Friday, August 19, 2005

Memphis Too, I'd Bet

This is something I imagine a lot of Memphians will recognise:
Experts said the trend in the city [New Orleans] that's home to the popular French Quarter exists for several reasons -- drugs, too few police, inexperienced prosecutors, and residents staying quiet because they fear retaliation.

They point to an experiment last year by university researchers in which police fired 700 blank rounds in a New Orleans neighborhood in a single afternoon.

No one called police to report the gunfire.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I'm an Armadillo

According to Southern Connoisseur, my Southern Zodiac sign is an armadillo. You can learn your Southern sign here. Maybe you are a Moon Pie, or a Crawfish, or a Bollweevil, or even a Butter Bean.
Gas Whiners

Yours truly doesn't own a car. It's by choice, and yes, I have a valid driver's license. You'd be surprised how cheaply you can live when you don't have a car to help satiate every advertising-addled desire that flicks into your mind. When you have to plan out trips via MATA, or depend on others to drive you, you get very picky about where you go. And you end up spending less.

As I consequence I tend not to be sympathetic when I hear people who drive big gas-guzzlers and live in one party of Shelby County, work in another, have friends who live in yet a third part of the county, and shop all over the place, whine about the price of gas. Please. You may not have been meta-aware when you made the choices, but they are indeed your choices. Live with 'em.

All the talk in the media, year after year, about the price of gas has always struck my cynical bone. Of course the price of gas goes up in the summer. It also goes up with seasonal changes as gas stations have to sell different formulations because of environmental regulations. And the formulations change as you move around the country: ie. Chicago gas can't be sold in Memphis. So, when there's an interruption of the pipeline, as there was in the upper Midwest a couple of years ago, you're stuck until it gets fixed.

No new refinery has been built in the nation since 1979, thanks to onerous Federal regulations and NIMBY community complaints, so we are meeting today's demands with yesterday's infrastructure. That infrastructure is running right at actual and theoretical capacity. Quite frankly, the price of gas has been artificially low for many years. So low that exploration and drilling isn't profitable enough for gas companies to try new fields that don't guarantee big yields. One study suggested that if crude oil were selling for $100 per barrel (it's around $65 as I write), then we'd see more drilling in more marginal fields, new refineries and infrastructure and, most important, more (and better sustained) conservation and efficiency efforts.

Don't say "electric cars." Where do you think the electricity in that plug came from? What got burned to create it? Even some in the environmental movement have realised we screwed the pooch in not building new (ie. safer "pebble bed" modular designs) nuclear plants.

Anyway, one guy has saved his gasonline receipts since 1979 and done the math. Sure enough, gasoline prices -- adjusted for inflation -- have held remarkably steady since 1986! Gas prices were twice as bad in the early Eighties as they are today. I note that his graph only goes back to 1979, so he's leaving out the Gas Crisis of the Carter years, when we had actual shortages and long, daily lines of folks waiting for the gas truck to show up. Nothing like that going on today, is there? I suspect if he extended it back to 1973 or so, prices in the mid-Seventies were even worse. (I seem to remember seeing just such a graph in the past couple of weeks, but couldn't re-find it.)

A big part of the cost of gas is local, State and Federal taxes. In Europe, it's the biggest part of the cost. Next time gas prices hit a new "high," start agitating the government for a gasoline tax holiday for the duration of the "crisis."

See how that goes over.