Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Birth control is a better way to deal with the problem of too many people than other choices that are tried.

Birth control is a better way to deal with the problem of too many people than other choices that are tried. Worse solutions would include things like building walls to keep people out, denying someone's critical needs just to save money, or killing off populations in warfare.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Fighting the battle between socialism and capitalism may be barking up the wrong tree.

Seems like the ongoing debate between socialism and capitalism misses the mark about quality of life in a society. The debate is about economics, jobs and material things. Other factors, such as religion and culture, may play far more significant roles related to human rights.

There can be oppressive regimes that lean toward capitalism, or socialism. I think today's Russia, under the oligarchs and anti gay religion, is probably worse than the Soviet Union in it's last years.

Of course, under Stalin, things were bad, but under Gorbachev things were going in better directions. Now it seems like Russia has taken a turn for the worse.

During glasnost and perestroika, human rights was making headway. Yes, the Soviet Union was also experimenting with more capitalism, such as the famous McDonalds at Pushkin Square.

I do believe that a mix of socialism and capitalism is the best way to go; rather than one extreme or the other. Still, that's just the economic system.

Seems like culture and interpretation of religion are more powerful forces shaping society. Some religious traditions are extremely strict while others are open to diversity of viewpoints.

Cultural factors, attitudes toward sexuality and societies under stress, such as war, are likely the major factors determining human rights and freedom of speech. Often societies that are stressed are in states of emergency and have things like military drafts. For instance the Soviet Union may have broken up prematurely creating the chaos that drives fear and now is leading to war between Russia and Ukraine. In the long run, breakup may be inevitable, but it seems like change is more lasting when it happens incrementally. Also the constant debate between socialist and capitalist economic models could be missing the boat all along.

I write these thoughts after hearing an interview, with someone from Bellingham Marxist School, on our local call in radio talk show KGMI Konnects. The guest was not defending Soviet oppression, but said it was likely better than Russia under the Czars.

I think in terms of how things started to get better toward the end of the Soviet Union, but now have gone down a less desirable road. Discussions get me thinking, but seems like just about everyone does bark up the wrong trees. I say culture is more important than the economic system.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Picture of me as exercise participant of the month, 1988 at YMCA.

Polaroid photo of me taken in 1988 when I was the exercise participant of the month at a YMCA aerobics class.

This picture and my sloppy, handwritten answers to a questionnaire were posted for a month on a bulletin by the door to the gym where the aerobics classes were. bulletin boards existed before social media.

Back then, aerobics was a big social thing. I likened it to dancing without the cigarette smoke. Dance bars, back then, were filled with cigarette smoke. That aerobics class often had over 50 people moving to the music and there were times when folks were invited to come in costume. At least 1/3 of the participants were men though aerobics was more popular among women. It was energetic, but gentle and non competitive.

Back in those days, the Y also had a sauna which was a gathering space.

Entering the ho hum work world after college.

Recent Ticktok video in the news. College graduate says hardly any time to live one's life. Long commute as living closer to the job is too expensive. 40 hour per week office job takes up too much time. Readers tend to be sympathetic and ideas about a shorter workweek circulate.

My personal story was different. Part time work. I graduated into a depressed economy; late 70s early 1980s. Rents in Bellingham were quite low, back then, but Jobs were hard to find. I was able to live within easy bicycling, or walking distance from what work I had.

Door to my spacious basement apartment in a 9 unit building with a funky backyard. $155 per month before gentrification in Bellingham.

I looked for full time work, including custodial work for the state at Western Washington University, but the competition for those jobs was fierce. All I could find was part time gardening and a part time custodial shift at a place called Pizza Haven.

I did have plenty of free time, however. Got into writing, postal art, and letters to editors as well as politicians. I had time for many community things and bicycling. I was able to survive, but on a real shoestring budget.

My upstairs neighbor said I had found the healthy balance of working part time. I had stumbled upon it. She suggested I embrace it.

My neighbor had worked in offices for many years and was burned out. She also resented the vast population of freeloaders who seemed to live off inheritances or finding their way onto disability; even back then.

She saw the contrast between overwork and not working at all; herself struggling with burnout, health problems and teatoring toward going on welfare. Her brother was a hard worker / redneck leaning into right wing politics while some of her other aquoitences were hippy artists who found ways to not work 9-5. She often thought they were spoiled.

She talked about a concept called "job sharing" where people work less hours and share the existing jobs more equitably.

When hearing about job sharing, I got to thinking that job sharing would be a good strategy if the economy has to slow down due to environmental restraints. Back then, there was and still is the "jobs versus environment" issue. For instance; the logging industry, around Bellingham, was all but being shut down due to the controversy over preserving habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.

Logger art on Olympic Penisula hints at hunting spotted owl for food to rid the problem that its preservation rules were creating. Many T-shirts in logging country sported logos; "spotted owl tastes like chicken."

Today they talk about "work life balance," but the high cost of today's housing makes that less doable.

