Friday, March 31, 2023

Patience is a virtue that is in short supply in politics

A while ago, I suggested that Democrats and Biden should ask Republicans to come up with a budget and specify what spending they think should be cut. My suggestion is kind of stating the obvious and I notice that Democrats are now doing that. Republicans are struggling to come up with any major cuts that don't upset large swaths of the voting public.

It does seem like "the people" are pretty much impossible to satisfy. That's really the crux of the problem, but few people care to discuss that problem.

Politicians don't get elected by saying that the people's expectations are impractical. Politicians tend to rally our expectations.

Seems like patience is a virtue lost in modern society.

At the same time, I do feel that the expectations of Republicans are even more unrealistic than the expectations of Democrats. Tax cuts, such as during the Bush and Trump eras, have contributed to wealth inequality.

Both Democrats and Republicans have benefited, personally, from these lower taxes. Democrats may have even benefited more as there tends to be more wealth in Democrat led districts.

In this information economy, innovative, educated populations, in urban areas, have tended to benefit more.

I think that if Democrats were more in the majority of government positions, there would be some higher taxes on success which would lead to less inequality, but the Republican politicians have blocked that, for the most part.

In some cases, prosperous cities have tried to tax themselves more while state legislatures, led by Republicans, have blocked that.

I think both Republican and Democrat elites have personally benefited from relatively low taxes compared to European countries, for instance. Society, as a whole, has suffered.

If Democrats were more in control, wealth inequality would be somewhat less, but life would still be no nirvana. Climate change would still be a problem as wealth and things like automobile addiction would still prevail. It would still be hard for American society to meet climate goals, as set out in the Paris Agreements.

Other big demands, that are often made by some folks on the left such as reparations to address racism, would, most likely, still remain out of reach.

Even in a system more controlled by Democrats, expectations would continue to be far too high for the reality of what we can realistically expect. Plain logistics and math is often what stands in the way.

It seems like pretty much everyone has little patience. Expectations seem to always outstrip what can be realistically provided. This situation, of excessive expectations, does lead to anxiety and unhappiness in modern society.

In many cases, we need to learn to appreciate more of what we have.

We still should strive for better deals, but at the same time, I think we've gone overboard in our constant complaints and expectations for something better. Ironically, due to so much demanding, we could end up with less than we have now. We could loose civil society and democracy itself.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Did "family values" cause the air travel chaos of Christmas 2022?

As both the traditional left and traditional right jockey for the "moral high ground" on family values, it could be family values that caused the airline chaos of Christmas 2022.

Republicans try to blame Transportation Secretary Buttigieg for that chaos, but Buttigieg doesn't control the weather.

People's desire for bringing together distant family members, during the worst travel season of the year, is more to blame. Our family oriented holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving happen to be during the stormy time of year and storms of 2022 took aim right at Christmas travel mania.

Being less family minded, myself, I didn't travel then. Visiting with my brothers and sisters, electronically, was sufficient in my family of origin. Connection with local folks was sufficient as well; local folks that are not connected by blood or marriage.

A bike ride across town, or walking when the snow made biking treacherous was sufficient. At times, I think American culture is trying to squeeze too much out of our transportation systems as well as the natural environment.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Could Intalco Alcoa Aluminum site be used for energy storage? Powerlines are already in place.

Could the old Intalco / Alcoa aluminum site, Now owned by AltaGas be used for intermittent storage of energy from the power grid?

As more green power comes to the grid, such as solar, there is potentially a need for storage; such as storage of solar power for night use.

This site already has good powerline connections to the grid. It could be used to store energy in batteries, or hydrogen. If hydrogen, maybe it would help to have the port and rail access that is already there. The site has rail, port and good powerline access.

Maybe use it for wind power also? Unfortunately Whatcom County still has a moratorium on wind power development, but that moratorium does have an exemption for industrial areas, so I hear.

Now that Alcoa has suttered the mill for good, there are still plans to possibly find a new industrial use for the land. Energy storage is one possibility.

Could groundwork for district heating also provide ground field for a heat pump system?

Picture of a chilled water plant at WSU, Pullman.

I've got to thinking that district heating and geothermal could go together well. They both use pipes in the ground.

