Thursday, June 30, 2011

Budget impasse, Democrats more likely to win in court of public opinion

If both the Republicans and the Democrats present budgets in Congress, the Republicans tend to loose popular support. Republican "no new taxes all cuts" budgets spook people. The Ryan Budget, for instance was what a Republican budget is about. Things like the huge cuts in Medicare and Medicaid spooked the public. After the Ryan budget was presented, it was said that Democrats gained a seat in Congress that normally votes Republican. That seat from a district in New York State happened to be up for election soon after the Ryan Budget was unveiled.

Democratic plans for balancing milder budget cuts with tax increases on the wealthy seem more popular when the dust settles and the actual figures are presented.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Old wagon wheels decorate the gate

Biking out by Tennant Lake and Hovander Homestead county parks last Saturday.

Riding along listening to "NBC Monitor 69" on my time machine MP3 player. I use speakers rather than headphones. Show recorded in 1969. Recently downloaded from a web site. Joe Garagiola was host, Vietnam war was in the news. Music mellow. Advertisement touting the new Plymouth Fury featuring many things including an electric clock.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New apartment contruction

In Bellingham near State and Railroad. I read there is a housing shortage for apartments so new construction is needed. Otherwise rents are trending upwards again. Construction has been slow due to the financial panic of 2008 and a shortage of land zoned for high density. A few new places are starting to be built to try and catch up with the continued population growth. Hopefully more land can be zoned for density to support lifestyles of simplicity. Studio apartments seem to always be needed.

As for the single family housing market, it's still considered in the doldrums. Unlikely that most people who work in the local economy could qualify for mortgages on single family homes that still are priced around a quarter million. That's our housing market.

The percentage of US population that is single seems to be rising from year to year so "family" homes make less sense. Also that's good as we are entering, if we are smart, a low footprint economy.

Maybe detached housing makes sense for dividing part of the house up into "mother in law" apartments.

Hopefully, we are adapting to a lower footprint world.

I'm glad to still rent my reasonable room and be within walking distance from work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Liberal arts education worked better when college was less expensive

Pictured: Noguchi Sky Viewing Sculpture at WWU.

liberal arts can have a lot of value, but everything isn't counted in dollars and cents. Stuff like learning how to have a good life while living a low carbon footprint can have great value to individuals as well as society as a whole. Being able to network with other people is a valuable skill. Having interesting hobbies, political interests and volunteer activities can enrichen life.

The there's the question of paying bills. Back when I was in college, people joked about taking courses in underwater basket weaving. What the hell good is that? I got to thinking that underwater basket weaving might translate into a lucrative career for assembling things underwater; like plumbing or welding under offshore oil drilling platforms? Aside from poking more holes in the bottom of the sea, there was less pressure to make liberal arts pay back when college was less expensive and people didn't graduate with huge loans to pay back. Sure, the value of a liberal arts degree has long been questioned, but these days, the steaks are much higher than before.

Back when I was in school, my mom could afford to have the attitude that learning was more about enhancing the quality of life than just getting a job. Back then, the state paid around 2/3rds of the cost of my education while tuition was barely one third. My folks were able to pay my bills without too much sacrifice. We could afford the luxury of not having everything be about getting a job. When I graduated, I had no student loans to pay off.

A lot has changed since the late 1970s when I went to college. The growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of society has taken its toll. During much of the 1980s and beyond, colleges were playing catchup. They were striving to raise salaries for key faculty and administrative positions in a game of one up mans ship. Colleges were comparing themselves with so called “peer institutions” in other states as well as private corporations who's salaries for top professionals were spiraling through the roof. Being left behind in this spiral exposed one's institution to the dreaded “brain drain.” Good faculty might leave for greener pastures rendering one's school and state to be the dreaded "second rate." Even as this was happening, rising health insurance and housing costs made the situation like running on an ever quickening treadmill to nowhere.

Then for the vast number of students who attend state supported institutions, another monster lurked. State financial problems and budget cuts. This means the schools have to keep shifting more and more of the cost of running their institutions on to tuition rather than having the state pay most of the bill. When one does the math, one sees that this means huge tuition increases. No wonder students are graduating under the burden of huge loans to pay off. No wonder folks are starting to question even more, the value of any educational pursuit that is not directly related to high earning power soon after college.

For all but high income Americans, the virtue of college for the sake of learning may be all but a thing of the past. Luckily, there are other sources of learning where costs are lower and one can still pursue interests for the sake of learning. The Internet is one place that provides many of these opportunities, not even heard of back in my college days. Other opportunities for this would be in things like educational broadcasting, volunteer organizations, libraries and museums.

Being on campus is a great experience not necessarily gained through a computer screen Hopefully, the economics of this can balance out better so it can still be part of the cultural mix.

Photo taken several years ago when ivy was still on Old Main. Ivy has been removed more recently as it was damaging building.

Monday, June 13, 2011

After the fun ride

Some hours after our local WNBR ride went through, I found this chalk drawing on Taylor Dock. The ride was naked and partially naked.

I found this drawing later that afternoon when I was coming back from Lake Padden where I washed some of my paint off in the water. Or maybe it was later that evening coming back from an art opening in Fairhaven. There was a lot to go to that day. Then I went dancing that night. Saturday was quite the day zipping around on my bike.