I worked part time for many years and eventually found a more full time custodial position that was still fairly laid back. I often didn't put in 8 hours per day, but maybe averaged 7 hours. The job had generous vacation and the ability to take leave of absence for my bicycle travel.

I worried about not having health insurance, but survived with good health. Today, many folks can now benefit from Obamacare reforms; at least in most states; except Texas and a few holdouts against the Medicaid expansion.

I was fortunate to always live quite close to my job. Not owning a car and living in small spaces helped, but that was an era when rents were lower, relative to the rest of the economy. I was living at below market rent, even for those days.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Happy Halloween.

On my way home Saturday night, I passed this house lit up for Halloween. Had to stop and take a picture.

One way that could reduce population and consumption. There are better ways.

It's not necessarily a forgone conclusion, but I think human tendencies toward tribalism and intolerance of diversity will cause more catastrophic death than climate change, itself. More tolorance of diversity, including LGBTQ diversity is a better way forward. Areas of the world where there is a trend toward more fundamentalist religious values seem to have societies that are more warlike and deadly.

So far, climate change has been a gradual thing, which, in the long run, can increase the death rate as well, but tribalist tendencies are likely to take a much larger toll in the near future. The catostrophic consequences of climate change may be less evident in the short run than our own prejudices and warlike tendencies. Climate change is more like a slow boil, for now at least.

At the same time, there will likely be many parts of the world where life remains quite good.

That's my prediction at least. It's not a forgone conclusion, but a possible scenario. No one knows, for sure of course, what the future brings.

Inflating property values can cause sticker shock about taxes, but it's actually just the local government budget sizes that determines the tax.

In the past few years, property values have shot way up in Bellingham and Whatcom County. When property tax assessments come out, it causes "sticker shock." People are worried that their taxes will skyrocket since their value has skyrocketed.

From my understanding of local government, taxes don't follow property values in lockstep.

Each year, the total amount of taxes is determined by the budgets of local governments; such as state, county and school districts. In some cases the tax, per thousand of valuation, can go down because there are many more thousands of dollars, in valuation, to tax from. If one's value goes way up relative to overall property values in the area, then their share of the taxes do go up, but if all the values go up in similar fashion, the tax just goes up, or down, depending on the size of government budgets.

The total taxes collected only goes up as much as the combined budgets of the taxing governments and districts.

Hopefully people will still vote in favor of quality things, such as the Bellingham Greenways Levy on November's ballot.

Total taxes do go up more gradually, determined by the budgets of the various taxing districts; such as the local school districts, cities and counties.

The state of Washington does impose some restrictions on how much local governments can impose in taxes. Remember Tim Eyman?

I've never been a fan of Tim Eyman since I do think taxes need to go up to maintain the quality of life.

Eyman's initiatives lost in court, but I remember that the State Legislature preserved some of his intent. There are state imposed limits to the total amount of growth in taxes that local governments can impose.

In the long run, taxes do go up as the cost of living, in an area, goes up. For instance; teachers, who work for the government, still need to be able to afford to live in the districts they serve.

In the long run, the inflating cost of real estate, in this area, does push up taxes as the budgets of governments go up. The total budgets of local governments and districts determines how much the taxes are.

I think the property values are just too high; artificially propped up by years of "low interest" printed money. That situation is likely to end in the future as interest rates have gone up.

The handful of years, since the pandemic (2020-2023) have seen property values shoot up even more than the inflation in property values during the 1990-2019 era (admittedly there was a little dip around 2008). The big 2020-2022 mega property value inflation was due to all that extra coronavirus stimulus money in the economy along with low interest rates and high demand for housing in moderate sized cities.

That's my political take for the day

Friday, October 20, 2023

Why are Republicans in such a panic about the federal deficit?

I think one reason why the conservative caucus of the GOP is so impossible to deal with is that they are panicked about the federal debt. Yes, it's a daunting number.

There's another way to look at things where that huge debt isn't necessarily a problem. It's just money which is a human construct.

If we run out of money, we can print more. Problem is, too much money, chasing same goods and services, causes inflation so that's what we should think about. Not the debt, but inflation.

In the past few decades, inflation has been quite low in spite of (basically) printing money. Officially, the inflation rate has only been around 2%. No need to panic about this situation for several decades. Bush had his two wars and we still got our Medicare.

In reality, however that 2% figure has been a bit deceptive as home values and a few other things like health insurance costs, have been going up at a greater clip. Low interest rates, in spite of the federal debt being high, have fueled the housing bubble; low interest rates made possible by printing new money.

Quite a few people had been insulated from the true brunt of that inflation if they were homeowners grandfathered into owning a home when homes were a lot less expensive.

Renters have been hit harder from that inflation as well as young people trying to buy, if they haven't inherited money. Lots of people were also sheltered, from those decades of inflation in health insurance premiums, if they were on Medicare or a good employer provided health plan.

Since the pandemic, even more money has been created so overall inflation in wages, food costs and so forth have started to tick up. Things reached a tipping point.