District heating uses the pipes to bring heat, or cooling, from a central plant; like a steam plant, to buildings where the heat is used. Geothermal uses pipes through the ground to collect heat, or cooling, from the ground for buildings.

Can't the two go together?

A district heating network provides a lot of surface area of pipes in the ground between buildings. Couldn't the same tranches, or tunnels, also provide space for the refrigerant pipes of a heat pump system?

I'm not an expert on heat pumps, such as how far the pipes can be from the heat pump compressor, but there could be satellite compressors along the system that would feed hot, or cold water into the heating district distribution pipes.

Below, picture of old cooling tower for a chilled water plant they built at WWU, in Bellingham. It was built to cool some new buildings, but later discontinued. The chiller has been removed and space looks like it's used as a shop connected to WWU steam plant.

Now there are plans to eventually convert WWU's heating system to a heatpump system.

Winning the peace often works better than winning the war.

When the oppressive Soviet Union started to reform, it wasn't so much by military force as by people, within, finding out what folks in freer countries get to have. It was innovations, lifestyle choices, music, diversity, economics, consumer goods, art and so forth that caused people to push for reform.

Even if war isn't able to unseat Russia from it's captured territories, maybe the best strategy is to wait things out. In the long run, the yearnings for reform could come again.

Decades of low interest rates mostly just led to inflation in asset prices when money was given to private sector.

Given the past decades of low interest rates, it seemed like the most lucrative way to make money was to buy an asset at low price and then sell it at high price. Homes, stocks, artwork, or whatever; buy low, hold it and then sell. This was more lucrative than having a job.

Ironically, low interest rates were designed to keep employment up, but, instead, it mostly made a mockery out of working for a living.

This was especially true when the money flooded into the private sector. As for government spending, that was better, but still problematic.

Yes, I am kind of a leftist. I think that if cheap money is printed and given to the government, it could, at least, be directed to needed things, such as infrastructure improvement. The money could do needed work on it's way into the economy. After that, the extra money would create inflation in the general economy, but at least it would go into things like infrastructure on the first turnover of the dollars.

Dumping that money directly into the private sector just sped it to inflation faster as cheap bank loans fueled asset bubbles; such as existing housing.

The private sector could do more to create things we need, such as new housing, but environmental restrictions make that a much harder task. If new construction can't happen, the money just goes to inflating existing things.

Now, interest rates are going up so the situation is changing again. My comment is more about the decades that are just past.

Figuring out how to tax wealthy individuals without smothering business

People often talk about taxing the rich, business and corporations all in the same breath. Then Republicans, who are usually anti tax, say that taxing business will hurt the economy; thus hurting consumers and workers.

I think the discussion needs to look more carefully on what the wealth is being used for. In some cases, it's the buildings and things that a business needs to provide it's goods and services to the public. Taxing that away will effect the flow of goods and services to the public.

In other cases, it's just wealthy people spending money on their own luxuries, such as homes, yachts and so forth. I think that wealth should be more taxed. In some cases, it's money that corporations and individuals spend on corrupting politics as in campaigns and lobbying. That wealth should be taxed more as well.

The tax codes do try and differentiate between legitimate capital expenses, to run and expand a business, versus just individuals getting rich.

Public discussion needs to take into account this difference as well.

With income and wealth inequality getting worse, we need to figure out ways to tax the excesses of the wealthy without crippling the functioning of the businesses that consumers, workers and communities depend on.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be more electable, nationwide, if people lived in compact neighborhoods; like planning so needs can be within a 15 minute commute.

The left leaning politics of someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is electable in an urban district like central New York City.

She would be less electable from the sprawling suburbs across USA where most people live. The suburbs full of swing voters. Even less electable in rural America; though Bernie Sanders, from the rural state of Vermont, is a notable exception.

I think, if we want politics to go more to the left, we need to strive toward more urban lifestyles. This can be seen here in Whatcom County where our urban center; Bellingham, tends to vote more liberal than the rest of the county.

I would guess that things like high gas prices become less of a political liability in places where commutes tend to be shorter.

I recently heard about the concept of the 15 minute city. That's the concept of living within a 15 minute commute to most needs; such as work, shopping and social life.

