October 30, 2010

Local sustainability

Some time ago, shortly after I started this blog, I created a whole list of topics that I wanted to do posts on. Today, I realized that I still had a few that were not done, so I am finishing all the posts I had sitting in my backlog. Then I can move on with some other ideas that I have.

One of the ideas I wanted to write about is what I call local sustainability. The idea of local sustainability is that a locality, whether a city or a town or a county or what ever distinction it might have, should be able to provide for its own needs, and not depend on outside resources for the necessities of life. It has been a long time since this sort of thing actually was common, but I don't know that it is necessarily a bad idea. Lets evaluate why.

First, lets look at what our current situation is. We mostly live in large cities. Our cities mostly provide services, with a few very large concentrations of finished goods manufacturing. Our cities certainly, with very few exceptions, do not provide raw materials. In some degree, they do process raw materials into finished goods (or some form of intermediate goods). People in cities mostly consume, and produce little. Our raw materials and even most of our finished goods come from elsewhere. Lately, most of it seems to be coming from China, but there have been other sources at other times. Our food doesn't come from where people live either. We have an estimated 3 days of food on shelves in most American and Industrialized cities. Our energy is generally not locally produced either. Some power plants are thousands of miles from the cities where the energy produced is used. Much of our oil and finished products now comes from overseas. Even most of the oil and finished products that are produced domestically still has to be shipped thousands of miles.

There are benefits to our current situation which unless maintained, would not make a switch to local sustainability an acceptable choice to most people. In our current system, we have very low cost, high end or high tech goods that are available from a large variety of sources. We can get almost anything we want nearly instantaneously if we have the means to pay for them, and even for those with smaller means, the amount of goods in their economic reach far exceed anything available in past eras.

In order to make a switch to local sustainability one of two things has to happen. The most likely and least desirable of these is some form of economic collapse affecting infrastructure, and lowering the availability of goods to crisis levels. The variety of goods would shrink 100 fold, and the costs would out pace all but the wealthiest of people for anything but the most basic goods. Famine and death would be rampant and most of us would die or wish we were dead.

The other option would be a new set of technology, business, and regulatory developments which when functioning jointly, would enable localities, or at least city sized regions to become able to produce 95% of what is consumed in those cities, using either directly produced or recycled raw materials or at the very least, with raw materials being primarily the goods being shipped into the cities from multi-regional or semi local supply sources. These developments would have to be able to produce almost anything on demand. The one thing that would be truly global would be the designs and manufacturing blueprints use by flexible micro manufacturing facilities which would need to be able to produce anything within a very large range of materials. For instance, there would need to be a electronics manufacturing facility that could use designs and blueprints from any developer to produce whatever the local consumer wanted, and produce it on demand.

In order for this to work, there would also have to be certain green space requirements primarily concerned with organic food production. The food production would have to have a much greater level of automation in its production, but instead of the mammoth machines currently being used by agricorps, these would require smart, possibly robotic, cultivators which would be able to produce higher quality and healthier crops in relatively small spaces. They would also need to be able to cultivate a wide variety of crops simultaneously, and with a minimum of pesticides and other chemicals. Larger green zones would also be needed for the raising of animal crops, with other more novel approaches facilitating the raising of the animals. Energy would have to be a local product, but with photovoltaic, wind power, and other systems becoming more efficient and less expensive all the time, this is become a real possibility today.

Of course, this kind of development would take a huge effort, but it would also have huge payoffs for just about everyone, from rich to poor, government, business, and just the lay consumer. The question is, who is willing to devote time, effort, and resources to the development of such a system.

The problem of property taxes

I have a problem with property taxes. Yeah, I know, everybody pays taxes. I don't have a problem with the fact that we pay taxes, but I have one, well, more than one with property taxes.

First, I don't like how arbitrarily income taxes can so often be raised. In the last year of living in various jurisdictions, I have seen how all of them have multiple entities that can raise property tax rates without consulting the public. Not only can they raise the rates, but they do raise the rates. And often. Many of these are not directly elected bodies, and there really isn't much of a process where the voters have input on those tax increases.

The bigger problem I have, however, is that with property taxes, it means that you really don't own what you think you own. If you own something, and you still have to pay someone else, or that they have some kind of right to your property that supersedes your own, then you really don't own it. I mean, if I purchase something, do I own it or not. I know, it is like software licenses, except that, when I purchase software, I know I am buying a license, not the ownership of the software. When I buy a house, what I am paying for is the full rights to the actual house and the land it is on, right. Well, obviously not. I have to pay property taxes.

I don't mind that we pay taxes, but I think property taxes are about the worst way to pay for government services.

Someone in the past came up with the brilliant idea that property taxes should somehow be reserved for schools. I recognize the importance that education can have in the lives of our children, and even if our current method of schooling might be failing, publicly funded education provides at least a small degree of opportunity and a slight leveling of the playing field for the disadvantaged. I just don't think property taxes are the best way to fund anything. What does property have to do with education. Is it supposed to make it so that those being educated are paying for it. Why not a sales tax then. If states were to institute a local version of a Fair Tax, wouldn't that be far better? Property taxes just don't balance out, and have too many other negative side effects. We would be better off getting rid of them.

