Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Environmental Hysteria: 'Tis the Season

Price-Gouging-Investigation-mas, that is!

It seems to me that the Democrats' idea of reducing America's dependence upon foreign oil is making oil so expensive that only the very rich can afford it. Therefore, the rich are taxed and the poor ride the bus!

An Oregon senator is one of those leading the charge against evil profit-making oil companies this year.

Legislation supported by Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) that would ban gas price gouging was successfully added Tuesday to a fuel economy reform bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee.

"Oregonians are sick and tired of being pummeled at the pump. Gas prices have jumped 50 cents just this month. It is time to push automakers to improve fuel economy," Smith said. "The real question is not how we will do it, but when will we do it."

"When it comes to price gouging, the legislation I am supporting goes after profiteers who prey on the vulnerable in the wake of a disaster," Smith continued. "A disaster is not a license to increase profits. [What disaster? - Robo] The government must be given the tools investigate egregious abuse and to prosecute the criminals who perpetuate it."

Legislation Smith is supporting along with Senators Ron Wyden and Maria Cantwell to ban gas price gouging in the aftermath of disasters was included as an amendment to a fuel efficiency bill approved by the Commerce Committee. The price gouging provisions establish tough new federal protections that would guard against profiteering and market manipulation by oil and gas companies.

This latest legislation is in conjunction with Smith's ongoing work to reduce American reliance on foreign oil, including his efforts to:

- provide incentives to support domestic automobile manufacturing and the purchase of efficient vehicles

- create new incentives for vehicle manufacturers or parts suppliers to re-tool, expand, or establish manufacturing facilities that produce advanced technology motor vehicles or components

- encourage the development of renewable energy technology, spur economic development in rural America and further enhance the nation's energy security.

Oregon gas tax is 24.9 cents per gallon - not the most expensive, by any means. But if the state really wants to reduce the price of gas, all it has to do is lower the damn taxes. They don't care what Oregonians pay for gas, only that they make it look like they care in case people remember when election day rolls around.

If the MSM and Congress can recycle stories about price gouging and investigations and bills against price gouging, is it OK if I just recycle my post on price gouging from last year?

I have heard rumblings over the last few weeks of left-leaning officials have been making an effort to convince people that they are experiencing price gouging as a result of events in the Middle East, hurricane season, and greed on the part of oil companies. Certainly, gas prices have decreased appreciably since Hurricane Katrina, so perhaps that would lead some to believe Big Oil was taking advantage of their pain. The MSM has made sure to make a big stink about oil companies reporting record profits while minorities and women suffer from the effects of the severe storms this year. After all, conflict sells newspapers.

Yesterday, Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor said consumers need to be protected from gouging when gasoline is in short supply. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I think state and federal governments need to lower or eliminate taxes on gasoline and stop gouging consumers.

In order to continue selling gasoline to you, the consumer, oil companies need to make a profit. So for the time being, let’s assume the industry 9.1% profit margin is reasonable (I think it is) and examine why the price of gas is so high. The price of gasoline depends on a number of factors. As of September 2005, 50% of the price you pay for gasoline is to pay for the crude oil, 8% goes toward distribution and marketing, 27% goes toward refining costs and profits.

Federal and local taxes account for about 15% of the total price of gas in the United States (down from 31% in 2002). Federal excise taxes are 18.4 cents per gallon, and state excise taxes average 21 cents per gallon. Some states also levy additional sales taxes, as well as local and city taxes. In Europe, gas prices are far higher than in America because taxes on gas are much higher. For example, gas prices in England have risen as high as $6 per gallon, with 78 percent of that going to taxes.

To put it in perspective, I was driving home from work today and saw that gas was $2.35/gallon. That means 35.25 cents per gallon goes directly from my pocket to the government: 18.4 cents to the federal government and 16.85 cents to local governments. Multiply that by the 19.1 gallons in my tank ($6.73 per fill-up), about four times a month, which means that I pay $323.17 a year in taxes on gasoline (for just one of my two cars, not counting extra driving on vacations and fluctuation in prices, we have to assume some things are static for this little mental exercise).

