Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Living alone and loving it. A growing trend

Very good hour long interview on the Michael Krasney radio show about the growing trend toward living alone. Here's text from the show description in the archive of KQED Forum. Audio and podcast is available in a link from that page.

In his new book "Going Solo," Eric Klinenberg interviewed hundreds of people living alone. He wanted to know why in the modern world more than 50 percent of adults are single, and why so many love living alone. We explore the rise in solo-living and the sociology behind it.

According to show, around 49% of American households are now single occupant. A dramatic increase from 10% in 1950.

It's often not discussed, but a lot of people like living alone. Politics and planning needs to catch up. Rhetoric about "family values" that's spewed by politicians, especially Republicans, needs to be rethought.

Planning for smaller residential units is needed also.

There are interesting issues around the need for community which may be different for single people than for folks in families. Do families tend to be more insular while singles need to get out and value community more since there aren't people to come home to?

I'm glad these issues are starting to be discussed.

We spend a lot of time discussing gay marriage, but possibly the real change is that more folks are not in a relationship at all. This seldom gets mentioned. I'm in favor of allowing gay marriage, but I live alone and discussion of single living comes closer to truly hitting the spot for me.

Inexpensive way to help both homeowners and renters

Text of my letter to the editor, Bellingham Herald February 22 2012.

In some cities like Bellingham, there is a shortage of rental units leading to rising rents. At the same time, there are homeowners who are about to go into foreclosure because they can barely afford their mortgages. Why can't more of the homeowners take in renters to help pay the bills?

An extra income stream from renters is one way to help homeowners save their homes from foreclosure. At the same time it would provide more places for renters so rents could remain moderate. This could help solve two problems simultaneously.

In some cases, zoning would need to be changed from single-family residential to a less restrictive use that would allow a few rental units in the homes. It doesn't make sense to have much of the land area of our city used up in neighborhoods where the median price of a home is way above what the average person can afford. It also doesn't make sense for renters to face a housing shortage while single-family homes go empty and homeowners cannot afford the payments.

Given today's job market and financial situation, innovative solutions should be tried.

This article was in a recent Herald also about a shortage of rental properties in Bellingham.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Biking around Lake Samish at sunset a few weeks ago

Obama's apology did no good, but did no harm either

It was the right thing to do for President Obama to try and apologize to people in Afghanistan when some Qurans were burned along with the trash at a US military base. Too bad that the apology basically fell on deaf ears. It didn't really do any good. Santorum is giving Obama flack for even trying to apologize, but apologizing didn't do any harm either. It was the right thing to try, but it looks like it didn't do any good. Too bad it fell on deaf ears.

Sometimes even being President of the United States can be a thankless job.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The gas ceiling instead of the glass ceiling

The economy seems to hit a "gas ceiling" when ever it starts to pick up again. Like the famous glass ceiling said to be encountered by women rising toward the top of corporations, the entire economy hits a gas ceiling when increased consumption pushes up prices. Then high prices threaten to push the economy back down and a slower economy brings down prices again.

Using energy more efficiently can keep the economy going. Drilling for more oil is happening, but that oil is more expensive; unlike the Republican dreamers would like you to believe. The cheap deposits are already depleted. There's still lots of oil, but it's harder to extract.

Alternative energy tends to be more expensive also, at least in the short run. Maybe something like Moore's Law applies to solar collectors; like it has applied to computer chips. Doubling in efficiency every 18 months? Then using electricity to charge batteries for cars, or make hydrogen fuel, might be more viable.

Solar collectors are getting better, but maybe not progressing as fast as computer technology has been progressing. Alternative energy is likely to be more expensive than even expensive oil for a while; at least in automobiles. Solar can be quite inexpensive for heating, if one has the right south facing windows and remembers to open and close their drapes at the right times.

My brother has solar collectors on his house and he recently got an electric car. He reports, in his Facebook posts, that he drives on sunlight. He says around 60% of his electricity for home and car comes from the sun with the remaining 40% from the power grid.

Some say we should use natural gas instead of oil as a fuel for transportation. It may be cheaper than oil for a while, but at start there are conversion costs. Also, in the long run, it's still a greenhouse gas; tho less carbon based than oil or coal.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A rising tide swamps some of the boats

Some say a rising economic tide of the rich getting richer helps all as "a rising tide rises all boats." This may be true in part, but there's a counter argument as well. A rising tide swamps boats also. For example, if the billionaires start to price the millionaires out of neighborhoods, where can the rest of us live?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Being a janitor in the information age

Being a custodian has some advantages in the age of information overload. There's more time to absorb that information when one is doing simple tasks such as mopping a floor. Radio can bring lots of learning to the ear while the hands and the eyes are employed in what some call mindless tasks. In this digital age, internet radio and the MP3 player brings vast choices to the discerning ear.

Here are some of my favorite sources of good discussion on the radio that I download for listening to later during my custodial shifts at night.

I download the shows to my computer and then transfer them over to my MP3 player. People with smart phones can probably just click on listen, if their smart phone is in range of a wireless, or cellphone source.

