Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or treat? 7 billion and counting

Am I old?

It seems like only yesterday that the world population was 4 billion.

Of course, that was eons ago, in 1974.

Thanks to industrial, technological and scientific advancements, the world population has jumped in 200 years from 1 billion to 7 billion.

Not even the stock market can beat that rate of return.

During this unprecedented population explosion, the pace of change dwarfed all other periods in human history, combined.

Many great things exist today from electricity to antibiotics to fresh strawberries in January.

Of course, a few bad things also plague us, not that you would hear any of it on Faux News.

We have new ways to kill millions of people instantly through nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

We have dramatic climate change due, in no small part, to the activities of 6 billion more people on this planet in a relatively short span of time. Even a well-known climate change-denier, backed by Koch money, has finally seen the blinding light.

With the population expected to jump to 10 billion by 2083, we can expect more climate change, more degradation of our environment and, of course, more conflicts over the available resources that remain.

Right now, we're in the midst of the Petroleum Wars.

These conflicts will seem like petty skirmishes when the Water Wars flood the planet.

The Northwest, with its abundant rain and snowfall, could be the Saudi Arabia of America. California and other southwestern states could be buying our pure water by the barrel. Or, more likely, they'll just come up and take it. Watch out, Canada.

Since we've developed so many chemicals to make our plants and animals grow faster and "healthier," we've polluted the soil from which these plants sprout up and the animals that sustain us.

Unhealthy air still plagues our big cities, but here, as in so many other areas, China is No. 1. And, the Chinese like being No. 1.

This irks Republicans because if we didn't have the Environmental Protection Agency, they say, we would definitely be No. 1 in air pollution, not to mention, water and soil pollution.

And, if we elect Rick Perry next year, we could all experience the Texas "miracle" by becoming like Houston.

But hey, things could be worse.

At the rate we're going, they will be.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ending the Iraq fiasco

Incredibly, there are voices out there, mostly from the right but some from the left, saying we shouldn't leave Iraq so soon.

Are you kidding me?

The only way to correct a mistake is not to repeat it year in and year out.

The time to leave Iraq was 2003 when Bush II declared "victory." Unfortunately, we've been stuck in a quagmire ever since.

It's a no-win situation since most Iraqis don't even want us there.

Would you want to send a loved-one to protect a country where most of the citizens hate you?

And for what?

We found no weapons of mass destruction, which not only soured many fence-sitters on this disastrous invasion, but it also proved discouraging to the troops.

We don't have cheaper gas prices and the region is as unstable as ever. A classic lose-lose proposition.

The late Gen. William Odom urged withdrawal years ago because he noted that it's up to the Iraqis to determine their future, most likely by bloodshed.

Even if we stayed there a thousand years, civil war would erupt as soon as we left.

There are few Americans, other than oil companies, who care about Iraq.

After nearly 9 years of occupying Iraq, I'm sure a majority of Americans wouldn't be able to even locate it on a map.

The real tragedy is that thousands of Americans have been killed or seriously wounded for a deceitful cause.

Also, more Iraqis have died or been forced from their country under the U.S. occupation than under the brutal, tyrannical reign of Saddam Hussein, our onetime ally. Like Vietnam, you have to destroy the village in order to save it.

As we have seen in recent months, there are better ways to handle "problem" countries in the Middle East.

Tunisians voted for the first time recently. Libyans, with help from U.S. bombs, overthrew their own tyrant, Col. Gaddafi/Gadhafy/Kadafi/////. (There were only 112 ways to spell his full name.) Egypt got rid of its despot. Syria and Yemen are teetering on the brink.

All of this happened without a single U.S. casualty. It shows how smart leadership is better than ignorant leadership.

Now, we may not like what becomes of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, but that's the way it is.

We're not going to like what happens to Iraq, but as long as the oil flows to fill up our SUVs, no one will care.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to handle a bully

In case anyone missed it, here's a link to Stephen Colbert's dressing-down of Bill "Bully" O'Reilly.

