Friday, December 31, 2021

Happiness. Low expectations can make satisfaction more attainable

There is a lot of talk about Nordic countries being the happiest places. Social services are good, but there is another side of the coin that makes it work. Reasonable expectations about life.

I've often thought that happiness is a function of two things. Expectations versus reality. If expectations are too high, folks can be disappointed. One can be happy with less.

I would guess this also allows people, like the Fins, to accept things like higher taxes, smaller homes and so forth so that their egalitarian society is more feasible. Here in USA, we seem to want it all.

Here is an interesting article from Slate. The Grim Secret of Nordic Happiness.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

New Years Eves past. The year 2000

Visual Y2K piece I did in 1999.

During my high school years, I'd follow the new year's progress across several time zones by picking up distant AM radio stations at night. Starting in the Central Time Zone and then the Mountain.

When New Year's came to the Pacific, our family would be gathered around the television to watch a replay of the ball dropping in Times Square.

Back then, folks looked forward to the distant year 2000 thinking it would really be a momentous event.

By the time 2000 arrived, most of the big celebrations were cancelled due to terrorism fears. A terrorist plot had just been unraveled. It was planning to bring bombs to the US via the Blackball Ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles.

Later it was found that the plot was destined to Los Angeles, but celebrations were cancelled all over, including in Seattle. I had plans to take the bus to Seattle anyway where my friend Rick Segreda was planning to usher in the New Year.

There was also worry about the Millennium Bug, known as Y2K. Computers all over the world had been programmed with a 2 digit clock that didn't take a new Millennium into account. There was worry about how this would effect banking and all of civilization.

Survivalists were building bunkers and hoarding food to ride out social chaos. Meanwhile institutions were spending lots of money upgrading their computer systems for a smooth transition.

I predicted that Y2K worry was mostly hype.

Someone sent me a news clipping, about this poor fellow, who had worked on an underground bunker for his mobile home. He had lots of fuel stockpiled. As he was doing the finishing touches on his bunker, he accidentally set the fuel tank on fire with his welding torch. He lived, but everything he owned was blown to bits. His self fulfilling prophecy came true.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the area around the Space Needle, where a big celebration had been planned, was fenced off. The friends, I was with, drove down there to take a look. It was a strange sight.

The Space Needle, itself, looked ready for a new era as powerful spotlights shown up into the sky from the top of the needle. It looked futuristic. It was off in the distance behind cyclone fences and an abandoned Seattle Center.

Car headlights, in the city, looked futuristic as well. The beginnings of the use of bright blue, even purplish blue, headlights. Xeon lights were becoming trendy. Those headlights had a UFO look to me.

Eventually, we parked at Gas Works Park and watched fireworks set off from the Space Needle.

Just before midnight, clouds rolled in around the Space Needle obscuring most of the view. It looked kind of like sheet lightning. A few local fireworks, set off from cars in Gasworks Park, made people nervous with all the terrorism talk.

I was back to my radio for the first hour, or so, of the year 2000.

Listening to a talk show, on Seattle's KIRO Radio, with people grumbling about what a farce they thought the celebration was. Instead of a grand new beginning, it was this. Fireworks you couldn't really see because of the clouds.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Environmentalists need to go after consumers as much as they go after producers

The traditional left tends to attack producers versus consumers.

Warren wants to crack down on banks that invest in fossil fuel production. At the same time, I think something like a carbon tax or less incentives to drive and more incentives for public transit could work better.

I guess people, on the left, shouldn't grumble when gas prices go up since I hear that fuel production is slowed by the disinvestment in fossil fuel that has happened so far. Warren seems to want to ramp up this disinvestment more.

Hurray for higher fossil fuel prices, but this may not be that well understood by the consumer. One danger is return of Republicans to Congress in the next election from angry consumers.

We need to think in terms of the "big picture;" not just each of our selfish little pieces of it.

Some of these reforms, that she is proposing, might not be a bad idea, however. Transparency, so we can see where our financial institutions are still investing in fossil fuels. Yes, it's good to have eyes open.

Eventually this has to effect the consumer. It's naive to think the consumer can avoid consequences. This is where everyone, from consumers to big business to government needs to transition to more walking, bicycling, public transit, electric vehicles, smaller more efficient living spaces, better city planning and so forth.

Business needs to be pushed in this direction, of course. Just pulling some fossil fuel production cards out from under the delicate card house of American society is problematic. It's problematic if people don't see these things in context of the big picture. The big picture being everyone being less dependent of fossil fuels.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Pfizer's new pill for COVID 19 could be an important breakthrough as for some people, cure is an easier sell that prevention.

Pfizer's new pill, approved yesterday, that can significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization after coming down with COVID 19 could be a significant step toward reducing the pandemic.

