Saturday, August 04, 2007

Go Figure

The more things change, the more they stay the same:
Fuel thirst deepens despite more mass transit

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lofty gasoline prices have helped push public transit ridership to the highest level since the country spawned its highway system in the 1950s -- but the growth is not enough to drive down demand for motor fuel any time soon.

U.S. public transportation use rose to 10.1 billion rides last year, the most since 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the interstate highway bill into law, according to the American Public Transportation Association, an industry group.

The trend toward public transit has been driven in part by high retail gasoline prices, which have hit levels above $3 per gallon each summer since hurricanes damaged oil production and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico in 2005.
Now, you gotta figure, with more people riding trains and buses, there might be fewer car trips taken, right?

Um. No.
Even so, the increase in transit use won't put the brakes on rising U.S. gasoline demand, mainly because only about 5 percent of workers who commute in a motorized vehicle use public transport, said Pisarski.

This year gasoline demand is running more than double 1957 levels, according to the Energy Information Administration. U.S. gasoline demand was more than 292 million barrels in May, the last month for which data was available, up from nearly 118 million barrels in May 1957.

Fuel demand is rising as car owners increase personal and business trips, said Pisarski. And people are increasingly both living and working in suburbs, a trend that is hard to service with public transport, he said.
Which may be true, of course. The traffic in suburban areas is noticeably higher than even five years ago. Here in New York, there's been a huge debate in Nassau and Suffolk counties about what to do to improve the load-bearing capacity of highways that don't come anywhere near the city.

The problem? Residents of these counties around the nation moved to the suburbs specifically to get away from the smells, the smoke and the asphalt of the city, so they are foursquare against any kind of improvements. Factor in that many if not most of these exurban areas are already fully developed, leaving precious little land that the county can seize and use to expand the road system anyway, and you begin to see the scope of the problem.

This exodus of jobs from the cities to the suburbs is a pretty recent phenomenon. Although the trend was in place before 2001, the terror attacks of September 11, coupled with the subsequent deliberate manipulation of information by the Bush administration to paint a picture that urban centers were constantly under the imminent threat of attack, created an environment that pushed employers to leave the cities in droves.

This is also reflected in housing prices. For example, a recent study showed that the type of rise in real estate values normally experienced in Manhattan had been occuring in Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk counties, too. Why commute by bus or rail across half the city to your job, when if you move off the island, you can buy a car and drive yourself to work?

And there's a big part of the problem, right there: the fact that, given a choice, more people prefer to be alone on their way to work than to be subject to the whims of a public transit system. In the city, it may be the most efficient and fastest way to get from point A to point B, but that's because it has a budget big enough from a large enough tax base to provide continual and frequent service particularly at rush hours, but also frequent enough away from rush hours that putting in overtime at your job isn't a tragic inconvenience.

Suburban systems would have to rely on a rider base that is far less densely packed together than its city counterpart and the buses (presumably) would have to cover a far bigger area in order to pick up the same number of people that a city bus does. Those two factors alone would make it impossible to achieve the level of service that a city transit system has.

Right now, suburban mass transit is mainly focused on getting people to the city. It would be hard to justify altering many routes to include intrasuburan commutes, but in saying that, it's also important to recognize that many of the suburban office centers themselves are near rail stations or in towns that are feeders to the big city, so it theoretically could be done.

Me, I love the subways. I also love my (dear departed) car, as well. I don't mind taking a train to work (it's only a twenty minute commute) since it afford me a chance to read a little, or even think about what I'm going to yammer on this blog. Driving into Manhattan would only leave me scarred emotionally.

I do understand the appeal, however.

This is a tough nut to crack, to be sure, but it's important. In an era when it's become patently clear that we must wean ourselves off the fossil fuel bottle, we find ourselves using more and more of it.

Humans is funny peoples.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

It just dunnit get any better than this:
Stevie Wonder & Ray Charles - Livin' For The City

In honor of Stevie's announcement that he will be touring again!

