big corporate owned ship." It's a ship around which the various alternative papers swim. Ironically, I still find the "mother ship" can be most interesting. Being daily, it has the most "elbow room" for printing letters to the editor and including lots local people in the news.

I have a big interest in the "city planning" news. That seems to be strong in both the Herald and the Whatcom Independent.

I got the feeling that there was an attitude, around the Weekly, (also around many weeklies in other cities) that the "world is going to hell in a hand basket." "Corporations and the military industrialists have taken over so we might as well head down to the local pub and drown our sorrows in the latest micro brew." Thus, weeklies will often lean toward arts and entertainment news. Rock bands at local bars and so forth.

Sometimes I find the club scene a bit alien.

Nothing wrong with it, however. Everyone has their own set of tastes.

Bellingham has a lot of publications including a glossy magazine called Entertainment News Northwest. One should also remember "The Betty Pages," put out monthly for alternative lifestyles by local drag performer Betty Desire. There are business papers and college papers and many other kinds of papers.

As for "elbow room" one finds plenty of that on the net. I sometimes wonder if "paper" media is becoming too limited, in this age when there are so many voices. Too many voices for the money and space of "paper" pages?

The Internet is sort of like "infinite space." There is plenty of room on the Internet, but does it make one "a lost voice in the wilderness?"

I don't think so.

Search engines are amazing things. Amazing at matching up ideas and enthusiasts. A way to reduce that "lost voice in the wilderness" thing. Search engines tailor the media to you.

Speaking of you, Bellingham used to have a paper by that name. That was before the Internet days.

Back then, I was in college, I lived at a rooming house on High Street. The new publication called "YOU," "You Magazine," or something like that was around.

It must have felt that it was "The News Tailored To You."

Didn't last long, however.

One day, my rooming house manager found copies of "You" arranged in a fan on the floor. It was in front of the main door. Someone had distributed the paper in a fan, rather than a pile. There was one copy for each room in the house.

The manager said, "What on earth is this?" because it was in the way.

I said. "It's YOU!"

She gathered up the fan and said, "We only need one."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

This is one way to make a hydrogen bomb. Ask Thermo the magician

Thermo came to my grade school several times during the mid 1960s in the form of a magnificent film called "Our Mr. Sun." Thinking was different back then. Today's folks might shutter at what was presented in grade schools back then, but revisiting this film today has a comforting feel. Sort of a blast from the past, like they might say on oldies radio. Also very interesting script writing in this 1956 documentary about the sun covering history, religion, science even promoting solar energy.

See some other parts of my "time machine" experience (via ordering the DVD from Amazon) below.

Picture is one of my attempts at a screen shot before I remembered to turn off the flash. It's kind of neat. Hydrogen Fusion, the power of the stars.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Living with lower LOF (level of service) on Bellingham streets

Traffic planning lingo. Stands for Level Of Service. "F" basically means traffic jam conditions, at least during rush hours.

In this age of paperwork, Bellingham city planning staff is being ask to set LOS standards for various streets and intersections in the city. Level A would be the least congested.

The city is starting to accept the reality that many streets will become, or are already at, "level F."

This has citizen groups outraged; like they think city government can really do something about it. Similar to the Bellingham and Whatcom County's growth estimates, these are all guidelines that planners work with. The numbers become political footballs, as if governments can really control this.

The best laid plans are subject to market forces. One can talk city hall into adopting low population growth goals, but the market dictates anyway, if floods of folks keep moving in, having kids, and so forth.

Maybe we should adopt socialism, but I am not really advocating that.

So now there is a citizen ground swell against Level F, but I fear the city can't really do that much about it.

Adding more lanes to some arterials is one solution, but this costs tons of money. For instance, to widen a street, one often must "buy out" and tear down adjacent buildings. Since around 1975, the cost of buying property has gone up, possibly 14 fold. A $25,000 1970s house could be $350,000 today!

Taxes anyone?

Then there is another possible solution which I fear could be tried. Limiting the number of housing units built. Denying building permits. Creating a housing shortage.

Problem is, population keeps growing. Towns that limit housing units often become places where the billionaires are chasing out the millionaires. More realistically maybe the multi millionaires are chasing out the mere millionaires.

Is this the kind of city we want, where people like me, who never afforded home ownership, must leave? Currently I read that over 50% of Bellingham's people are renters.

Until socialism and nationwide population control comes (I'm not really advocating socialism at least) there isn't much the city can do about LOS F. Not much that wouldn't be painful at least.

It's up to the people, and market forces, to prevent traffic gridlock. The best way to avoid LOS F is for people to walk, bicycle or use public transit.

Also the city should, and is actually starting to, think about what kind of development is being encouraged. Building up, instead of sprawling out, makes it easier for people to avoid dependency on the automobile.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our Mr. Sun, the movie revisited

It's quite the film and a part of my formative childhood years. I saw it in grade school several times back in the mid 1960s. It was a 1956 classic with Bell Telephone Company backing.

On Youtube. 56 minutes.

Such a film would not likely be shown in public schools today as it mentions religion, but only in some gentle ways. Such as saying, Science is one way of reaching for the light beyond.

Not being much into movies, I surprised myself by ordering the DVD after discovering it's available at Amazon. Haven't seen this for almost 40 years, but still remember it well.

A great story about two film makers trying to put together a documentary about the sun. They want some splash to make it interesting. The fiction writer conjures up a magic screen and invents some characters; "Father Time" and "Mr. Sun." These imaginary characters just about take over the studio as they argue with the film makers about how to proceed.