Face to face social interaction can have an effect on politics, I would guess. It's more likely in the 15 minute city.

Even if a metropolitan area is too large to be crossed by a 15 minute trip, the concept applies to how far one's needs are from their residence. Mixed use zoning can help with that by allowing a mix of densities, jobs and services in each area of the city.

In my case, I'm a 15 minute bike ride from downtown Bellingham so just about all my needs can be met within a 15 minute radius of my residence. This neighborhood also has bus service which, I think, is on an every 15 minute schedule.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The days of agriculture in California's Imperial Valley may be numbered

We, here on the west coast of USA, get a lot of our winter vegetable crops from California's Imperial Valley which is just north of the Mexican border and south of the Salton Sea. Unlike California's larger Sacramento / San Juaquin Valleys, it gets its irrigation water from the Colorado River. The larger valleys, to the north, get their water from mountain ranges inside California.

I recently had a conversation with someone that grew up in the Imperial Valley and he says it's a beautiful valley, but it's days as an agricultural valley may be numbered. It's productivity, for agriculture, is artificially created with irrigation water from the Colorado River and artificially propped up soils from tons of fertilizers.

I've been thinking they could save the agriculture, there, by desalinizing nearby seawater from the Gulf of California, in Mexico, or even the Pacific Ocean near San Diego.

The person, I was talking to thinks, instead, they may have to just let go of agriculture and let that valley return to desert. Agriculture could move to other places where soil and water conditions are naturally better, like some areas quite a ways farther south in Mexico where there could be more investment in agriculture.

It could help Mexico's economy, but we would be importing more food from there.

Artificial national borders are kind of problematic as well. We do live in a changing, global economy.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Falling birthrates are not likely a problem in countries where people wish to migrate to.

Some countries and economists are worried that falling birthrates will create economic problems. Not enough young people to work, shop and pay for the retired folks. Changing demographic distribution.

On the other hand, countries, like USA, Canada, much of Europe and Australia have over whelming numbers of young workers wanting to immigrate here. Seems like so many people, the world over, have the dream of coming to America.

Next problem is, how do we find housing for all those people and if they all drive cars, where are they going to park?

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Yes, the earth has had different climates before. Do we want to have that happen in the next few decades?

Some conservatives think climate change is no big deal since there were times, in geologic past, when Earth's climate was much different. Here is an analogy, I just thought of, relating the life of civilization to the life of a person. People know that they will die someday. If something doesn't kill you sooner, old age will.

There are folks that take chances earlier in life; like snowboarding in an avalanche zone. They often die early, which can be seen as more of a tragedy than dying from "natural causes" in old age.

Same can be said for our civilization. We could push climate change to happen over the next few decades; like entering an avalanche zone at age 20, or we could wait till "natural causes" happen, like death at an older age.

If we wait, by not causing climate change ourselves, we could get several thousand more years for civilization to flourish. Who knows.

Climate change is only part of the problem. The other part is increasing demand for things like fresh water. Economic growth.

Climate change is like a two edged sword. It's both the increasing demands of economic and population growth, plus disruptions in supply, created by climate change itself.

The Colorado River is a prime example. From what I read, drought, related to climate, accounts for around a 20% reduction in river flow. That, by itself, wouldn't be so bad except demand for water increases from population and economic growth in the region.

Technology and conservation has helped, but another part of the problem is that they over committed the river, even back when water rights were being divvied up years ago. They thought there would be more water than there was. It's a two fold problem. Climate change plus growth in demands.

Inflation of existing asset prices. One cause of inflation that rising interest rates can curb.

Interest rates are rising. Good news for people with old fashioned savings in the bank. Bad news for borrowers.

The Fed is trying to curb inflation. Higher interest rates tend to curb the inflated asset market, such as home values, where existing real estate inflates so high, in value, that it becomes less affordable, thus one big factor increasing the cost of living.

Other drivers of inflation may be less related to interest rates alone.

Supply chain, such as gas prices, has to do with demand outstripping supply and in some cases, business take advantage of tight supply markets to increase profits.