Friday Kitten Blogging

Cuz ma dadby es rilly bizzee thes week, he wuz not can has mah pitchers, so ah tole hem ah would fine some funnay pitchers an pose 'em. K, bai!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) First, it was terrorist squirrels. Then, it was spy squirrels arrested in Iran. It seems like there's an entire subculture on the planet made up entirely of squirrels engaged in criminal behavior.

2) What if FDR ran World War II the way Bush has run the Iraq invasion? (h/t MissCellania)

3) It's bad enough that the administration is doing stuff on the QT, but the courts ought to know better than to be complicit in the Bush crimes. Yes, this is a secret what?

4) Apparently, I'm too mellow, according to some of my critics.

5) Overly dramatic presentation aside-- come on, Barack, pauses are for children, unless you have some new bit of data to convey. We all knew you meant to exclude civilians-- Obama's statement regarding nukes was on its face a pretty moderate one, but Hillary seems determined to drive Obama onto her turf by making him seem to mimic the positions of any hack politician. She's doing a good job, too.

6) Wal-Mart's likely to take a hit on this. The old adage, you get what you pay for, is true. That Wal-Mart has made billions off the sweat of low-paid Chinese workers, and those same factories now appear to have been run on an even tighter shoe string, means that Wal-Mart will now have to go back and reconsider all products that it outsources to China, as well as all vendors. The last thing they'd want is people dropping dead in their aisles.

7) Sharight! Run another one past us, Rupert!

8) Let's put up a hat trick of annoying, hated corporations, shall we? If I walk out my office right now, one block in any direction, I can get a Starbucks coffee...if I was that insane, could take out a second mortgage for a cup, and if I felt like spending the rest of the day getting that god-awful bitter taste out of my mouth. Apparently, that might change in the future.

9) First, it was the rhinos, then it was the sharks...

10) Hm. It seems I haven't been keeping up...

11) First, it was Genesis. Then it was The Police...

12) Happy anniversary to me.

The Oil Slick

I'll have some analysis on the other side of this excerpt:
LONDON (Reuters) - Oil is headed straight to $100 a barrel, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said hours after prices surged this week to an all-time high near $79.

But others remember the price collapses of the last four years and wonder if markets are headed for a repeat.

U.S. crude on Wednesday climbed to a record high of $78.77 a barrel, surpassing the previous peak of $78.40 reached in July 2006.[...]

Since 2003, the oil market has entered into a sharp correction phase after climbing to its highs for each year.

After reaching last year's peak, prices tumbled 36 percent in the following six months to below $50 a barrel.
For the record, the futures market is betting that prices will drop, and while I concur, notice a trend that develops here: each peak is higher, each floor also rises, and longer-term, the floors are rising faster than the ceilings:Some of the heaviest hitters in the commodities markets have predicted that, even without adjusting for inflation, gasoline will hit $15 a gallon in 1995 dollars within eight years (adjusting for inflation, the actual price you'll pay would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 a gallon). And lest you think I'm talking out of my hat:
Chavez is not alone in believing oil's rally will continue. Goldman Sachs said last month prices could reach $95 by the end of the year.
It's hard to predict precisely what $100 a barrel oil will mean immediately for Americans. The correlation between crude and gasoline, for example, is less tethered than the correlation between crude and home heating oil. We see today, in fact, that oil at $79 a barrel has hardly budged gasoline prices upward, where oil at $65 a barrel back in April had prices at the pump well over $3 a gallon.

The perfect storm for Americans would be an oil spike in October. Even at $80 a barrel, refining capacity would be limited by physical production requirements: the shift to more environmentally-friendly winter blends of gas demands that refineries be shut down for retooling. And some of the crude, much of the crude, would be diverted for the imminent heating oil season. If global warming keeps the weather unseasonably warm in the fall in the Northeast, thus encouraging more people to drive later into the fall and winter, $4 a gallon at $80 a barrel would be likely. $5 a barrel in states like California and Massachussetts would be reachable.