Mr. Sun does not want his story told as nothing but a bunch of facts, figures, charts and numbers. He's a romantic, says Father Time. The Sun's ego tells a story of being worshiped as a god. From the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks, worshiping the Sun God.

There seems to be even a hint of gay script writing. Remember this was 1956, but Mr. Sun liked the Greek perceptions of him best.

Apollo the handsome sun god.

It even showed a frontal nude statue of that god. Mr. Sun proclaimed, "Oh, that was for me, I loved it." Going across the sky playing beautiful music, but then along came someone to spoil it all. Anaxagoras, a Greek philosopher who felt that the sun was not a god, but a hot stone. He was imprisoned for that belief, and Mr. Sun was not at all sorry for him. However man (remember this is before modern feminism) was starting to fall for his mind. Thinking began spreading like the measles. To the Arabs with their numbers and so forth.

As the story goes on, much of the interesting science is described, as much as they knew in 1956.

Hydrogen fusion, the mystery of chlorophyll.

Animation shows this fussy cook mysteriously using sunlight, to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water molecules. Proclaiming, "and the Russians didn't invent me either, I invented myself" Mr. Chlorophyll seems to not like being filmed.

Quite far sighted, for 1956, there is a discussion of world population growth. Also a segment about how we are depleting our storehouse of fossil fuels. Stored wealth that Mr. Sun has showered down on us over billions of years.

Like depleting a giant bank account there wasn't that much worry when the average withdrawal was modest, in the 1500's, but by 1975, look how large the withdrawal bags will be. We'll have to learn how to use Mr. Sun's energy more directly. Quite a few early solar energy projects are shown, including a solar heated home in Massachusetts.

History, science, religion and our constant sense of wonder are stirred into a great mix.

I feel very blessed to have had this in my childhood. Now it is a treat to see again after all these years.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Isolationism; a case for some of it

Here in America, there are folks who's minds are occupied by Middle Eastern politics, yet they don't know how to get across their own city with out going on the freeway.

They can argue the affairs of Palestinians and Israelis, complain about greedy oil companies, or talk about the need to maintain stable oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, but they don't know which bus to catch, in their own neighborhoods. They don't know what surface streets are good for bicycling or walking in their own back yards.

There are both "red state" and "blue state" folks who jet around the world, seek enlightenment from the mountains of Nepal, but haven't paid enough attention to finding that path right here in the good old USA.

Some folks have written off the USA as a hopeless rat race. They rejoin, reluctantly, after getting off the jet from some "third world" paradise.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Put your psychological energy into the world around you. Start your trip at your front door.

Ride a bike, take the bus, support alternative living in your own place. It's closer than Nepal.

This can also make a world wide difference.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Falling off the fence

Before the second Iraq war that toppled Saddam Hussein, I was sitting on the fence. Sitting on the fence as to whether it was an okay idea or not.

Now, it looks more and more like a bad idea to have started that war.

For many years, I have had a sneaking suspicion that this nation's fundamentalist "traditional values" folks have had a fascination with their "like kind" in other parts of the world. Our "Moral Majority" folks seem to be drawn to the affairs of similar folks in the Middle East. Our fundamentalists seem to have an interest in similar attitudes about family, religion and so forth in Islamic countries. Maybe they have some sort of respect for "bull headedness."

Trying to "fix" the Middle East is something that the US government has been involved in for years. To tweak it away from it's more extreme versions of fundamentalism; bring "democracy" there.

It doesn't seem to be working.

I hear that Saddam Hussein's brutal rule may now be replaced with a brutal Shiite theocracy.

We have played a role in bringing that on. It may be no better than Hussein. It could expand the influence of Iranian Shiite fundamentalists. Maybe we have helped to create another monster.

The "Christian Right," in USA, has entertained a fascination with trying to "fix" fundamentalist cultures in the middle east. The problems seem beyond our capability and each year high birth rates bring more and more angry young folks into the situation. Few are even discussing the "population" aspect of this situation. One can't expect fundamentalists to care about problems related to population. It's just not in their dogma, both here in the US, or abroad.

The problems just get bigger and bigger and eventually we could become overwhelmed.

Some say, "a fool is born each day." One can also say, "more terrorists are born each day."

We might be better off finding a way out of this growing quagmire.

One talk show host, I listen to, says "you can not occupy an Arab country." "It just doesn't work." He suggests withdrawing.

Also, to protect the USA, this talk show host suggests having a rapid deployment force that can still "take out" (so to speak) serious dangers if they arise in the world. Still being able to prevent weapons of mass destruction, or large terrorist camps, if they arise.

Of course, this means, for the most part, except for the possibility of a rapid deployment, we withdraw.

This could also mean a period of less stability in world oil supplies.

I think we are better off putting our efforts into making USA energy independent. We need to pay more attention to our domestic front. There are a lot of things that need improving in this society. We have enough of our own hang ups so we aren't in a very good position to try and solve all the world's problems.

We are like someone who can't swim trying to save someone who is drowning.

This may sound somewhat pessimistic, but here is a "light at the end of the tunnel" kind of thought. This war seems like another Vietnam. Remember what happened when we finally gave up on the Vietnam War?

There was a period of infighting between different factions of "Communism." Vietnam and Cambodia fought one another. Unfortunately, innocent people died, but after a while, the problems sorted themselves out. Vietnam seems to be at peace now.

Maybe we are just trying too hard to solve problems beyond our capabilities. There are a lot of things we need to do for our own country; like finding ways to more happiness with less consumption of world resources. Newer, "better" technologies, reinventing urban planning, alternative transportation.

Think of all the Americans who die each year in automobile accidents. Things can be better here.

If we pay more attention to our "home front," we might put ourselves in a better position to be a model to the world.