October 21, 2010

Need we say more.

There has been much made of the Tea Party movement and the influence they have been having in this last election cycle. There is a lot of anger out there, but it isn't all being directed at the same things. Neither is there any kind of real leadership of this movement, but there is a somewhat commonly held set of beliefs and feelings that most involved share. I haven't seen anyone articulate it really well in recent days.

However, I have seen it articulated almost perfectly by someone over 200 years ago. That someone was Thomas Jefferson. Here is some of what he said.

"When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as  Europe."

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

"To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

While the statements above are not any officially recognized platform, the message is clear. From what I can tell, it is a good representation of the motives behind the Tea Party movement. What else is there that needs to be said.

October 12, 2010

Shake the Google out of my head

My wife and I have a variety of isms that we refer to. She has a particular set of isms that are all her own, mostly consisting of very memorable yet completely nonsensical phrases and words which sound like other things, and that somehow, most people can make sense of, even though they have certainly never heard them before. She doesn't think these things up intentionally, she just speaks and these things just come out. One of the first ones she uttered after we were married was bravewength. It was kind of a combination of brainwave, and wavelength, but didn't come out quite right, and at the same time, expresses a little bit more than either of those terms.

The other night, my wife was fairly tired and meant to say "I need to shake the gobbletygook out of my head." We were sitting down at the computer, and what came out was "I need to shake the Google out of my head." I laughed and laughed, and the more I thought of how applicable and meaningful that erroneous sentence was, I laughed even more.

We can find just about anything in Google. It has tons of info, and makes it easy to search for stuff. But really, how often do we enter a search and get nothing but garbage. And not just a little garbage, but incomprehensible amounts of garbage. Who can really wrap their head around several million (or more) virtually irrelevant search results. So, when she said she needed to shake the Google out of her head, I thought of all that sentence could mean.

Out with the massive volumes of worthless, meaningless, incomprehensible yet potentially distracting and deceptive garbage. How often does the content of our brains resemble a Google search results page. So much there, and yet so little. Perhaps we all occasionally need to "Shake the Google out of our heads."

October 1, 2010

Who's In Control

I am a control freak. I hate control freaks. Ok, maybe that isn't quite accurate. I hate being a control freak. The problem here is that just about everyone is a control freak some of the time. What I mean by control freak is that we want to control what is going on, and freak out when it isn't going our way. This might only apply to ourselves, which, if that is the only way you are a control freak, you are doing way better than most of humanity.

Often, control freakishness manifests itself way stronger in parent/child relationships. I look at my own relationships with my children and can see a lot of instances where I get bent out of shape over issues of control. Of course, that isn't what I am thinking at the time. It might be that they aren't "listening" to me, or that they haven't done what I have told them to do. When boiled down to it's essence, it is me freaking out over not being in control. I know from experience that things work much better when I calmly and maturely sit down and discuss an issue with my children, help them see their choices and the attached natural consequences, and then empower them to make their own choice. I feel better about it, they feel better about it, and more often then not, choose to do what I would otherwise have been telling them to do, with the significant difference that they typically do it better and faster if they are the one who made the decision.

I also see control freakishness happening on larger scales, in institutions, and in communities and societies. Most of the laws in the world are about some individual or group telling some other individual or group what to do. Our institutions, specifically our government, rarely, if ever, has that mature conversation where it helps us see the options and natural consequences and lets us make the choice. Instead, it is all about pressure and force. "You have to do it this way or" ... insert some form of either social condemnation or physical force.

My religion teaches that before we were ever born, we once had a choice between two ways.

The first way is that we would be given agency to decide for ourselves and be free to make choices, being responsible for our own actions. Because of the nature of mortal existence, we would all sin, but would be able to repair the damage of our sins and bad choices (repent) through an atonement for our sins. If we chose to repent, we would be able to continue to progress and become more like God. The primary advocate of this plan is Jesus Christ, who held the responsibility of performing that atonement for our sins.

The second way is that we would be forced to do what is right, and that we would not have the ability to choose otherwise. The consequence of that would be that no-one would ever sin, but that our progress would be damned. The leader and major proponent of this way was Lucifer, who we now call Satan.

We are taught that those who chose the first way got the opportunity of receiving physical bodies and continuing our progress in this mortal life. Those who rejected the first way and chose the second became damned in their progress and got kicked out of heaven. They are left to tempt us to make bad choices, which includes trying to get us to follow their plan in practice instead of following the one we originally chose to follow.

We all can fall to temptation and try to control others. In fact, we often do, in part because we fail to recognize the long term consequences really fall short of what we typically really want. Agency, or the freedom to choose for ourselves, is the most important thing each of us has. Efforts to limit or take away our agency are contrary to the nature of the plan of Jesus Christ. I guess that means that those who try purposely try to limit the agency of others are Antichrists. I surely don't want to be an Antichrist. Do you?