Then there is the problem of income inequality. There tends to be a bidding war, among businesses and institutions, for retaining their top talent. For instance colleges raising the football coach's salary to keep up with competing institutions. Most workers fall behind top stars so, eventually, there is pressure to raise all wages just to keep up with inflation. A reasonable amount of inflation, maybe even more than the Fed's target of 2%, seems acceptable to me. The problem is that everything doesn't go up evenly.

If everything were to go up evenly, we could just move the decimal point over as time goes by.

Traffic keeps increasing.

As Bellingham grows, there is more and more traffic, even on minor streets.

At first I wondered if car addiction was getting worse, but then I realized that increased traffic, on minor streets, has to do with something I like; increasing density in neighborhoods. I favor increased density, but hope people learn to use cars less. Still, downtown Bellingham is relatively calm, traffic wise. Except for Holly Street, downtown streets are pretty calm. Less car dependency seems to be working downtown.

Whenever I go out into rural areas, it seems like traffic is even more backed up. Sprawl, versus density, is big in the county, but I usually just ride in Bellingham. When I do venture out to the county, it's an eye opener of even more traffic.

Most of the traffic, in both the city and county, does seem to be polite and orderly, however. That's good news.

I keep saying that as our population grows, I-5 will not grow. It will remain only 4 lanes, unlike Seattle metro, where much of it is 8 lanes.

Property values are too high and / or road taxes are too low to widen I-5 through Bellingham and Whatcom County. I doubt it can happen, yet more and more people are using it.

On my bicycle, I have found many good ways to avoid the angst of traffic. First, I am not in a hurry.

If traffic is near bumper to bumper, pulling out into traffic, coming from two directions, can be tedious. I have a remedy. I go out of my way to the nearest stoplight and then cross when the light turns green.

In some cases, I go up to a light just to get across and into the lane going back in the opposite direction. To me that's less nerve wracking than trying to catch enough of a break, in both lanes of traffic, to pull across to the lane going the direction I want to go.

If things are busy, it's much easier to cross at a stoplight. We're getting more of them all the time to help calm the traffic.

Electric cars could be heavier then other cars of similar size.

In the news, there is talk of electric cars being heavier than gas cars due to the weight of the batteries. Heavier and deadlier to outsiders, like other cars and pedestrians, in an accident.

If this is the case, we will need to take the next technological step. Self driving cars, or at least more collision avoidance technology in human driven cars.

Another change could be smaller, lighter cars and lower speeds. Sorry, less giant SUVs. Either that or more folks not driving cars.

Monday, March 06, 2023

I wonder why people still use Instagram if they don't like Facebook. Instagram is owned by Facebook.

Besides various problems on Facebook, I see some talk of problems on Instagram. I don't use Instagram.

For sharing photos, I prefer Flickr. In most cases, people on Flickr set their privacy settings to "open web" so friending is not necessary. Most things can be found in open search and even in Google search.

I do use Facebook, however. I like the space for longer, more thoughtful posts that often happens on Facebook.

As for friends, I would prefer Facebook to be all browsable, like open websites. Facebook is more interactive than the open web, due to friends who are more interested in me than the general public. Facebook gathers networks of personal friends. As for mass interest on the web, from the general public, I'm not Kim Kardashian.🤣 My Flickr does get lots of clicks, however; just not many comments.

Many of my personal friends are on Facebook and that momentum isn't on other platforms.

Amazing to me that there are people who don't use Facebook, but do use Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. They know this, but they seem to prefer Instagram anyway. A mystery to me.

I guess, Instagram, being more about pictures than writing, is a faster experience. Speaking of "hurry, hurry sound bytes," I don't use Twitter.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Though birth rates are dropping in most countries, the legacy of overpopulation has now shifted to a migration issue.

If I were to give a speach to the United Nations, this is what I would say.

Our world's overpopulation problem evolves over time. Now, it's becoming less of a problem of birth rates and more of a problem of migration.

Birthrates are still high in a handful of countries, like Nigeria, but overall, world birthrates are declining. Today's big problem is that there are many countries which are run by authoritarian governments so an overwhelming number of people are desperately trying to take refuge in the countries, such as the US and Canada, who are still relatively safe to live in.

Religious bigotry, war, oppression, climate change and famine are making much of the world into hellholes that more and more people are striving to escape.