$75 just to fill up a Toyota Corolla, $150 to fill up an SUV, will bring home the crisis to Americans in a way they'd never imagined.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV

Posted Sep 22, 2006

The Asylum Street Spankers with an ode to Republicans.

Hillary's Gambit

Hockey is a dirty game. Even when it's played beautifully, with grace and speed, there is the inevitable cheap shot elbow to the ribs, or stick between someone's feet. Often, the provocateur gets caught and penalized, but more times than not, he (or she) won't, and many times, it's this chippy kind of play that sets up scoring opportunities.

Politics is a dirty game, too. Elbows get thrown in the corner, skates get kicked, groins get kneed. You accept this when you play because you understand the nature of the game: that everyone is trying to get to the goal (office) and can't afford to play Alfonse et Gaston games.

This week, Hillary scored a goal:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton has widened her lead over fellow Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, a new poll showed on Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also showed that if the elections were held today, either of those Democrats would beat former New York Major Rudy Giuliani, the current Republican favorite.

Forty-three percent of Democratic respondents said they preferred the New York senator and former first lady over other Democratic candidates in the 2008 contest, up from 39 percent in June, the poll showed.

That put Clinton even farther ahead of chief rival Obama, the Illinois senator who slipped from 25 percent in the June poll to 22 percent in July. Clinton and Obama have sparred in recent weeks, trading accusations last week over foreign policy positions.
How did this happen?

It's early yet, to be sure, and there's plenty of time for that lead to get chipped away, but the race is starting in earnest now, and this was a bit of a surprise, but it bodes well for Hillary's third quuarter fundraising, I think, so it bears some examination.

For my part, I think the semi-"Sister Souljah" moment for Hillary came in the recent YouTube debate. You may recall a question regarding sitting down with people we don't particularly like to negotiate with them:Obama stated categorically he would (with, I think, the inferred background work of making sure there was something to be gained from talks). Hillary jumped on this:
Clinton sensed an opening. “I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year,” she said, adding, “I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes.”

Figuring she had the high ground, Clinton continued on the attack Tuesday, calling Obama’s position “irresponsible and frankly naive.”
In one short stroke, she turned around the debate, during which Obama tried very hard to paint Hillary as "Bush lite" (ouch, that was a nasty elbow!), and made Obama seem lost at sea and unprepared to deal with the world at large.

A not-too-subtle dig at his rapid rise from state legislator to a contending Presidential candidate, and a reminder that we've just had six years of someone getting on-the-job training. Talk about calling someone "Bush lite".

Many, as that last linked article implies, have said that Obama gained ground and momentum from that debate exchange, making Hillary out to be, well, "Bush lite" by continually bringing up her Iraq invasion vote, but the truth is, that story has played itself out already, particularly in the 2004 election when Kerry was called on it by Bush himself.

Too, Obama's own voting record in the Senate has mirrored Hillary's nearly perfectly on issues like funding the continuation of the invasion. Yes, there's ground to be gained in the more rube-laden sections of the left with reminders of the war and Hillary's regrettable complicity with this administration, but I think we've reached a point where people don't care about how we got there, just what we want to do about it now. In that regard, Obama has not distinguished himself from Hillary, pretty much "me-tooing" her positions.

Why this matters, at least in my analysis, is that Hillary will now start to draw the serious money that's stayed out of the race so far: it's too early to contribute, no one's scored any points, there's two or three legitimate (four, if you count Al Gore which no one seems to be doing much lately) contenders and the penalty for jumping in too early is severe if you choose the wrong horse.

By drawing up into the 40 percent range, Hillary has put this contest up on a new plateau. People cited her experience and competence as reasons for choosing her. That she took most of her new-found support from Obama is no surprise, then.

Some have called her attack a "cheap shot." I don't think it's any cheaper than what's been thrown at her from both sides of the fence. That she took a chance and scored a point is indicative to me that the vaunted Clinton team is back and is running the show again.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

*WHEW* That Was Close!

