Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Iraq: The "You Break It You Buy It" War

When did Iraq get broken?

After the Gulf War of the early 1990s when we crushed the invasion of Kuwait but then abandoned the uprising against Saddam Hussein that followed, allowing him to slaughter thousands?

Today's Neocons might say Iraq was broken then, so we had a moral obligation to "buy" it with the second Iraq war. The war that was partially justified in terms of spreading "democracy."

Or, was Iraq broken in the 1970s and 80s when our oil purchases helped prop up Saddam Hussein's dictatorial powers?

If we follow a "you brake it, you buy it" philosophy, we're stuck buying for a long time, and buying we are. To the tune of over 600 billion dollars!

Original estimates were closer to $60 billion and a Bush administration official lost his job when he dared to suggest it might cost closer to $200 billion.

It's really closer to $600 billion and still counting when all the veterans benefits and so forth are factored in.

For that money, we could have almost built a large space colony with enough room for both a Palestinian state and Israel! Rather than everyone fighting over the old land, we could have built new land in space.

But, the American taxpayer is not really paying for this war anyway. Bush tax cuts are still in effect. The deficit is paying for it and that deficit is backed by international bankers. One wonders why bankers keep banking on American debt, but somehow they do. Maybe the whole world is broke.

Someone called this anti war artist's sculpture a think tink. I saw it along a trail several years back.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What would Jesus do about immigration reform?

While this may not be practical for mortals, Jesus would probably open the border and welcome everyone in. Then folks would come to him and say, "you're crazy." "There isn't enough bread to go around." "There's only two loves."

Jesus would then say, "don't worry there's plenty." He would start cutting the loves and everyone would eat. Miraculously, there would be 7 loves left over after the feast.

It's something to think about, but problematic in our practical world. I wouldn't recommend trying it literally, but it's worth a thought. For instance, scientific innovation may not be a worker of miracles, but it's better than nothing. When people say, "there are too many people and too many cars, the traffic's terrible," get folks to ride the bus. When New York City was considered too big because there was no place to put all the horse manure, the streetcar came along.

We can build up, instead of out. Up zone for density. We can keep adapting for a while, but short of something miraculous, birth control, in the countries where the immigrants come from, is needed also.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mexico's high birth rate: a big factor in our immigration issue

It is kind of ironic that many Republicans in Congress are alarmed and wanting to crack down on illegal immigration, yet they are often the ones to oppose funding for family planning in places like Mexico. I have heard that USA has become somewhat of a safety valve for overcrowding in Mexico.

Besides better birth control, it seems like most of our attempts to control immigration turn out to be rather punitive. Sure we do need to streamline the deportation process, and so forth, but rounding up and deporting 12 million illegal aliens, now in the US, is not practical. Plus much of our economy has become dependent on the labor of illegal aliens. It just seems somewhat punitive and impractical to ship that many folks out of the country.

On the other hand, USA is getting more crowded all the time. The whole world is getting crowded. Even Mexico is getting more crowded. I am sure there are many Mexican offspring who stay in Mexico.

For a while, we can learn to accommodate more people. Denser city planning, wiser use of resources, public transit, less space taken up for parking lots. In many ways, these changes could even improve our economy and quality of life. Still there is a point in which people need to support family planning.

Republicans and others alike: it is time to discard your aversions to organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

When Seattle imposed its Cap Initiative

CAP Initiative restricting height of downtown buildings back in the 1980s, I drew this cartoon back then.

Now Seattle is talking about lifting the cap initiative. Let real tall buildings be built downtown again.


It's a case of building up instead of sprawling out.

Still, we do have immigration and over population problems. Where can we put all those people? Up is better than out, in my opinion. Still there isn't that much room, especially in Seattle.

Friday, March 24, 2006

One way to reduce immigration

A litmus test for being open minded

Potential immigrants to the Netherlands must watch a film that includes two men kissing and a topless woman.

This and other measures has cut immigration by around one third, according to a March 15 Associated Press article by Bruce Mutsvairo. Someone just sent me a copy from Beacon Journal.
(Since then link I had expired. This note written Jan. 09).

Good idea.

Could be called "the litmus test for having an open mind."

That is just as valid, if not more valid, than many other proposals attempting to control immigration.

For instance, here in USA, there are folks who suggest adopting more stringent "English only" policies for people after they have arrived.

Too bad that the Dutch are only applying that law to immigrants from certain parts of the world. People from places like USA, New Zealand and Canada are exempt. Maybe the test should apply to all, so the Dutch don't set themselves up to criticism for "bias based on national origin."

From what I hear, Dutch society is still reeling from the 2004 murder of film maker Theo Van Gogh by a dutch national of Moroccan descent. The film featured a refugee from Somalia who fled an arranged marriage and renounced the Islamic faith. The film maker was murdered by someone who didn't like his message.