Yes, it is true that Colbert has more than a dozen writers working for him. But, does anyone believe O'Reilly produces anything without others doing most of the work for him?

Still, this take-down of one of the great bullies of our time is brilliant.

Thank God we have people like Stephen Colbert to make us laugh at the blowhards like Bully O'Reilly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Bend, please

It seems inconceivable that the "frisbee and hacky-sack" crowd in lower Manhattan wearing "V for Vendetta" masks would inspire protesters all the way in Bend, Oregon.

But, Bend is but one of many places around the state to join the general leftish angst sweeping the thinking world.

For a couple of weeks during glorious fall weather with brilliant colors everywhere, a couple of dozen protesters have taken over the former Bulletin site in downtown Bend. There are about a dozen tents, a motor home and plenty of signs decrying war, economic imbalance and the 1 percenters.

These 99 percenters, the ones without fortunes, are mostly young and hip. And, presumably, jobless. That's okay, because the unemployment rate in Central Oregon is nearly double the national average.

What else is there to do before snowboard season?

I'm not sure what these protests will accomplish, but there are good reasons for this spontaneous eruption of anti-corporate sentiments.

Here are a few:

This chart helps explain some of the anger out there. It shows that for every dollar you earn, a CEO in America gets $475. The next closest nation is Venezuela, where an executive makes a mere $50 for your $1.

Of course, this has been going on for decades. No one really noticed because every American believes he or she will be that CEO one day. The odds of that happening are worse than your chance of starting for an NBA team.

But now that the economy continues its free-fall, Americans are starting to wonder why we subsidize American corporations to close plants in America and open them in foreign countries.

We also wonder about our retirement.

Check out "Retirement Heist" by Ellen Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize journalist for the Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing rag.

She points out that major American corporations, like G.E., are blaming onerous retirement benefits for our economic malaise. But, she also reveals that it is the retirement benefits of a handful of executives that are bankrupting our economy. G.E. alone must shell out $6 billion, not million, to a few executives. No wonder there is no money left for the rank-and-file worker.

Bank of America reports nearly $6 billion in profits, but says it must charge its account holders $5 fee per month to use its debit cards. Banks point out that the Wall Street reform act, which limited their fees charged to retailers to 100 percent profit rather 300 percent profit, left them with no choice.

Well, we all have freedom of choice.

My choice is to not bank with Bank of America or any bank that charges a debit card fee. I also do not buy products with American nameplates. That includes HP, Apple, IBM, Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc.

Instead, I own a Samsung laptop and cell phone. My next printer will be a Canon product. I own a Honda, Toyota and Subaru that were made in Japan, not America.

I urge other Americans to do the same.

Also, the pyramid scheme of our economy is based on every household paying their mortgage. For those who tried to work with their bank to avoid foreclosure and were rebuffed, I urge you to stop paying your mortgage. It's not ethical, but it's one thing that banks respect since they do the same thing. Check out this story about a guy who tried to get a loan modification, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He stopped paying his mortgage, with minimal consequence.

Can you imagine if most Americans stopped paying their mortgage? That would not only "Occupy Wall Street," but would end up owning it.

We have the power. We need to use it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sandy leading the internet way

Portland's farthest suburb to the east, Sandy, is going to offer its citizen the fastest internet speeds and the lowest price possible.

Check out this story from last summer in Portland's daily newspaper.

The city leaders have the foresight to make 100 mbps internet available to all citizens for $40 a month beginning later this year. You'll be able to download a high-definition movie in 4 minutes.

Plus, the city of Sandy is making it mandatory for new construction to be wired to the city's fiber-optic  system.

By contrast, BendBroadband, which has exclusive franchise rights in the city of Bend and elsewhere in Central Oregon, offers 8 mbps speed for $49.49 a month. It would take more than 70 minutes to download an HD movie.

Of course, BendBroadband does offer 60 mbps, but you'd have to pay $99.99 a month for that privilege.

Yes, you can get those services a little cheaper on BendBroadband, but you'd have to sign up for cable TV  and/or cable phone at additional costs.

