Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto

Norman Geras found me very early in his blogging life, and I had no idea who he was. Yet for some reason I tried to be as helpful to him as I could, and three years ago normblog was launched. After a bit, as he put up some posts and I had a chance to read his bio I realized that, contrary to my earlier apprehension, he turned out to be something of a prominent guy in Britain, and a Socialist at that. But I stuck with him, and he has turned out to be that rare bird: a leftie with his brain plugged in. He is unwilling to side with the fascist imperialists, even if George Bush is leading the opposition. I am sure that this stance has caused him no small measure of grief.

Now he has done something about that, with the Euston Manifesto. This document is, like any self-respecting manifesto, a statement of principles. What is amazing is that there is nothing within it with which a Zero Base Thinker could disagree. All fifteen principles are reasonable, with respect for human rights but with the respect due to power, and an eye toward balancing the two.

I shall refrain from quoting the best bits, but imstead urge you to click on over and read it. It is not too long, and it will not get you mad. I promise.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gasoline Supply and Demand 101

Gasoline Supply and Demand 101

Now that the Federal Trade Commission has said that an investigation by U.S. antitrust authorities found no evidence that oil companies illegally manipulated gasoline prices or constrained oil refining operations last year, we are seeing calls from democrat lawmakers for yet another investigation into these allegations. It is clear that one of two possible things are happening. One is that politicians are pushing this issue without regard for the truth. Yet clearly that is not the case, since our wonderful leaders would never stoop to crass politics in disregard for the truth just to further their own need to amass and retain power. The only other possibility is that they have a lack of basic economic education. It is clear to me, as well as the FTC, that supply and demand is at play here, but there are still some unusual price moves that bear further inspection. Like, why would a gas station raise its prices for gasoline absent a delivery of gasoline at a higher price? I recently detected such a suspicious price hike at my neighborhood Exxon station, followed by another hike less than a week later. Since I am already acquainted with the owner, and since I spare no effort in my quest for journalistic integrity, yesterday, when I spotted him there as I was filling up my SUV, I walked over to him and started asking questions. How, I asked, could he justify raising the price absent a price hike of his own, especially in these times of FTC investigations into price gouging by men such as he?

The answer, as he related it, was that, while he had indeed received no price increase, nor even a notification of an upcoming price hike, what he had received was a phone call from the distributor who supplies his station with gasoline notifying him that he should not expect his next delivery within the next week, as scheduled. It would be a few days late. Right away, he raised the price ten cents, to $3.29 9/10 per gallon of regular. A few days later, he got another call to schedule that delivery, and it was for a few days later still. He immediately raised his price another dime. That was why my 25 gallons of regular had just cost me eighty five dollars.

His explanation was simple - as a friendly neighborhood gas station, it was imperative to his business model that he always be open. People rely on that. In order to assure himself of a supply, which, as a franchised Exxon dealer he could only get from Exxon, he raised his price, so as to discourage motorists from stopping at his station, or to encourage them to buy less. In other words, since supply was restricted, the price went up. A textbook example of the law of supply and demand. Barbara Boxer, take note. Instead of recognizing the beautiful elegance of the most basic law of economics, Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D) California, said when the FTC chair said she could find no evidence of oil company wrong doing: "That answer shows your true colors in terms of your lack of empathy and understanding with your basic mission."

So, it's not about economics at all, Instead, it's about "empathy and understanding." Who knew? I thought that we elect these people to enact legislation to help us deal with the real world. You know, stuff like punishing criminals, enforcing contracts, and ensuring fairness. But what we get is "empathy and understanding." I think it's time for someone to get ahold of Barbara Boxer and talk truth to power. And not just Boxer. She may be the easiest target, but many other Congresscritters seem bound and determined to pass a law to fight this nonexistent threat. Is it possible that all of them are unaware that legislation that artificially reduces prices will (always) cause shortages? Maybe it's just me (and a few million others) but I am glad that my friendly corner gas station has thoughtfully made it possible to always be able to count on his station having gasoline available. I know where I can go, within ten miles of my house, where I can get gasoline for $3.10. But I like the convenience of the corner station. I gladly pay 20 cents for that convenience. The 55 cents of tax on each gallon, I am maybe a bit less glad to pay. But aren't we experiencing a movement, of which Barbara Boxer is an intrinsic part, to raise those very taxes? And, not incidentally, increase the price we pay for fuel, so that we are encouraged to use less fuel in the first place? It may be too much to expect consistency from those in power, but I wish they would be a little less credulous. And I hope that they refrain from burdening us with any more "empathy and understanding." Maybe they don't need an education in economics. They need, instead, to be a little more honest.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Understanding Climate Change

Understanding Climate Change

The National Center for Policy Analysis has issued a report which takes into account many, if not all, of the sources of scientific information available today on the subject of climate and warming, called Climate Science: Climate Change and Its Impacts. No reader of this page will be surprised by its findings. From the executive summary:
The Earth's climate began a warming trend after the "Little Ice Age" ended in the mid-1800s, long before global industrial development led to substantial increases in greenhouse gases beginning in the middle of the 20th century. About half of the warming during the 20th century occurred prior to the 1940s, and natural variability accounts for all or nearly all of the warming.

