What the PUMA Represents

I had a bit of fun yesterday evening with the new product announcement from GM and Segway: the PUMA. Lots of other people have been having their fun and at least one strange person over at Calculated Risk is actually taking it seriously, the poor bugger.

So, rather than just have some fun and let it go at that, let me be more constructive this morning and discuss what is actually wrong with the new prototype. Take another look at the vehicle and most of us from Rochester don’t need to think too long before we see what the problem is with it. I can’t even imagine navigating Rochester’s poorly-maintained winter roads in something so small. I also can’t quite wrap my head around why I would voluntarily drive this thing around in a Rochester October rain.

So one problem, in a nutshell, is that this vehicle simply isn’t designed as a serious all-weather alternative for any place north of Washington, DC. The most densely populated areas in America with the greatest concentration of wealth are simply left out of the equation on this vehicle. That’s not a very good way to foster the early adoption necessary for long-term viability. With apologies to my friends in other places, if it’s not being used in New York, Chicago or Philly, it’s just not going to happen.

But there’s a much, much larger issue at stake here, which is that PUMA stands for “Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility,” is a project doomed to spend it’s days in cities, stranded by it’s lack of resources. What’s the problem with that?

In short, eight decades of oil hegemony, that’s what. Our society has been carefully sculpted over the course of the last eighty years or so precisely so that we use lots and lots of oil. Urban sprawl, commuting, gas-guzzling vehicles and vacationing are all products of a government working hard – in tandem with automakers – to make sure we never ever failed to use the largest share of oil on the planet.

And hey! We Lefties can bitch about it all we want, but that hegemony sure has done us a world of good. We owe our entire lives as we know them to that under-the-radar empire the United States has built for ourselves. So, this isn’t a rant on the evil that men do.

But if automakers are serious about green energy, they’re going to need to find a solution – a fuel-efficient automotive solution – to the problem of our impossibly distant lives. They need to build cars that bridge the gap between the PUMA, which may yet be our future, and our unsustainable past as typified by the SUV. This is true for both practical and egotist reasons.

Because we can try our damnedest to make urban life sound like a good idea; we can try to make urban living the hip alternative to suburban sprawl, but that’s not going to make enough of a difference for enough people to make our ultra-modern life-on-two-wheels PUMA a practical reality. Fine if Segway wants to put this little piece of crap out there to sit along side their other two-wheeled success stories in Caribbean tourist trap cities. But don’t ask us to applaud GM for going “all modern” with this junk.


The Good and Bad News About Driving

Calculated Risk is blogging today that the US Department of Transportation reports a 3.7% drop in the total number of miles traveled on the nation’s streets and highways. This is the kind of thing that, on a certain level, is actually a good thing. After all, if we’re to curb global warming, no single issue can be more important than increasing efficiency and decreasing travel on U.S. highways, given the fact that nearly two thirds of our oil consumption comes from cars and trucks.

But this isn’t a statistic that proves we care about the environment, though our new-found concern for the planet is reflected somewhat in those numbers. What it shows is that the economy – which is largely driven by gas sales, auto sales and related industries – is slowing down precipitously. The slacking of gas prices also displays this rather eloquently.

The thing is: our nation is largely as rich as it is because of an actively-pursued but rarely discussed oil hegemony. As much as OPEC likes to talk, the fact is – as illustrated above – we control prices as the Buyer in Chief of the oil industry. Which also means that big and potentially dangerous nations like Russia who are entirely dependent on oil sales for their wealth may well become a whole lot less stable than they are right now.

So, enjoy that cheap gas while ya got it.


Recession? Low Gas Prices? Why Not Buy an Oil Company?

Today’s D&C is reporting that gas prices will likely stay at their current low levels through February. And you know what that means: time for oil companies to start buying each other up.

See? The big companies never really suffer.


OK, “Black Helicopters” Moment, Here. . .

Or maybe not so much.  Maybe I’m just giving more credit to the White House than it deserves for setting intelligent policy.  Nevertheless, does it strike anyone else as remotely possible that the White House insists on stepping up pressure on Iran specifically because it spikes oil prices?  Higher oil prices are good news for their efforts in Iraq. Just a thought.

Rice seeks Russian backing on Iran – Yahoo! News

BRUSSELS, Belgium – Armed with support from NATO allies, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to convince a skeptical Russia that it should back U.S. plans to step up pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear activities.

Oh, NO!! Oil Prices Drop!

OK, so now we’re being told that the price of oil is dropping, and that’s a bad thing.  What’s the excuse here in Rochester, where gas is $2.85 a gallon?  A little price drop once in a while is a good thing, if you ask me.