KQED in San Francisco has a show called Forum. Wide range of topics. Interviews many authors and others. Archived with good description and a photo for each episode. Archive goes back years. Show aired most weekdays.

The Diane Rhems Show on WAMU, Washington, DC and NPR. Round table discussion. This one's hard to explain how to get to the podcast, but I find my way there for it to download. Seems like the only show available is the second hour of the most recent show. I click on podcast at the bottom of the show page. All the shows are archived for streaming, but seems like only the most recent 2nd hour is available for podcast.

I also like NPR Science Friday for good science news. Easy to find the download.

Many other shows are available. Just takes some time and thinking to find them. Learning to be organized.

Having the time, without a lot of distractions helps. Like the advantage of being a custodian in the information age.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rick Santorum misguided as technological progress is only part of the poverty story

Rick Santorum says poor people in USA are much better off than even the rich were 50 years ago. Well, we do have a lot more technology than 50 years ago. Smart phones, the Internet and more channels on TV, but housing, healthcare and education is less affordable. Also poor people still live in the shadow of the wealthy and the gap between rich and poor is far wider and in some ways more demoralizing.

Also he says the comforts of the poor, such as having smart phones, is part of America's great dynamism. Increasingly technological wonder can not be attributed to American greatness. It is a worldwide economy now and technological progress is increasingly coming from other parts of the world even though Americans can still use it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Earth enjoying humans while other planets look worried

Like glistening jewels from space, cities near Gulf Coast of United States as seen at night from International Space Station.

Remember that cartoon showing Earth being ill with the disease "humans" while other planets try and comfort Earth?

I have a new variation of that cartoon idea.

In my cartoon (I can't draw) Earth is jumping with joy, all excited as humans are it's new creation. It's Earth dazzling with the excitement of civilization. Other planets are looking on with worried looks on their faces. They are saying to Earth, "you'd better be careful." "Don't hurt yourself."

In other words, humans are not thought of as a disease, but instead an accomplishment of Earth. Our civilization is part of nature, a crowning achievement of nature. Earth is happy, not sick. Still, there's some cause for concern. Other planets, looking duller than Earth, some just bland looking gas balls like Uranus, are cautioning Earth to be careful. They say to Earth, "just don't get carried away with your new newfangled humans."

I used photo from NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day, November 4 2010.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pitting education against other state services is uneducational

Letter I wrote to my state legislators against a proposal to fund education first at the expense of other state services, HB-2533. Also see (below) good personal response I got back.

I think things like the Fund Education First bill just pits education against social services and other valuable things that the state does. It is kind of problematic to have the state constitution putting education ahead of all other functions of state government, or at least some ways of interpreting the constitution create this situation.

Seems like just about all functions of state government can be viewed as providing education. For instance state parks do a lot with visitor centers, museums, interpretive trails and programs that educate children and the public about history, the environment and so forth.

For some folks, the only access to a doctor could be things like the Washington Basic Health Plan. Contact with a doctor can be seen as an educational experience. Education on lifestyle, diet and so forth that is important. Things like public broadcasting and city libraries are important to education as well.

All of these things in the community can help the teachers and the schools do their job rather than pitting the schools against the other functions of state government.

It is true that there isn't enough revenue to meet all the needs. Still, the entire state needs to work together. Revenue increases for state government need to be considered also as a means to improve school funding as well as funding for the other services.

On the Internet, I listened to an interesting interview with education expert Diane Ravitch who was on Michael Krasney's Forum show January 18 2012 on KQED Radio in San Francisco. One of the things Diane said was that student achievement could be correlated with amount of poverty in the student's life. If this is the case, then it makes no sense to gut anti poverty programs for things like housing and healthcare in order to try and improve schools for better test scores.

The rest of the state programs can actually help the teacher do their job by addressing the situations that kids and families reside in.

We all need to work together to help the teachers and schools by, in part maintaining the rest of the state. Co-operation is better than pitting the schools against the rest of the state.

Robert Ashworth, Bellingham

Good personal response from Representative Kristine Lytton.

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your message regarding the Fund Education First legislation that has been introduced. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I share your concern that, during this challenging budget time, we are pitting important programs against each other rather than finding ways to work together and support all of the priorities of our state government. House Bill 2533 was heard in the House Committee on Education Oversight and Appropriations; although I am not a member of that committee, I am familiar with the ongoing conversation we are having in our state about this issue. Now is not the time to be pitting important programs against each other. We need to be cooperating to fund solutions because so many programs do positive work that relates to the work of other programs.

Washington's constitutional provision that identifies basic education as its "paramount duty" (Article IX) is unique among the 50 states. As a public school parent and former school board member, I am grateful for this provision, because providing a quality education to every student is the cornerstone to building healthy individuals and strong communities. However, I do not believe that HB 2533 is a productive step in addressing the state’s need to fully fund education and adequately provide for its citizens.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. With so many difficult decisions ahead, I value the input that I receive and hope you will continue to share your views with me.