I hear some other European nations are coming up with things like a contract that new arrivals must agree to.

"Sign here, that you will respect folks with diverse points of view and ways of life."

From what I hear, the Netherlands, and much of Europe, faces huge numbers of immigrants from Islamic countries. According to another article, around 5.5% of Netherlands population is now Muslim.

Of course it is also important to point out that not all Muslims are bigoted; especially the folks who would be willing to watch the film where two men kiss.

The Netherlands is also a very small country, small in land area. Where are they going to place all the immigrants anyway?

Here in USA, people are not only worried about immigration from overseas. We also fret about people moving to "our neighborhoods" from other parts of our own country.

Our own country, mind you.

Up here in the northwest corner of USA (Whatcom County) there is a strong anti growth movement.

We have a lot more elbow room than the residents of Netherlands, yet people are squawking loud about any new housing development proposed.

Whatcom County isn't a country, so it can't impose immigration laws.

We can't impose laws against Californians for instance. If we could, maybe we should also create a litmus test for an open mind. Learn from the Dutch example.

We don't have a big issue of immigration from Islamic countries, here in Whatcom County, nor do we have as cramped a quarters as the Netherlands. At the same time, I sure hear people, in Whatcom County, griping about all our new residents.

A litmus test for being open minded? It's about as good as any proposal I have heard. Better than, say, that proposal to create a concrete wall across I-5.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Great picture of protest in Olympia

I love this picture, even though I did not take it. A friend took it recently as he attended a gay rights rally at our state capitol in Olympia. Looks better in larger version. Click on image to bring that up.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Condominium conversion: an alarming trend

Seattle apartments being converted into condominiums.

In 20004 it was 345. 2005 saw 1551 conversions, according to a front page article in March 20 Seattle PI.

If this trend continues there may be little left for rent in Seattle and buying a condo usually costs well over $240,000. That's still cheaper than buying a house.

It's population increase and a strong economy.

The main problem is, lots of people are buying condominiums and where are they going to put them? Seattle is basically running out of room for new construction, so the market turns to existing buildings. Convert them into condominiums, but where do the renters, and those who can't afford home ownership go?

Well, so far, I don't think that problem is too bad up here in Bellingham.

Yet at least.

Tons of new condominiums are being built all over town to help absorb the demand and protect existing rental properties.

So far at least.

Still there is lots of environmental concern about the explosion in construction seen around Bellingham.

Bellingham isn't real affordable either, but at least it isn't quite as bad as Seattle. It has some expansion room and it is also somewhat protected by it's low wage scale.

Supply and demand, but supply needs room.

Supply needs room, or, what developers call "buildable lots."

Seattle has around 10 times as many people as Bellingham, with in it's city limits, but only around 3 1/2 times the land area.

Bellingham isn't as dense, yet, but that is the wave of the future as population keeps increasing.

Another reason why housing demand is so high in Seattle is those huge rings of "low density sprawl" around most American cities. Traffic in all that sprawl is getting so bad that people are wanting to move back into the denser urban cores. Yet the cores can only hold so many.

That is part of the reason why Bellingham is starting to grow up with many new high rises planned for this city. We can become a new urban core, but I am afraid a lot of locals will fight it.

Remember, over population.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

State of Washington's new tourism slogan, Say Wa.

"Say WA."

That's really a sound byte. It is for the tourists who go to KFC because they don't have time for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It doesn't hold up traffic.

Now people talk about "doing" for travel. Like let's go to Hawaii and "do the Big Island." People can "do Washington," but it's faster to just say "Do WA."

The next state over is Idaho.

"I Da HO." If prostitution were legal, Idaho's motto could be "I Da Ho." Ho is short for whore.

Say WA, then look at your watch and have quickie sex at I Da Ho.

Moving on, moving on.

Moving on to Montana, what could that be?

You can't say cause you've got to run. The lunch break's over.

Commerce keeps it all moving along.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meditations after the Dubai ports deal news

Staying right here close to home.

Many folks seem to be uncomfortable with things becoming so global. Still, more and more business and the economy is global.

How about vacation? There's eco-tourism, but there is also bike touring right here at home.

By co-incidence, I happened to be corresponding with someone living in the United Arab Emirates just as the Dubai Ports World / USA deal was hitting the news. Since then, that deal has been called off.

Interesting coincidence.

I don't think my correspondent was involved. He was working for some corporation over there. Related to the oil industry, most likely. He's from the US, but was over there for work.

He was writing me for vacation. For information and inspiration about bicycle touring. Was planning to return to USA and do a bicycle tour. Possibly return to living in USA.

I enjoy getting a few inquiries, each month, to my bicycle touring pages. This one just happened to be from the UAE.