Some people who are reluctant to do something, like a vaccine for prevention, might be more apt to seek a cure, if it's available, after catching the disease.

Prevention is often a harder sell.

Medical intervention for prevention can be analogous to the concept of a colonoscopy. When one is healthy, it can be a harder sell. Compared to a colonoscopy, it seems like the vaccination is easy. I had practically no side effects from the vaccine. Risk is low.

A colonoscopy is also low risk, but I didn't go for the colonoscopy until many years after I turned 50. It is more involved, with the prep to clean out the colon and so forth. The process is kind of a strange thought, though painless. Eventually I did the colonoscopy and it turned out okay.

There are some reasons why a colonoscopy may be unecessary. Other cancer screening technologies, for instance.

Seems like the vaccination is more of what they call a "no brainer." Benefits far outweigh the almost non existant downside.

At the same time, a surprising number of people are reluctant to take the vaccine. Due to that situation, an effective treatment for COVID seems like significant news for controling the pandemic.

I guess quite a few people are more apt to take action when actually faced with the disease. This, versus prevention when faced with the risk. Risk tends to be a concept that is more theoretical, I guess.

Elon Musk owes much of his success to government.

Interesting article from 2015 came up on my Facebook feed from LA Times. Yes, government has played a big role in the work of Elon Musk's enterprises.

In my opinion, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Often it does take a partnership of public and private enterprise to accomplish things.

Much of our public debate seems to be about which is better; private enterprise, or government. Often the two are intertwined for better, or for worse. It's much of the way our society functions. No one can fully take credit; like in the phrase, "it takes a village."

In Washington's 42nd Legislative District where I happen to live.

There has been quite a bit of national news about death rates from COVID 19 being higher among Republican leaning areas versus areas that vote Democrat. This due to lower vaccination rates among Republicans and other factors such as more resistance to mask wearing.

The spotlight of this news has come closer to home recently, here in Washington State's 42 Legislative district with the recent death of our state Senator, Republican Doug Erikson.

It isn't publically known whether Erikson was vaccinated, or not, but has been reported that he had Covid 19 during a trip to Elsalvador. He was medivacted to Florida where he was reported to be improving, but later reported to have passed away.

Wishing the best for him and his family.

I live in the 42nd district so he was my state Senator, even though I didn't vote for him.

Some people reading this wouldn't be familior with the 42nd District so here is a part of the story.

The city of Bellingham, where I live, is divided into two legislative districts; the 40th and the 42nd districts. The district line runs down certain city streets. Urban areas tend to be more liberal than rural areas.

40th district tends to go south from mid Bellingham while the 42nd district goes north. 42nd district includes rural northwest regions of Whatcom County.

Over the years, the 40th district usually sends Democrats to Olympia (our state capital) while the 42nd tends to vote more Republican. Erikson had held a state House of Represenatives seat from 1998 till 2010 when he ran for the state Senate and held that seat ever since.

Democrats have tried to elect a Democrat in that District, but Erikson was able to hold the seat. In 2018, the election was close, I think within a few hundred votes.

Next election will be in 2022.

Meanwhile, according to Washington State Constitution, the Republican Party is to pick a field of candidates to serve out the end of Erikson's term and the County Council chooses the final candidate from that field.

I'm remembering one year when it seemed like there was a huge difference between the 40th and the 42nd districts. That was the year when the top two candidates from the 40th district were from the Green Party and the Democratic Party.

Washington has a system where the top two candidates from the primary ballot go on to the general election. While the 42nd elected Republican Erikson, in the general, no Republican was in the general election from the 40th district. In the 40th district, the Democrat beat the Green Party Candidate that year.

I was living in the 40th district at that time.

In reality, the two districts have more in common than it looked that year, but races are often fairly close.

I've lived in both districts since the line bisects Bellingham. Not that I've moved real often, but I have moved across that line so I am currently in the 42nd district.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

US population still growing, but easing quite a bit. Slowest growth rate since founding of USA.

I just heard on PBS Newshour that the rate of population growth in USA has been the slowest since the founding of our country during a year long period that ended July 2021. The pandemic has led to several changes including an increased death rate. Not happy news.

Other less disturbing news has been a slow down in birth rates and a slow down of immigration. Some Republicans still say that the border is "out of control," but that contention doesn't seem consistent with the data. Depends on how one would define out of control.

In that period of time, overall US population still grew by 400,000, but that's a lower growth rate than other periods.

A 400,000 increase, across this big country with a current population of around 325 million, is a fairly small percentage growth rate. The population is still growing, but I would guess not at an alarming rate.