We can all breathe just a little bit easier now:
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has admitted it is now "highly unlikely" it will proceed with its $5bn (£2.5bn) offer for the Dow Jones media group.

It said this was because of the reported present level of opposition from the Bancroft family, which owns 64% of Dow Jones' voting shares.

With the Bancrofts expected to make a statement later on Tuesday, reports say less than a third are backing the deal.
The board of directors, which presumably has many of the Bancrofts on it, did OK the deal last week, but the Bancrofts themselves clearly had issues with Rupert Murdoch's overbearing presences in his other holdings.

It's hard to describe how sensible people feel about Rupert Murdoch. He's not precisely beloved in most circles (save for the low-normals in the Republican party), and is viewed as a sort of "necessary evil" wherever he goes, not because he can actually contribute anything to anybody or any organization, but simply because he buys ink by the barrel. You can't really ignore him and to challenge him is to risk taking any shred of privacy and decency off in public.

He's not known as someone who is a gracious loser, in other words.

The Wall Street Journal is not exactly a bastion of left-wing rabble rousing. It's editorial board sits somewhere to the right of Augusto Pinochet, the brutal former dictator of Chile, and it's hatred of anything smacking of any government control is legend.

Except of course when said government intervention saves its own bacon or covers its losses (not directly, of course).

The reporting in the news pages, however, is stellar, and something the Bancrofts can rightly be proud of. That coverage, quite objective and therefore quite "liberal", has its skirts covered by the savage reactionarism of the editors, who would probably like nothing less than to bring back child labor...after all, those kids are spending their worthless lives sitting idle in classes, learning, while they could be out there earning money for their corporate overlords!

While they may not agree with the stories they edit, they can smell a money maker a mile away, and the Journal can point with pride to the stories they cover and how they cover them. If the Journal was a newspaper as opposed to a business periodical, and invested money in the reporting staff and their resources, the WSJ could easily wrest the "paper of record" mantle from the New York Times.

And it's this that worried me most about the Murdoch take-over attempt. See, he'd rebrand some Fox channel as a "business channel in the tradition of the Wall Street Journal," and I'd be OK with that. After all, Beatle tunes are being used to sell diapers now and that's what sells now, is the brand. I accept that.

What I don't accept is, well, look, you can hear "All You Needs Is Luvs" and while you may momentarily lose your lunch over it, you can dust off Magical Mystery Tour and play the B side, and reaffirm your belief in all things Beatles.

Unfortunately, in the news business, old news is bad news and it's pointless to try to dig up an old Wall Street Journal and reminisce over the way they handled the terror attacks on 9/11. You'd want to read a current Journal and experience their top-notch journalism on a fresh story.

And if you need further proof of the Journal's reportage, Daniel Pearl was working for them when he was kidnapped and killed.

Which puts him about three million percent higher on the totem pole than the people who read only the editorials, then repeat them near-verbatim on right-wing blogs using Cheeto-stained keyboards, sitting in Mom's basement.

So you can exhale now. While the Journal's future is uncertain, it's not destined for Page Six treatment.

UPDATE: Sadly, I didn't bite when they stuffed the moosecock in my mouth, so I swallowed this story whole. I should have, could have, known better. The deal was practically done late last week, but my hopeful heart and firm faith in the better nature of humanity did me in to believing that Murdoch would be repudiated.

Silly me. Mea culpa, gentle reader. I try hard to be cynical. I let my heart get ahead of the facts here.

Murdoch, it appears, will own the Wall Street Journal. I shall now mourn.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Spoiling For A Fight

This is utter lunacy. I'm reminded of the apocryphal story recounted in "Citizen Kane" about the start of the Spanish-American War: "You provide the pictures, I'll provide the war.":
NEAR SHATT AL-ARAB (Reuters) - Mandated to secure Iraqi waters, the commander of a U.S. gunboat orders his crew to watch an Iranian look-out post for activity as his ship sails through waters with no clear divide between Iraq and Iran.