Sharp drop in oil prices Refinery problems cause glut of crude | Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK — The price of oil fell the most in three months Monday because of a supply glut at a key North American delivery point and speculation that an Energy Department report will show U.S. inventories jumped last week.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell $2.77 a barrel, to settle at $61.51, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the lowest close since March 21 and the biggest one-day decline since Jan. 4. The price of oil is down 8.7 percent from a year ago.

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James Inhofe’s “Challenge” to Journalists:

Dare to keep readers off topic:

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Washington D.C. – Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the outgoing Chairman of Environment & Public Works Committee, is pleased to announce the public release of the Senate Committee published booklet entitled ?A Skeptic?s Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism. Hot & Cold Media Spin Cycle: A Challenge To Journalists who Cover Global Warming.?

Meanwhile, the National Science Teacher’s Association does what it can to keep kids off topic as well:

The Blog | Laurie David: Crooked Curriculum: Oil Company Money Scandal at Nat’l Science Teachers Association Deepens | The Huffington Post

Since the Washington Post published an op-ed I wrote asking if NSTA’s puzzling decision to reject 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth might – just might – have had anything to do with more than six million dollars the organization has accepted from ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute, the muck keeps piling up.

It’s a shame that all the rest of us have on our side is truth and inevitability.  Those are seldom enough.

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GroovyGreen Catches More Bush “Energy Policy”

I heartily agree with GroovyGreen’s sentiment: November could not come soon enough.  Of course, we stll need to get Bush out of office, which we cannot do for a few more years, probably.  Still, something’s gotta give: – Start Today :: Save Tomorrow : Blog Archive : Bush Admin Appoints Exxon?s Lee Raymond To Solve America?s Energy Crisis

Could November come any sooner? Not only will ExxonMobil announce third-quarter profits tomorrow, they?ve also got to be smiling from ear-to-ear about the recent appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond to lead an influential study to develop policy solutions to America?s energy crisis! How ironic is that? The genius behind this appointment is energy secretary Samuel Bodman ? another Bush standout with obvious ties to Big Oil.

BTW, please check out the article on GroovyGreen and do not miss the letter-signing campaign!!

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Daily News: WWIII Has Begun

An excellently written piece from the magazine partially responsible for the mentality that led us into this mess, Micheal Goodwin of the New York Daily News finally draws the conclusion many of us predicted a long time ago:

We’re screwed.

Micheal admits that he thought Iraq was “the key,” but is now not so sure. It certainly sounds as though he’s another PNAC sympathizer, ready, willing and able to believe that American military force can solve all problems. Well, it didn’t work, but he’s suddenly developed an amazing sense of clarity now that this philosephy has midwived our nations ultimate collapse.

Think of it: if indeed WWIII has begun, who are our allies? Isreal, certainly, but they’re not going to be much help at all. If the World War becomes a nuclear war, they’ll be helpful while they still have a few nukes left, but that won’t be long. You might think that if things really get nutty in Iran or North Korea, the Europeans would more or less be forced to side with us. I am not so certain that they will do that, or at least, I suspect that Europe would largely abstain from any such conflict until absolutely necessary ~ the exact opposite of the kind of behaviour in Washington that has led us to such impasses around the world.

In the impending World War, the bad guy nation is us.

Think about that! Sure, we’re not gassing Jews, but Germany cited as motivation national preservation in both World Wars they started. Even our friends, assuming we have any left when the dust clears, cannot avoid realizing that it was us and the reckless policies of our Idiot Emperor that brought the world to war this time. There will be penalties, and they will be severe. Imagine a world fed up and imposing sanctions on an America too weakened by war to object. This is the future that George Bush is creating. It is unlikely we will ever be invaded, protected as we are by oceans from most of our enemies. That is arguably the scariest part of all, since an American collapse might just end up a starving America all alone.
Don’t bother talking about impeachment. I gave up that rag a long time ago. Worry about getting Democrat control of the Congress, and then hope like hell that one of them will have brains enough to get something done. Good god, think about that: our only hope is Hapless Harry Reid and his non-existent national policy. And even if the Dems to control both houses of Congress (an entirely doubtful outcome), it really doesn’t matter much because it is the Executive Branch that fights wars, and it is the execution of the Iraq War more than anything else that is causing us such fits.

With or without a World War, there is no other alternative than an American Denouement. Our oil hegemony is now our Achilles Heel, we are in debt that we likely will never repay, and we have incited enough hostility across the globe that there is very little chance of sympathy from the rest of the world. Our only hope now is a controlled crash. Our best hope is that somewhere out there in the American political wilderness there exists a politician who might have brains enough to know how to invest our dwindling reserves into a bid for oil independance and parlay that into a new economy that can keep us from starving.

Any takers?

They’ll Say Anything to Sell Oil

Eric G Holthusen, Fuels and Technology Manager for Royal Dutch Shell, says that it’s “morally inappropriate” to use food stock to produce Ethanol.  Good greif!