Toward the founding of USA, the overall population was lower, but the rate of growth, compared to existing population, was higher. That wasn't such good news for the Native Americans, indigenous peoples back then.

Maybe Build Back Better can still be modified and eventually pass in 2022?

Tighten up eligability for the child tax credit. Some of the higher income families may not need it as much. Lower the income ceiling for eligability?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Child tax credit big stumbling block for Joe Manchin. Children are expensive. Being child free has some virtue.

From what I've heard, the biggest stumbling block preventing Joe Manchin from supporting Biden's Build Back Better plan is the child tax credit. It has a big price tag. Without that, it seems like Manchin could have supported the rest of the bill.

Yes, I guess children are expensive.

I'm for taking good care of children (who wouldn't be). At the same time, the cost of having children is something to think about. Fiscal conservatism may go against "family values."

I'm not a big fan of family values; especially the way conservatives push it. Ironically, it's usually conservatives who are fiscally conservative. This irony is something to think about.

In this overpopulated world, it's a good idea to think carefully before jumping into the act of having children. Ironically, we owe that to the children.

The most important gift we can give to future generations is a world that is not overburdened with too many children and not enough resources, be it fiscal resources or natural resources.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Healthy lifestyles are good, but evidence tested, scientifically based medicine is sometimes necessary.

As for low tech natural remedies, versus higher tech medicine, one of my favorite phrases (since childhood) is "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Still, I think technological medicine is needed at times. I'm not much for folk remedies; especially if they are also for sale.

As for a regular doctor, one of my regular doctors would often quote that phrase himself. He is an advocate of bicycling and healthy lifestyles, but he also uses technology when it's needed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Metaverse. They say that the best defense is a good offense.

When Facebook announced Metaverse during the news about the whistleblower, I remembered this phrase; "the best defense is a good offence." A common strategy in business, politics and sports. Donald Trump used that strategy repeatedly. Sometimes called "doubling down."

My guess is, behind the scenes, Facebook may be working, some, to fix a few of those algorithm issues, but once someone goes on the defensive, publicly, like the Democratic Party often does, it's easier to get pushed around by the competition.

It's the game, it's business and its politics, unfortunately.

I think one of the big problems that drive algorithm design is the push to be on top.

Often a business is more responsible if it finds it's niche. When it knows it's limits, finds it's niche and serves that well.

There is pressure to go beyond. Pressure from having to pay the bills or just the ego of being top dog.

I do think that Facebook does some things very well. There can be a lot of good communication here that isn't as easy to find elsewhere. As with pretty much everything in society, oil companies or whatever, it's a mixed bag.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Elon Musk person of the year, a mixed bag

Time Magazine has chosen Elon Musk as person of the year for 2021.

Time's choice tends to be based on having a big impact, not necessarily virtue.

Musk is now richest person in the world and one thing I will say in his favor, he isn't just parking his money in a safe haven. He's investing it in things that could be transforming society. Electric cars, batteries and pushing private enterprise to space.

If it wasn't for government and NASA, however, private enterprise wouldn't be into space as much. NASA could still be Musk's most lucrative customer for putting payloads into space.

Yes, accomplishments like reusable rocket boosters are valuable for improving access to space with it's scientific and economic value.

I still wonder about the goal of colonizing Mars, however. At least in the foreseeable future.

Mars is still only 1/3rd the size of Earth. By comparison, it's a poor substitute.

In our solar system, for the time being, there's no place like home - Planet Earth, but science and discovery can help us preserve and live better on Earth.


Earth. By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans - (image link); see also, Public Domain,

Monday, December 06, 2021

I think that more than just the Reagan Revolution lead to wage stagnation, but that was a factor.

A pretty telling graph. About the time of the Reagan Revolution, wage growth, that had happened since WWII, stalled. I remember voting for Carter instead of Reagan in that election.

Still, I also remember thinking that part of the economic stall, that was starting at that time, had to do with environmental limits on middle class American consumption. That was the era of the energy crisis and other limits on land development, waste disposal, mining, logging and so forth.

Another factor is that world economic growth has continued in spite of the stall in USA wage growth. Much of that has to due with people rising out of poverty in places like China. USA is less "top dog" in the world.

Much of the growth in climate change has to do with the world starting to catch up with the way things were being done in USA.

A shift away from US based manufacturing has depressed wages, but it has also led to an abundance of inexpensive goods for the American consumer market.

As I remember, back in the days of the stronger middle class, products, such as shoes and electronics, were quite expensive relative to other things that people took for granted; like being able to afford health insurance and a place to live.

No doubt the Reagan revolution added significantly to income inequality. Much of the foundations for that revolution were laid in the 1970s and are still in effect today. Tax cuts that have mostly helped the already wealthy and upper middle class.