This inflation, for instance in wages helps worker keep up with the rising costs of housing and healthcare. That stimulation of the economy was designed to keep it from going into depression due to the pandemic, but it also led to supply chain bottlenecks.

During the pandemic, the phrase "supply chain" entered my lexicon.

Inflation blipped up temporarily to over 8%, I think, for around 2 years. That heightened the panic that has been happening all along about the budget.

Now that overall inflation is subsiding again as the total rate is around 3%. The Federal Reserve has been tightening the money supply, rasing interest rates and attempting to cool the overheated housing bubble. We've backed off from the tipping point we were at just after the pandemic. Inflation seems to be going back down to where it's nothing to panic about, in my opinion, but some Republicans are still in a panic.

As far as I'm concerned, money is just a tool. It's not a god. We worry too much about money which is just a human created concept.

More and more people fighting over limited amount of good land on this planet.

Some Republicans tend to blame problems related to immigration on Biden. I think the problem is beyond our country's politics. It's the world topic of "migration and population."

It's also the world problem of authoritarian governments, crime, gangs and poverty. An overwhelming number of people would love to come to USA; regardless of our politics, as long as USA is a better place to live than where they are from.

Lots of folks come in via our airports, not all from our land borders. Students over saying visas and so forth. It's a worldwide situation.

To try and stop it, at the national level, would likely require us to close our country and drive ourselves into poverty. Seal up our borders, restrict our airports, cut back on trade, tourism, education and things like agriculture that need labor. If we drive ourselves into poverty, less people would want to live here.

On a related thought, the world has a shortage of good places to live. Sure, there's a lot of empty land, but few people live in those spaces for a reason.

Irrigation has increased the amount of good land for agriculture; for instance Yakima County being top agricultural county in Washington State. That due to irrigation.

There is talk of trying to colonize Mars as we are running out of livable space on planet Earth. That idea has its problems; like Mars already being only 1/3 the size of Earth before we even get there.

I got to thinking that developing technology, for living on Mars, might end up being very useful for living on Earth. Indoor agriculture, for instance. It could be useful for living in much of the land we already have, on earth, such as the Sahara Desert or the area called the "Empty Quarter" in Saudi Arabia.

Colonizing those areas, with indoor agricultural technology, would still be easier than colonizing Mars, but the dream of colonizing Mars might be needed for getting us to develop that technology.

Even without climate change, we may need to terrafarm more areas of Earth, that are not now considered that livable, just to support all of Earth's people with our aspirations.

One idea might be to build new states on some big desert area; rather fighting over the tiny space that's now Israel / Palestine.

I tend to think "big picture" pretty much all the time.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

My bicycle tour to a gravity wave detector and more.

Pictures from my most recent 2023 bicycle tour are now in Flickr. My transit / bicycle tour to various places like Yakima Canyon, Hanford, LIGO gravity wave visitors center and even Bellevue. Lots of photos and descriptions starting at Northgate Transit Center in Seattle.

At top of this album on Flickr as of October 3 2023.

Monday, October 02, 2023

When the Pacific Northwest ran out of rivers

Image I took of Grand Coulee Dam on a bicycle tour in 2017.

During my childhood, it was said that most of Washington's electricity came from hydroelectric dams. As I got older, population and economic growth, in the Pacific Northwest, outgrew the rivers. We basically ran out of good sites to build dams; the mighty Columbia River; turned to a series of slackwater lakes.

In the 1980s, nuclear power was seen as a way to keep up with the growth, but nuclear was pretty much put out of business by less expensive natural gas. Much of the power, in the northwest, comes from natural gas fired power plants today along with the hydro power. We even have a natural gas power plant on the Bellingham waterfront.

Solar and wind are growing sources of power, but still not providing a huge share of demand.

In the 1970s, several nuclear plants were planned by an organization called "Washington Public Power Supply System." The acronym was WPPS. By coincidence WPPSS sounds like Woops.

The cost of nuclear, plus worries about it's safety after 3 Mile Island incident, in Pennsylvania, led to the mothballing of all the WPPSS projects, except for one. WPPSS went bankrupt, which became the second largest municipal bond default in US history.

I think a big part of the problem was competition with natural gas fired power plants which were easier to construct. Gas turned out to be an abundant and inexpensive source of energy.

The one nuclear plant that was finished and is producing quite a bit of the northwest's power, today, was called WPPSS #2. It's on the Hanford Reservation and has since been renamed the Columbia River Generating Station. I passed that facility on my recent bicycle trip just a few weeks ago.

I think nuclear may make a comeback as smaller, less expensive reactors become available.

Back during my grade school years, dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers were controversial. Even back then, talk of ecological problems and salmon habitat were in the news.

My dad was pretty much a New Deal liberal. He was a fan of the dams, for the most part. Many of the dams were New Deal projects.

I remember some debates, in our family, about the virtues and problems associated with dams. We would take Sunday drives down to the Snake River, near Pullman, where dad would follow the construction of two nearby dams.

One of my childhood memories, from growing up in Washington State, was the song "Roll on Columbia." "Your power is turning our darkness to dawn."