Shell says biofuels from food crops “morally inappropriate” – Yahoo! News

Ethanol, mostly used in the United States and Brazil, is produced from sugar cane and beets and can also be derived from grains such as corn and wheat. Biodiesel, used in Europe, is extracted from the continent’s predominant oil crop, rapeseed, and can also be produced from palm and coconut.

Mind you, anyone whose read my stuff knows that I’m not all that keen on Ethanol, per se.  Still and all, to wave the flag of moral rectitude on a subject like this is just plain disingenuous.  The corn currently being produced in the United States is not going to feed the hungry around the world in the first place, and in fact is largely contributing to the fattening of America.  Moreover, those places that need food probably need the tools with which to grow thier own food more than they need the fuel anyway.

In short, the problem of hunger on this planet has more to do with crop distribution across the globe than it does with an actual planetary food shortage.  Meanwhile, shipping dried grain across the globe has limited benefit for those that recieve it.  And at the same time, an oil company is telling us that they’re developing ways to get Ethanol out of wood chips?  How long will it take before that’s a viable solution?

No, this is not anything more noble than a company trying to hold on to its failed and dwindling business model.

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More ANWAR Fighting in the House

It’s getting pretty ugly in the House, no doubt about that. The pro-drilling crowd is throwing “extremist” enviromental issues from twenty years ago in the faces of the anti-drilling crowd. The anti-drilling crowd is hitting the pro-drilling crowd with the “failed policies” bullet point. It is an interesting fight, in that when I say “pro-” or “anti-drilling,” that is not code for “Democrat” or “Republican.” There is a lot of bypartisan sniping going on here, though the balance of the fight is predictably along partisan lines.

The trouble for both Parties, and also the pro and con crowds, is that they are playing a long-ball game over an issue which is very immediate in the minds of Americans. Those who want to drill in ANWAR don’t want to acknowledge the fact that any (highly dubious) benefits from such a plan will not take effect for at least eight years. Those that oppose the ANWAR plan are talking about alternative energies, which while I approve, are going to take a long time to implement and do very little to nothing for those on the lower end of the income scale with late-model cars that cannot accept E85.

On balance, doing my best to keep biases aside, I think that the debate ultimately favours the Dems and the Liberals. The Republican answer to what is obviously a long-term energy crisis is just more of the same; this from the party that has bashed Dems for lacking ideas. The time is as ripe as any in my life for a genuine conversation about alternative energies, and while the Republicans pay lip service to it, they still manage to push it off as a pie-in-the-sky, long-shot alternative while continuing to push for a return to the norm. A very elloquent Rep from New York whose name I failed to catch turned Bush’s “Addicted to Oil” theme from the SOTU on it’s head and spoke brilliantly about the Republicans in terms of junkies looking for one more fix.

Having said all this, the fact remains that politics tend to be a short-term game, and niether side in this debate offered any short-term solutions.? The first party to come up with a specific plan to address the short-term needs of American gasoline consumers and voters will be the one to walk all over thier opponent.

Ken Lay is Guilty on All Charges

The jury has found Ken Lay guilty on all charges, and did so quite quickly.? That’s Insider Trading, Bank Fraud.? They’ve still got the Jeffery Skilling charges to rule on, but if Kenny went down this hard, it doesn’t look too good for Jeff.

Woot!? Jeff Skilling just got the word:? Not guilty on chargea 42-50, which were the insider trading charges.? This is fun!? Blogging as it happens.? Still waiting on the rest of the charges.? Conspiracy and Fraud charges?? Guilty.

So there you have it. But if you’d like, you can always tune into CNN and watch a bunch of idiots talk endlessly about a bunch of vapid crap only barely associated with this case.? That’s always entertaining.

Conservatives Confirm: Gore Running for President

Well, OK. Maybe they didn’t “confirm” it, but with this latest attack from The Right, it’s obvious they’re very, very worried. And no, I don’t think that they’re just worried about the movie. I think intelligent players in the political world are getting thier dander up about a possible second Gore presidential bid:

Big Oil Launches Attack On Al Gore:

Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) will unveil two 60-second TV ads focusing on what it calls ?global warming alarmism and the call by some environmental groups and politicians to reduce fossil fuel and carbon dioxide emissions.? The ad, which will be aired in more than a dozen cities across the country, is being released just a week before the May 24th opening (in LA and NYC) of Al Gore?s new movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

Who is CEI? The Washington Post explains:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which widely publicizes its belief that the earth is not warming cataclysmically because of the burning of coal and oil, says Exxon Mobil Corp. is a ?major donor? largely as a result of its effort to push that position.

CEI also gets funding from other oil companies through the American Petroleum Institute.

And there you have it.