The internet is evolving into the portal for all television. Instead of 50 or 500 channels, which you can't choose, you'll have access to untold number of channels that you choose.

What the city of Sandy is doing is showing how citywide high-speed internet, at an affordable price, will attract new businesses and citizens.

The internet is becoming as crucial to the economy as our roads are.

Plus, truly high-speed internet is a way to make telecommuting more cost-effective, which, in turn, could mean less vehicles using our roadways.

Highways are at least 100 times more expensive than high-speed internet.

The city of Sandy conducted a survey to see if residents wanted this service. According to the paper, one resident wrote, "I am so proud to be part of a city that is this forward thinking."

That's not something any citizen of Bend will be able to say about our fair city for quite some time.

I've long championed WiMax, which is widespread wireless high-speed internet, for Bend. The city already uses WiMax for communications. They paid for this when they sold property, which was confiscated during drug busts. So, that WiMax belongs to everyone in Bend.

It is up to Bend citizens to demand greater affordable access to the internet. It would benefit everyone who lives here and all those tourists who visit throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The incredible shrinking newspaper

As promised, the daily newspaper today is about an inch narrower than it was yesterday.

This means shorter and fewer stories as well as smaller and fewer photos. It also means dinkier ads, but, presumably, at the same price or higher.

This all leads to less workers needed to produce a shrinking newspaper. And, ultimately, fewer newspapers.

This is a trend that's been going on for decades.

The old broadsheet was about a yard wide when fully opened.

Today's unopened daily is about 11.5 inches wide. It's much easier to handle, particularly if you're crammed into a skinny airline seat or while exercising on a treadmill.

But, most importantly, it wastes less paper.

This is the evolution of newspapers. It won't be long now when the size will shrink to that of an iPad.

After that, you'll get your news delivered on your iPhone, if you don't already.

The conundrum that newspapers face is how to make digital content pay the same or better than newsprint.

Once newspapers figure this out, their profits will soar because they won't be burdened with huge paper and production costs or the labor-intensive home delivery maze. But, they may have to become like and supply e-readers to subscribers at a loss.

In order to survive in the meantime, newspapers will become even cozier to a few big advertisers (e.g. Realtors, car dealerships) and their interests rather than to the citizens at large. This narrow-minded focus will also shrink the subscriber base.

Essentially, we no longer have "journalists," but rather "content providers," who serve as P.R. scribes at a much lower salaries than true flacks.

Content can be anything and will be anything. And, like some say, when anything goes, eventually everything will.

Like it or not, this is the digital age.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Joined the Century Club, finally

After 27 years of living in Bend, I finally managed this weekend to log 100 miles up and down Pilot Butte, the cinder cone that rises up nearly 500 feet in the center of town.

And, the funny thing is, it never got easier making the one-mile trek up to the top, either on the dirt trail or along the roadside.

After huffing and puffing my way up, though, the view from the summit always took the rest of my breath away. With the Cascade Range to the West and the Ochocos to the northeast, this panoramic view of Central Oregon is always worth the work to get there.

On my best days, I could make the ascent in 16 minutes. On those days, I was aided by listening to my daughter's older model iPod Nano, which was filled with tunes I loaded. Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," sure has a beat to hike to. So does Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower." As does "The Duke of Earl," by Gene Chandler.

To be honest, I've hiked the butte a number of times while living here. I just never tracked my treks. The state park system, though, has a Century Club, for those who've logged 50 trips up and 50 trips down. This summer, at age 56, I decided to try and join the club. My wife walked with me about a dozen times, but she really preferred yoga.

I was feeling good about my progress last week, when, after about three months of dusty trudging up the extinct volcano, I had only seven more trips to make.

But, last weekend when we went to hike the butte, they were holding a race to the top of it. This race was primarily for runners, which I am not. They had different categories, including one for the senior set. We found out that one of those older guys was nearing his 500th mile up and down the butte. And, he's been at it for only two and a half years after moving here from Florida. Oh, he's also surviving cancer. Plus, he is 93 years old.

I realized, once again, that whatever milestone you reach in life, prepare to be humbled.