As Starbucks Goes. . . ?

I guess this is a sign of the times or a barometer of sorts. Does it portend a sensible cutback in needless consumption, or is it a recession red flag? Check it out here.


Don’t Wait for Obama! Save Gas Now!

Hey, don’t say the humble host of Muse Machine never did anything for you. As Car Culture trembles before rising gas prices, here are some  gas-saving ideas from the experts at Bonus: None of these ideas require a crusade led by anyone in the White House. Most of them just require a bit of forethought when we’re behind the wheel.

I’ve been consumed with a couple of fast-closing projects this week, so I still haven’t filed a substantial report on Kunstler’s impressive and scary The Long Emergency. Hope to do so before heading to Ventura and Santa Barbara next week (Upside: 68 degrees! Ocean views!  Downside: Earthquakes!).

Do “Something”–But What?–About Gas Prices

I’ve now heard or read 150 versions of this question: “Why doesn’t Washington Do Something about the economy?” Sometimes it comes with slight variations, like “voters are demanding that Washington do something about the economy” and “why are they bloviating about patriotism and flag pins instead of doing something about the economy?” and “If they don’t do something about the economy, we’re going down the tubes.”

More recently, the favored variation has to do with gas prices. This morning I heard  a radio host say to a Congressional  reporter, “Are they going to do anything about gas prices?”  And as we head toward Election Day, these questions are getting wrapped into that Familiar Litany we’ll hear a thousand times: “With the economy in a tailspin and record gas prices producing pain at the pump, voters are looking to Washington for help.”

The comforting assumption behind these questions, of course, is that “they” have any number of tried and true methods for “fixing” the economy and bringing down gas prices by next Thursday, so doggone it, tell those lardheads to stop fiddling, open the tool box, and get out the #2 socket wrench that will fix things!

Even among the chattering media class, which includes a number of old Washington hands who ought to know better, these litanies get tossed back and forth with the tacit suggestion that short-term fixes exist, if these cretins would just get up and act.

I would ask this: Are we sure the short-term fixes exist? What power exactly does Congress have to affect gas prices significantly in a month or three or six?

The ballyhooed McCain/Clinton “gas tax holiday” would have saved a nickle or so a gallon, or approximately 50 cents on my last fill-up, and the resulting drop in revenues would have meant delays in highway repair and layoffs for many state highway workers.

Outlaw speculation on energy stocks?  This plays into the comforting line spread by  some pols that if we just knocked these greedy speculators into line, prices would drop to $1 a gallon next week. (I don’t know if the pols really believe this or if they’re just giving “the folks” a convenient whipping-boy.)

Even a massive windfall profits tax on the fat-cat oil companies, assuming it got past the filibusters and veto,  wouldn’t bring any quick relief. And by the way, as much as their “obscene profits” do look obscene, the oilcos have a point: Oil exploration is unbelievably expensive, with all kinds of failures and accidents,  and if we’re going to use the stuff, which we are for years to come, someone’s got to go get it. The system is the system.

Stringent, serious conservation? I think that’s good in itself, having never heard a good argument for waste, but let’s not kid ourselves. If everyone in the U. S. agreed to eliminate one day of driving a week, prices would drop some but they will never go back to $1.50 a gallon, which we now see were the good old days.

Why? China and India. These burgeoning industrial giants, dwarfing our population, will keep sucking the oil no matter what we do. Twenty years ago we were the Big Customer for oil. Now we’ve got company, and that means high prices no matter what Obama promises to do after his election. The Age of Cheap Energy is over.

More on Killing the Commute

The Age of Cheap Energy may indeed be fading away, but, as I noted recently, not all the consequences have to be dire. We may actually like some of the coming changes. Small example: I’ve already noticed fewer cars on the road at peak periods and on the weekends as drivers try to save money by consolidating trips and cutting down on aimless driving. The other evening I was standing out in my front yard about 6PM, and for several minutes I didn’t hear a single car. Not one, not even in the distance, and this is a fairly busy street.

 For just a moment I flashed  back to being a kid in a time when not all families had two or three or four cars. (One of my neighbors has, count ’em, five.) And it was a very pleasant memory.

As noted earlier, another positive change is the rise of “telework” or telecommuting, which makes so much sense. A story  from Atlanta shows how it’s catching on in a city long wedded to the car. Not only are employees happier when they don’t have to slog to the office (gosh, what a surprise), they actually get more done during the day:

But smiles are not enough when considering the bottom line, so Gerace [a telework manager ] has also calculated the savings. On average, he said, there is a 10 percent increase in productivity per employee, and with an average salary of $80,000 for the high-tech workers, Gerace figures he is reaping an extra $8,000 of work from each person each year.

Gerace, like other managers witnessing telework programs, knows that people spend more time working when they don’t have to commute. And when they’re working at home, they’re more likely to respond to e-mail and tie up loose ends at work at night after the kids are in bed, or on the weekend when they have free time.

The full piece is here.

Obama-Phenoma Quote of the Week

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

 The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”

Gerard Baker in The Times of London