It was in this murky stretch that 15 British military personnel were captured by Iran earlier this year and accused of straying into its waters. A long-running dispute over the nearby Shatt al-Arab border river has helped spark war in the past.

Now, the U.S. military and its allies patrol as close as possible to where they believe Iraq's territorial waters end, but as tension rises between the Islamic Republic and the West, so does the potential for accidental escalation.

"We set a line where we think it's reasonable, and by customary use, going up and down that line, we try and set the tone," said John Chandler of the Australian HMAS Anzac warship, part of the coalition patrolling Iraqi waters.

"The Iranians have slightly different view as to where the line is."
Uh, yea, not like you don't have binoculars or anything, and can stand off a few hundred yards...but the clearest sign of provocation comes from the idiots on patrol there:
"We're going to drive down the line on the Iraqi side, and we're going to drive down slow. For Americans, we see this as driving down the strip on a Friday night, waving to all our friends," [USS Typhoon Commander Joel Lang] said on the way to the disputed area.
Now, I don't know where Commander Lang grew up, but I'm fairly sure the neighbors weren't polishing their guns and pointing them in your general direction. Perhaps a slightly more serious attitude is in order, rather than this reckless and insane lightheartedness?

I mean, I know you work for a man who thinks nothing of popping wheelies in a golf cart with the British Prime Minister at his first summit, but a little decorum is in order, and this isn't a dick-swinging contest to see if you can outjerk the President.(video at link)

All this comes on the heels of a warning from Iran over the weekend:
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has told a German magazine that the United States has too many problems in Iraq to become involved in armed conflict with Iran. The United States "is not in a position to get into a new military conflict," Mottaki was quoted as saying in an excerpt of an interview to be published in Focus magazine.
Who'd have ever thought Iran would be the bastion of reason in this conflict?

That's not to say that Iran is innocent. No sir, and in fact, insurgents in Iraq have already issued warnings to Iran that they face an all-out border skirmish if they don't stop meddling in Iraq, but the simple fact is, 170,000 soldiers are tired of fighting. Americans are tired of fighting and probably won't support another war in a region we have no business meddling in at all. They might, correctly, it turns out, view an Iran-US showdown as a provocation on our part, as opposed to some imaginary slight.

Particularly given this administration's track record with honesty and forthrightness. You know, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, errrrr...won't get fooled again" (which may be the first time The Who have made it into international diplomacy.)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ripples Across The Pond

Earlier this year, neo-cons had great rejiocing when France elected "conservative" (because, really, he's practically middle-of-the-road-right, from an objective American viewpoint) Nicholas Sarkozy president. I wonder what they'll make of this?:
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative ruling camp was headed for a devastating election defeat on Sunday that could well force the 52-year-old leader to resign, media exit polls showed.

The election for half the seats in parliament's 242-member upper house is the first nationwide electoral test since Abe took over as prime minister 10 months ago, pledging to boost Japan's global security profile, rewrite its pacifist constitution and nurture economic growth.

Public broadcaster NHK said Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its partner, the New Komeito, were seen winning between 39 and 55 of the 64 seats needed to keep their majority in the upper house, where half of the 242 seats are up for grabs. The New Komeito had aimed for 13 seats.
Japan, a far more traditionalist and conservative society, put up with Abe's nonsense for less than ten months before deciding they'd like to go back to the more liberal administration of government.

Likely because, as with so many conservative administrations, Abe's administration has been rife with corruption and ineptitude almost from the very start.
But doubts about his leadership abilities were fanned by a series of gaffes and scandals that led two cabinet members to resign and one to commit suicide, as well as revelations that the government had lost track of millions of pension premium payments.
Like Bush, Abe succeeded a wildly popular Prime Minister (Junichiro Koizumi), with Elvis-Presley-like charisma.

There's a lesson here for Democrats, as well. The opposition party, the LDP, pledged to "shrink income gaps and ensure the weak are not neglected." This echoes the 2006 Congressional campaign, to an extent, but should become the focal point for the presidential campaign next year.