Eventually I plan to share a few of the images I got from the local WNBR ride. It was a protest against global warming and things like that, but for me it was also fun and erotic. Living a low carbon footprint has to be fun for it to stick.

Part of the appeal, of course, was that I know a lot of the people involved. This also means that I'm not likely to share quite a few of the pictures because I see those same folks around town quite a bit. Knowing the people, even somewhat remotely makes a difference. It's like they are my family, even though really extended family. The family of humankind, but close enough that hardly a few days go by without one of their smiles.

Who knows, 20 years from now some of these folks might want to run for Congress. Would they want images to surface?

I do plan to share some of the experiences when I get things organized. So far, from sharing a bit during past years, everything's been cool.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Unemployment too high, our economy is like a growing plant that's become pot bound

We're getting so efficient at what we do that if everyone was working full tilt, there would be be no more room on Earth for all the products, services and new developments being created. Our economy is like a growing plant that's become pot bound. There's little place to grow, without running into environmental concern.

Growth is like a journey, a narrative. It gives the economy purpose and direction. It provides an understandable focus. Building the new landscape. Without it, we're floundering.

What's America's purpose for the next 10 years? Where are we going?

A new frontier to expand into makes that question easier to answer. Without it, we have to figure out a new way to justify our endeavours.

Part of the problem is that population keeps expanding and billions of folks around the world are being lifted out of poverty. Is there enough space on Earth for every one's aspirations?

Here are some possible answers to this dilemma.

Create a focus of transitioning to a greener more sustainable economy. President Obama talks about this quite often. This includes the things people keep hearing about like green energy, green cars (which may be an oxymoron), clean coal (carbon sequestration) solar power, wind, and even nuclear power.

This could keep us busy, but it's hard to get the fires of green energy lighted, especially using the matches of free market economics. Will wind power pay when dirty coal is still cheaper?

Green energy is kind of like green wood. It's hard to get the fire lit.

This transition goes beyond just green energy. Back in the 1990s, the internet opened up a frontier of information technology. Suddenly there were new jobs in services such as Google that no one had heard of before.

New types of products and services that have lower footprints on the environment are coming from the advances of science. We are seeing the miniaturization of things. Libraries that once filled entire buildings can now be stuffed into flash memory and placed on one bookshelf. Less footprint.

Still, many of these technologies will also make us more efficient, thus eliminating jobs. For instance more "pro summer" opportunities. Instead of using a travel agent, people can book their own travels via web sites.

Big changes need to come to our culture as well. Maybe we should learn to put less emphasis on economic wealth and value other things that can bring a different kind of value to life. More free time, for instance. Possibly not striving to produce so much in terms of marketable goods and services, but other qualities in life like friendships and contemplation. Learning how to let the grass grow under our wheels.

Maybe that's what our goal should be. Learn to let grass grow under wheels. In some ways, it could be almost as important as inventing the wheel.

I don't want people to think I'm just a lazy hippie, so I can also suggest finding a new frontier. How about building more stuff in space? There's plenty of room.

As we outgrow Earth, how about building things in space that can keep us employed.

Keep us busy.

Now we have things like GPS, thanks to satellites in space. We can figure out more stuff to do using space. Large telescopes to satisfy our couriosity about the universe. More jobs for college graduates. More topics to write papers on.

Still, can the free market pay for this? We are building the James Webb Telescope, but it's still "government work" and we need a lot more of this to keep all our minds active.

With long term unemployment as high as it is, we need to think about where we are going next for the new jobs and opportunities. If we had another earth to expand into, the answer to that question would be more straight forward.

Without a new Earth, we need to think creatively. No one solution will do it all. It's a combination of things. Greening of our economy, new frontiers in science, space, but also new frontiers in culture, like learning that it's not a crime to slow down. It will take a combination of all these things. This may seem contradictory, but one size doesn't fit all 7 billion folks on Earth.

We just have to start thinking about unemployment in terms of how do we go beyond the pot bound economy.

Light behind the trees, Lake Padden

Evening bike ride around Lake Padden.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Back when the world was going to hell in a hand basket

When smoking was allowed in conference rooms of Viking Union at Western Washington University in the 1970s there were little cardboard ashtrays with a foil surface. Printed on each ashtray was the phrase, "If the glass ashtrays had not been stolen, I wouldn't be here."

Friday, June 03, 2011

Chairs that look like hands

Some might say, "why didn't I think of that?" Made from a Styrofoam like plastic. People could sit in them. I saw these set up a last week's Ski To Sea car show.

Why would I go to a car show?

I was just biking through.

Then I saw this tiny economy car from 1957. Entered by a friend of mine who's, for the most part, a bicycle advocate. She's selling it.

This old picnic style radio was most interesting. Brings back memories.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Crowd gathered to hear Bill Mckibben speak in Fairhaven's Village Green

Concern about global warming from increasing use of fossil fuel including the burning of coal. Some of that coal is coming through Bellingham on it's way to Asian markets. More may be on it's way. McKibben was brought to Bellingham on May 31 to speak about the coal issue and global warming. See some of my thoughts on that topic.