Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nice Work if You Can Get it.

Remember how John McCain was roundly mocked for suggesting a couple months' gas tax holiday, where we could all buy gas at the price for which it was being sold? It was actually an idea with bipartisan support; the host committee for the DNC convention has been using Denver's municipal pumps to avoid paying gas tax. This would be the gas that goes in the vehicles donated by GM for use by the committee. They've also been getting free car washes, presumably from city employees. It's not salt season, hi. Write "Hope! Change!" in the dust on your back window and go already.

Mayor Hickenlooper, whose surname makes him sound like a musical-theatre villain, uses the classic 9th-grade excuse: B-b-but, the RNC is doing it, too! "My understanding is in Washington or wherever where this happens on a regular basis, that it's standard operating procedure. I do know for a fact that they're doing the same exact thing in Minneapolis," he said yesterday. Cool, if by 'fact' you mean "Something I pulled directly out of my arse." According to Theresa McFarlane, spokeswoman for the RNC host committee in Minneapolis. "We're not getting a tax break on fuel. That's not the set-up at this end."

Time for a little math. You poor saps in Colorado pay 40.4 cents per gallon in state and federal fuel taxes. Mayor Hickenfooler has based his "Please. It's pocket change." defense upon the vehicles in question having a 14-gallon tank, so it's only a $5.60 ripoff of the rest of you per tank. Even at the Conoco in Lakewood that's the equivalent of 1.33 gallons of free gas per fillup; at the Western Convenience in Aurora it's almost one and a half. Now, about the average size of the gas tank. My Subaru four-banger has a 14-gallon tank, which I need to fill this morning at $4.26 a gallon. Lucky me. GM does make cars, but somehow I don't see the DNC tooling around in Saturns. I think maybe they tend more towards the Yukon, since that's what I see them riding around in in DC. That is more like a 25-gallon capacity, or a cool ten-spot per tank. I don't know for sure; I got that number off my ex's 1999 F-150 truck.

The point is, you're buying rich people gas for their free cars. And they're only stopping because they got caught at it. And instead of apologizing and paying their taxes like they expect you to they're making excuses you wouldn't accept from your children. Jerks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh, Please

In the most pointless civic action I've seen in a while, ordinary citizens are petitioning a major corporation in an attempt to convince said corporation not to shut down manufacturing facilities in their local communities. The communities fear loss of this facility will cause other businesses to close or not to expand into their localities, thereby causing an economic hit to the towns. I'd root for the little guy, except in this case; the corporation in question is Starbucks.

I'm not going to claim to be one of those Luddites who like their boiled Maxwell House, thank you. Nor am I a coffee snob; I couldn't tell you if the beans were grown on the leeward side of the mountain or in a roadside ditch, and my idea of "Fair Trade" is my cash for your coffee. I just know what I like. I will say that not only do I prefer Peets to Starbucks, I prefer the house coffee at the Flying J truck stop in Grapevine, CA to Starbucks. It's not that it's swill, it's the whole Starbucks lifestyle, the prepackaged ersatz intellectual thing. Along with your coffee, you can purchase an appropriate book to be seen with and the right sort of jazz -- just edgy enough to seem hipster but without alienating anyone. This is profoundly irritating to me, even as it saves me time in my daily interactions with people. I know if you are carrying a Starbucks book or raving about the new CD they're flogging that there is exactly nothing interesting or original about you and I can ignore you with a clear conscience.

There are independent bookstores and record shops full of people who love music and books, with staff who have actually read or listened to most of the stock. They can speak engagingly and instructively about their fields of passion and a lot are genuinely interesting people to be around. (hi, Cute from Baltimore at Idle Time!) There are small diners, coffeeshops, and restaurants where the food's pretty good, the staff are happy to be there and the conversation flows between people who enter and leave as strangers but for the duration of their coffee or their meal are bonded by their mutual affection for a place where everything isn't always the same, where there are up days and down days. These businesses would be happy to step right in to the empty spot Starbucks will leave behind. Some might even make a go of it, if you'd stop whining about how it's not a guaranteed hit right out of the box like Starbucks. Hint: if that were so they wouldn't be closing 600 stores. McDonalds isn't popular because the food is good; it's popular because children like consistency. Starbucks is McDonalds for the natural fibers set. They can't leave soon enough for me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ol Bidness

There's a gas station up the road from me that's cut the price dramatically enough for lines to form around the block. It's a promotion of some kind. You've seen the same thing where you live. Here in California, of course, there's a punchline: the bargain price is $4 a gallon.

The price for a barrel of crude has been sneaking up on $140. It may have gone over; I really haven't been keeping track. I've been off having a growth experience. It did dimly register that the Speaker of the House of Representatives said we couldn't "drill our way out" of this problem. Ann Coulter had a good line about that. She said it was like saying you couldn't sleep your way out of tiredness. Well, it seems Ms. Pelosi and us in the Great Unwashed can both have our way. We don't have to drill to bring down the price of crude; all we have to do is say we'll drill and the price drops by 20 percent. How efficient.

President Bush has lifted an executive ban on drilling for oil on non-park public lands. There have been several thousand of acres in Alaska released for drilling. They'd already found oil, they were just waiting for permission to go get it. The corresponding congressional ban expires September 30. This settles the question once and for all in my mind over whether Mr. Bush is stupid or crooked. That move was pure evil political genius. On the strength of this news the price of oil dropped $5 a barrel. When it was reported that the oil could be in refineries by 2010 is when things really took a dive.

I have a running debate with a friend of mine. He's of the "Chimpy McHitlerburton" school of thought on our president. Both of us think the oil market's fixed, but we're at odds over who's doing it. I think I got this one. Now, if we could just settle that whole 9/11 thing...