He recently wrote that it is difficult to find bicycle attire in UAE. There are not that many people interested in bicycling or touring as there are in the USA and other places. Too many spoiled foreigners who cherish their large SUV's and don't like get out of an Air-Conditioned environment long enough to enjoy the outdoors and the glory of nature. He was looking forward to the peaceful expanse of nature and all that awaits seeing it from the slow lane of life, upon returning to USA.

Yes, I can imagine. Because of the ports deal, the radio has been filled with talk-documentaries about Dubai.

Basically "Dubai 101."

Interesting, but from what the radio says, it sounds like life in the "shopping mall city." Climate controlled, corporate. Then a rather harsh desert outside.

Many parts of the good ol' USA can be great for bike touring.

I have to admit, except for Canada, I have never ventured out of USA. I am sure there are some parts of the world that are nice, but it is fun to start my adventures from my own door. I have never been on an "eco-tour" to far parts of the world, but bicycling in my home town can be like an eco-tour just outside my door.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Future Real Estate Ad?

Back in the 1970s, President Ford gave a speech with this great analogy about inflation. He said it is like being at a football game where some people decide to get a better view by standing up. This blocks the view for the people sitting in back so they stand up next. Pretty soon everyone is standing up and the view isn't any better than when they were all sitting down. $600 million fixer upper.

I guess they are just working harder for that same view. Working two jobs and so forth.

I wonder if the rest of the economy will ever begin to catch up with residential real estate? Will minimum wage ever be $100 per hour or the cost of a loaf of bread climb to $50?

It's all just numbers. Population growth and low interest rates take their toll.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Minute Men Are Minute ... Small

Someone stuck a petition in my face asking me to sign against the Minute Men. Being a nice guy, I said yes, but I don't really care that much; one way or another. Yes, it's a hot button issue, and people get worked up about it, but beyond the symbolism, this isn't earth shaking.

Petition was asking Whatcom County Council to adopt a resolution against the Minute Men similar to what the City Council, in Bellingham has passed.

Oh well.

It's a cause celebre for both liberals and conservatives.

The real problem is over population; high birth rates in various countries around the world spilling over into this country. If conservatives are worried about illegal immigrants flooding over USA, they should support world wide family planning efforts. Let's hear it for Planned Parenthood.

If liberals are really concerned about human dignity, they should support up- zoning, density, housing construction and low income housing, so everyone coming here can have a place to live. Let's hear it for good city planning, public transit and all that. Yes, we can still plan green belts also.

Really, I don't think the Minute Men do that much harm, but they don't do much good either.

If a handful of folks want to sit up by the border, in their pickups, I am not going to lose sleep over it. Also, I'm not that impressed. I don't think there has been one interception of an illegal border crossing, due to the Minute Men, here in Whatcom County at least. Not that I have read about. Maybe it's just for political fanfare.

The Minute Men are minute on my list of social issues.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Just listened to a Town Hall debate between Ron Sims and Ken Hutcherson

It was rebroadcast over KUOW Radio.

Ron Sims is King County Executive and Hutcherson is a reverend.

Interesting to note that Sims is a reverend also. Religious ideas can certainly be interpreted many ways.

Also interesting to note that both men are black.

Civil rights was the topic. Should civil rights protections include sexual orientation?

Sims is in favor, Hutcherson is against.

The debate was lively and spirited.

Rather than me regurgitating the debate, here is a thought that came to my mind just before the broadcast.

One must ask, "why it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of religion, but not against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?" Religion seems to be a more divisive and contentious factor than sexual orientation.

I am actually religious, myself, but I am not a fundamentalist. I follow a "liberal" interpretation of Christianity.

Under the original 1964 civil rights act, it would be illegal discriminate against someone describing themselves as "fundamentalist." How about "Islamic Fundamentalist" for instance? That would be considered "religion" and thus protected. However, sexual orientation can still be discriminated against.


Isn't religion something people choose as Hutcherson claims that sexual orientation is? Religion can certainly stir up a lot of problems.

Also, of course, as Sims maintains that sexual orientation is not a choice. Science may not be 100% certain (like fundamentalist religions claim to be), but scientific evidence tends to lean toward sexual orientation's biological basis. There are DNA studies and so forth.

Religion, is a matter of choice.

Actually some people might even dispute that. There are religious determinists, but that's another digression.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act only covers race, religion, creed and national origin.

Even sex (whether you are a man or a woman) is not protected. Not protected in the 1964 constitutional act. That's why women will often remind us that we still don't have the ERA.

In most states and local areas, other categories have been added to civil rights. Women (or I should say men and women) are protected this way.

Age has been included, handicap status, marital status and some other things, in various states and localities.

17 states have now added sexual orientation to the list. Washington just passed this protection, last legislative session, but it is being challenged by a possible initiative.

Sexual orientation is a category that I think is at least as deserving as the original 4.