There is quite a bit of fear, in more livable places like the US and Europe, about immigration as large numbers of refugees overwhelm existing resources; thus leading some native born folks to resort to rightwing, zenophobic politics.

The study of population is sometimes called "demographics." While world population is over 8 billion, demographics is still sending us warning messages about declining populations in some countries. Population decline can lead to economic problems as in, "who's going to pay for the retirement of older generations if there is a shortage of young workers?"

Russia is a prime example of this problem with it's rapidly declining population. Who wants to live in that country with it's anti gay bigotry, war and censorship? The best and brightest people are fleeing, for their lives, from Russia; inventors, entrepreneurs and all trying to get out.

They are fleeing to other former Soviet Republics, such as the Republic of Georgia. They are fleeing the war and trying to get into Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

Talented folks are fleeing from many Third World countries as well, for similar reasons and to escape poverty. When it comes to entroprenurism and innovation, many countries of the world are experiencing "brain drain."

If the US had more open borders, we would have plenty of workers to pay into our retirements, but there are devastating shortages of housing. The American way of life would lead to even more tremendous automobile gridlock of traffic. There would be more shortages of fresh water and more impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, around the world, famine, war and oppression is becoming so severe that the work of aid agencies is becoming more futile; like trying to bail out the ocean with a tea cup.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

The AM radio band has unique propogation characteristics

At the base of KWSU AM radio tower near Pullman. Out in the Palouse wheat fields west of town.

Someone recently posted that some car manufacturers are not including the AM band in new car radios. Folks are worried because AM might be the most reliable source of information in an emergency.

I got to thinking about the AM band. It's at the low end of the frequency spectrum, just above the obscure longwave band. It's the only band that lots of old radios could get as FM didn't get started till the 1940s. AM dominated clear up to the 1970s.

One big advantage of AM is that the signal is less confined to "line of sight" propagation. AM radio waves can bend more easily over hills, around buildings and into shadow areas. It can reach areas that are often missed by the higher frequencies of FM radio, cellphone or satellite.

At night, it can bounce off the ionosphere for distances of over a thousand miles without needing either a satellite or the internet.

Most people use the higher frequency, more line of sight, signals like FM or cellphone. If there aren't cellphone towers in the area, or one is in a shadow, the higher frequency signals can drop out. AM is a bit more stable, in that regard, but it has it's disadvantages as well.

The AM band's low frequency signals don't carry as much information as higher frequency channels. They are lower "bandwidth" so lower fidelity of sound, plus less ability to send more things. Some digital FM stations offer several subchannel programs. Maybe one station, on the dial, offers more than one program, such as "KUOW, 1" and "KUOW 2," for people with special "HD" radios.

Another big problem is the static. FM is modulated differently than AM so it picks up less static. These days, there is a lot of static from all the electronics in homes. AM often can't be heard over the static. Even phone and power lines can make static along the road.

Another problem is that most of the AM stations are owned by just a few corporations and the programming tends to offer little variety. A few conservative networks tend to dominate the market.

Many radio stations don't bother to produce their own local programming. To save money they just repeat network stuff that's on hundreds of stations coast to coast, or they just have automated music formats.

Pullman's KWSU is one of the few college educational stations on the AM band. Most educational stations use FM. These days, even KWSU is mostly just stuff off a network as well; The NPR Radio Network.

I like NPR, compared to the mostly conservative stuff on commercial stations, but it's still just from the national network. I listen to NPR from FM stations, here in Bellingham, one of them basically repeats what's on KWSU from Pullman. It's on FM, here in Bellingham; The "News and Information Service of Northwest Public Broadcasting."

Some NPR stations do produce a few of their own local shows. For instance KQED in San Francisco. I listen to some of those shows on the internet.

AM towers don't need to be in high places as the signals can follow contours of the land better than higher frequency signals. AM towers are often out in fields where there is plenty of room. The tower may be tall, but the whole tower is usually the radiator for those longer wave signals.

FM and TV towers can be tall, or on high places such as mountains, for longer reach with line of sight. The radiating antenna is usually just at the top of the tower.

Cellphone towers tend to be shorter as the signals don't have to reach that far. The cellphone system just passes one off to the next tower if one gets out of range. There are usually lots of celltowers in any given area, or coverage becomes spotty.