To assess future climate trends, climatologists rely upon General Circulation Models (GCMs) that attempt to describe Earth's climate. The many climate models in use vary widely with respect to the variables they include and in the assumptions they make about how those variables interact. Yet some official reports, including the U.S. National Assessment published in 2000, report only the most extreme predictions, ignoring others that project only moderate warming in the 21st century.

Global warming alarmists have attributed increases in hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hail storms and heat waves to global warming caused by human activities. However, the evidence does not support their claims. In recent months, for instance:

* The unprecedented destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was blamed on climate change — but experts say recent, more powerful storms are part of a natural cycle, and greater hurricane damage in North America is due to increased coastal populations and development rather than more severe storms.
* Similar claims have been made about other weather phenomena in North America ; but, in fact, there is no evidence of an increase in the frequency or severity of floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, hail storms or other severe weather events.

Some have attempted to link the present warming trend to secondary effects, such as species extinction. However, the relationship between species extinction and climate change is even more tenuous. For example:

* Recent claims that polar bear populations are threatened by global warming ignore the fact that only two polar bear populations are declining, others are increasing in numbers and the majority have stable populations.
* Recent claims that coral reefs are "bleaching" (losing color and dying off) due to warming oceans ignore the evidence that bleaching appears to be a healthy response in which corals expel one symbiotic species of algae for a better-adapted species that allows corals to thrive in warmer waters.

It has also been claimed that low-lying coastal areas are endangered due to rises in sea level as the Arctic pack ice, glaciers and the mile-thick Greenland Ice Sheet melt in a warming climate. However, the evidence does not show this is occurring:

* The fact that parts of the Arctic Ocean are ice-free in the summer is said to be evidence that sea ice and the pack ice along the Arctic coast are disappearing; but changing wind patterns pushing the ice around, not rising temperatures, are responsible for navigable Arctic waters.
* In Alaska, home to many glaciers, several decades of increasingly colder temperatures in the middle of the 20th century preceded a more recent return to the average temperatures of the early 20th century.
* Temperatures at the peak of the Greenland Ice Sheet show it is actually growing colder.
* Sea levels have been rising — in fact, they have been rising since the end of the last ice age 20,000 years ago — but there is no evidence of an accelerating trend.
The report makes interesting reading. If you are getting involved in arguments with mindless Algore followers who are being whipped up into a frenzy by the publicity campaign over the impending release of his "new" magnum opus,the rest of the report has plenty of ammunition for refutation. Read the whole thing.

By the way, if you are driven to wonder why liberals take doom and gloom scenarios so seriously, from global warming to the progress of the war, take some time to read Dennis Prager's new piece titled Harry Reid & The End of Liberal Thought. A sample:
Welcome to the thoughtless world of contemporary liberalism. Beginning in the 1960s, liberalism, once the home of many deep thinkers, began to substitute feeling for thought and descended into superficiality.

One-word put-downs of opponents' ideas and motives were substituted for thoughtful rebuttal. Though liberals regard themselves as intellectual -- their views, after all, are those of nearly all university professors -- liberal thought has almost died. Instead of feeling the need to thoughtfully consider an idea, most liberal minds today work on automatic. One-word reactions to most issues are the liberal norm.

This is easy to demonstrate.

Here is a list of terms liberals apply to virtually every idea or action with which they differ:


And here is the list of one-word descriptions of what liberals are for:

The poor
The disenfranchised
The environment

These two lists serve contemporary liberals in at least three ways.

First, they attack the motives of non-liberals and thereby morally dismiss the non-liberal person.

Second, these words make it easy to be a liberal -- essentially all one needs to do is to memorize this brief list and apply the right term to any idea or policy. That is one reason young people are more likely to be liberal -- they have not had the time or inclination to think issues through, but they know they oppose racism, imperialism and bigotry, and that they are for peace, tolerance and the environment.

Third, they make the liberal feel good about himself -- by opposing conservative ideas and policies, he is automatically opposing racism, bigotry, imperialism, etc.
Priceless, and right on target. Zero Base Thinkers know that liberals feel their politics, rather than thinking things through (or doing the math) but Prager gets the formula just about right. Read the rest.

Sorry for the short post and the overreliance on blockquotes, but I am just getting back into the swing after a long period of sub-optimal functioning. Hopefully all will be fine real soon.

Update: With the public launch of the Euston Manifesto today, it appears that there might just be some hope for the Left. Norm Geras, a longtime friend of Zero Base Thinking, is at the heart of the Euston Manifesto. It is a document that attempts to explain, and perhaps convince, the position of the left on the war, and, while most Zero Base Thinkers are political conservatives, we have always welcomed lefties who bothered to actually think things through. I am preparing a post on this (hopefully) important document, but I can already say, at this time, that I wish it, and Norm, well.