Hutcherson's perspective is kind of scary even though he has a right to his views, just like everyone else. He seems to think one interpretation of the Bible is "God's law" and this nation is based on that.

Sharia Law? Ops, I guess that's Islam. Sharia law is basically governing civil matters under Islamic religious code.

Sims spoke about the need to separate civil law from the various interpretations of religious belief.

Yes, I agree. America has got to be a nation with many flavors of religious, and even non religious belief. Otherwise, look at all that sectarian fighting in the Middle East.

Hutcherson says he doesn't want to be forced to hire a gay person. Well, that is kind of a libertarian argument that can also be used against other civil rights protections as well. Keeping that idea in mind, it is good to point out that Washington State's sexual orientation law would not force Hutcherson to hire gay people in his church. Religious institutions are exempt under that provision. Also smaller businesses with just a few employees or rental units are exempt. If you still wanted to discriminate against a gay person, (or non gay for that matter) in your church or renting a room in your private residence, the new law would not apply.

It does apply to larger things; for instance corporations and government agencies. A somewhat gentle law with quite a few exceptions. Trying to be nice and cater to objections.

Now, would Sharia law be that kind? Whoops, I guess that's Islam. Would fundamentalist religious law, of any kind, be that nice?

Hutcherson, like so many of the fundamentalist persuasion, puts one rigid interpretation of a religious doctrine over everything else. In my mind, a loving spirit matters most and people will always have different interpretations of doctrine.

Monday, March 06, 2006

New garage almost ready. More buildings in growing Bellingham, WA.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Outsourcing and teaching people new skills

Visiting Hyderabad, India, Bush said, "The United States would counter job losses by teaching people new skills rather than discouraging outsourcing."

Okay, maybe the definition of new skills will have to be broadened to include learning how to live on lower wages.

This may not be what Bush has in mind, but lower wage jobs, in America's service sector, are becoming numerous. This doesn't have to be all bad as something called "downshifting" can become a social movement.

Downshifting; leaving the rat race of high pressure, high profile work. Opting for what could be a spiritually more fulfilling path. Quality living. More time for friends, taking walks, exercise, volunteer work, art, study, reading, intelligent conversation, dancing, bicycling, what ever.

Can "new skills" include learning to live better with less consumption? I am afraid that is not what our president has in mind, but the way things are going, it's needed. Yes, high technology industry and American ingenuity can bring higher profile work to some people, but world trade points out that America has no monopoly on prowess. The world is becoming a more even playing field.

Part of learning new skills can mean learning to live with more grace and quality, not just measuring all things in terms of material wealth or consumption.

However, the cost of living; housing, health care; things for mere survival are too high in America. Rents and house valuations are way out of step with large segments of the job environment that is emerging in America.

If these costs can be brought down, we might be able to have the cultural renaissance that a little down shifting can bring.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Technology Fix. Bush In India

It's a concept that better technology can help us cope with world problems. President Bush subscribes to this concept, for the most part. Recently visiting India, a deal has been signed promoting nuclear power for this highly populated nation. It's either that or India's huge population continues to industrialize using up more oil, coal and creating greenhouse gas to the max.

To some extent, I believe in technology fix, but there are other questions to ask. Has anyone considered trying to reduce population growth? Has anyone considered what happens when the world runs out of uranium? What about even more idealistic technologies like hydrogen fusion (rather than nuclear fission)? How about wind and solar power?

These more idealistic fixes seem to have always been "20 years in the future." When I was in college, hydrogen fusion was 20 years off. Now, 30 years later, they are still talking about 20 years.

Also there is changing some basic human assumptions. Wanting a better life for one's kids can be costly.

On the other hand, who am I to say that people in poor parts of the world should not have aspirations?

Then there is the whole question of "what is the definition for a better life?"

One can say, "be careful what you ask for as you might get it." Here in USA, the Bellingham area has recently suffered several horrendous car accidents. Multi car pileups. Quite a few deaths, all with-in the past few weeks. In one case, high school kids from Blaine, WA.

Technology fix might be able to address these problems as well. Automobiles spaced and driven by computer; rather than human. Cars that are "auto piloted" while they are on the freeway? It's been discussed by visionaries. Discussed as a solution to traffic congestion.

Then one can ask, "why do people need to drive cars?" Isn't public transit a better way to go? How about things like tele-commuting?

Then there is just slowing down. The modern world keeps moving faster and faster.

While I like some forms of technology fix, the Internet for instance, people are often surprised when I tell them I have never driven a car.

Never driven a car! They exclaim.

Yes, I have never driven a car. Didn't even take driver's ed. in high school. It was just too scary for me. Too scary.

However I do enjoy the gentle pace of my bicycle.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Steel frame under construction. Depot Market Square in Bellingham

Welding the steel frame. Construction in full swing on Farmer's Market structure near downtown Bellingham, WA. This city keeps growing.