Case in point is California's Proposition 13. It passed in the 1970s to keep property taxes low. This was seen as a "shot heard around the world" leading to the Reagan Revolution.

An unexpected consequence of Prop 13 was that during the massive rise in property values, over the next few decades, home values went up into the millions of dollars while property taxes could not keep pace. Services, such as schools, suffered and some of that burden of taxes was shifted to other taxes as well.

From what I understand, in California, long term homeowners are grandfathered in with low taxes, but new residents, first time homebuyers and renters are priced out of the market.

These kinds of problems happen in other states as well, but California is a glaring example making housing, for many folks, unaffordable.

That's one of the big barriers leading to the demise of the middle class.

I never supported Reagan, but even if Democrats had held majorities during that period, I doubt middle class wage growth would have continued on that same postwar trek.

There are a lot of things "baked into the cake" that led to this change, including things like increased building costs related to concern about the environment.

In many ways, we have been spoiled by our economy. We expect so much in terms of cheap products, low taxes and a clean environment. Given the turn back to the right, politically, and the persistence of "traditional values," we have not adapted well to the changing needs for a more sustainable economy.

We can't really go back to the rising wage era when single family homes were the norm. That's the era when single occupancy vehicles, long commutes and big freeways were pushing forward. These trends were starting to hit their "limits of space" at about that time. Cities running out of space for freeways, rivers running out of space for dams.

That was the world we were building in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Since then, things haven't changed enough for an environmentally sustainable economy and that world we were building is becoming increasingly hard to enter and increasingly dysfunctional.

We need to build a different type of world for the future.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Feeling fairly distant from AIDS during the epidemic

December 1 is World AIDS Day. Symptoms of what was later called AIDS first surfaced in the news 40 years ago in 1981.

At that time, I had recently graduated from college, but still spent time at Sexual Minorities Center at WWU. That's where I first remember hearing about this syndrome as it was in the news.

I felt pretty distant as I had always been on the edge of the gay scene anyway. In Bellingham, it seemed like the scene, I knew about at least, was mostly just the bar and the campus group. Back then, the bar was called the Hut Tavern.

I didn't go to the bar often as it seemed like it was too extreme in terms of smoking, drinking and reckless partying. Back then, I was looking for in depth conversation.

In the media, there was talk of AIDS being somewhat related to unhealthy lifestyles though early on there was some compassion. Whether a virus could be blamed for it, or not, was still not known until (so I read recently) 1983 when the virus was identified for more certain.

In the early 1980s, there was a weight loss snack called "Aids Candy Cubes." "Lose weight with the aid of Aids." Those ads disappeared soon after the disease started being called AIDS.

Much debate in the media centered around whether AIDS could be caught from casual contact. Some folks were paranoid and shunned folks they thought were more likely to have AIDS.

Scientists kept insisting that AIDS did not spread from casual contact. It was mostly a venereal disease, but also starting to be reported to come from things like shared needles.

At one point there were some feature articles about a few people worrying that they might catch AIDS from the communal challis at church. This was also disputed by scientists. I tended to believe the scientists.

In 1985, I did my first bicycle trip across the state. I had a little radio with me that brought the news of an actor named, Rock Hudson who was discovered to have AIDS.

I felt distant from the whole situation biking across the state and having never even heard of Rock Hudson till then.

I thought one thing that set me apart from most other gay people is that I seldom watch movies and don't even know who the famous actors are.

The first person, I knew personally, to have AIDS was named Scott Lennon. I didn't know him real well, but we had gone to a few events together. He was in my wide circle of friends.

The first I learned of his AIDS diagnosis was seeing his name in the newspaper.

Scott used the last years of his life in public service and education. He spoke out about AIDS awareness at various schools, churches and so forth.

Bellingham got it's first AIDS organization sometime in the late 1980s, or early 1990s. In it's early years, it was called Evergreen Aids Support Services.

World AIDS Day started being celebrated with candle light walks through downtown on usually bleak, dark and blustery days. That's December for you.

Walks usually ended at Unitarian Church with a service and social hour.

One year the service was at Assumption Catholic Church.

Part of the AIDS Quilt was brought to Bellingham and displayed on the floor of Carver Gym at WWU one year.

In the later 1990s, there was an AIDS prevention program called Friend To Friend. Bellingham was one of the cities that this program was rolled out to.

Friend to Friend was quite creative with a lot of grassroots events designed to enhance the quality of life in community. This was seen as a strategy for prevention and safe sex education.

There were quite a few gatherings, potlucks, discussion groups and other social events. A space for community, which often seems lacking in mainstream society.

Funding eventually ran out for the Friend to Friend program, but there continues to be quite a bit of interest in knitting together healthy community ties clear to this day.