Since 1990, the Gasoline tax has transmogrified from a scheme for deficit reduction and then to a use tax. Due to the faulty and politically charged pseudoscience of global warming and general environmental hysteria, gasoline taxes were nearly double what they are today in order to discourage use and force people to seek alternatives. The problem is the same as it is with use taxes on alcohol and tobacco; the tax doesn’t discourage use and the government becomes dependent upon revenues from the tax so it doesn’t really want you to find an alternative to the commodity it’s taxing. It remains to be seen whether the recent spike in sales of hybrid vehicles is a fad due to the spike in gas prices or will be an ongoing trend.

Some folks will say that they don’t mind paying taxes like this because it benefits society as a whole. The problem is that it doesn’t, since government is incapable, by design, of using your tax dollars effectively. It collects taxes on your income before you even get to see it, and then charges taxes whenever you buy something and still can’t get that pothole down the street filled. That has a lot to do with our current expectations of government to coddle and support us, when they should be worrying about infrastructure, defense and civil preparedness PERIOD. I understand that government needs money to perform these functions, but getting us coming and going is excessive. No tax means $2.00 per gallon of gasoline. No income tax, but a consumption tax on gasoline means that even if gas is slightly more expensive, I’ll be able to afford it. But I digress; I’ll save the consumption tax (fair tax) argument for another day, along with other things the government can stop doing to the petroleum supply chain to help consumers sleep a little better at night.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

A Culture of Fitness: Chronic

Here's how the notional command PT schedule is upposed to work:
  • Monday is Departmental PT, which I assume means the department is supposed to PT together.
  • Wednesday, the whole command does a formation run down the pier, shouting, "Look at me!" to the other ships.
  • Friday, each division PTs together. Most of them go to the gym or on a fun run together.
To kick off each session, everybody forms up and does calisthentics, which usually consists of way too many pushups and dodging pier traffic. It's been exacerbating some chronic injuries and it's only going to get worse. We only do this because about five people really really wanted to do command PT, meaning they like to inflict thier personal whims on everybody to make themselves look good for advancement and maybe help them become Chief Petty Officers.

I know, I'm complaining. It's the military after all, isn't this what we do? Look, I'm stationed on a warship, and when we're underway, we don't do any of this. People have to manage their time and fitness on their own, and most of us do pretty well at that. So why do I need to go out there and PT together with 150 of my closest friends when we're in homeport? I like to run, sometimes even when there isn't beer waiting for me. But I'm also in some pain and have to spend plenty of time around my shipmates as it is.

Anyhow, during the Monday and Friday sessions, I've been able to break off from the group and run on my own, which has been nice. I usually run around the basin to the main gate and straight out to the beach, down the sea shore while the sun rises and around the golf course, then back to the ship. I have no idea how far it is. For the Monday session, I gathered the department up and told them that I was planning to run down the beach - everybody groaned before I could finish. I told them anyone who wanted to run down the beach with me was welcome, but we would run past the gym for anyone who wanted to stop off there.

So I ran down the beach by myself. I saw the CO heading that direction as well, but I ran into him once and while we paced each other he asked if I had come from the beach and said, "You're a better man than I!" He's a runner, but he's used to the level terrain, I think, whereas I'm used to running off road. I get bored on the streets and sidewalks.

The tide was all the way in, I mean it was right up to the dunes. The sunrise was gorgeous, too. There wouldn't have been a lot of room for the department to run with me if they wanted to (and they probably would've stayed in formation too - creatures of habit, I suppose; I just wanted a "fun run"). Down the beach a way, I found a seagull tangled up in the roots. It's wing was contorted and looked like it might've been broken. I pulled the roots up a bit and got it untangled, but it didn't want much to do with me, so I left it alone.

I ran in the water some and then up off the beach and through the golf course. That was a nice run. Not like tomorrow when we'll be trotting up the pier with only half of the formation singing cadence (if that), and only going a half mile or so. Ugh. I'd run more after that, but I want to get back to work and double time wreaks havoc on the shin splints.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Sea Cows

There are currently two manatees, a calf and a cow, between my ship and the pier. Sure, I get irked about environmentalist nonsense, but I do consider myself a conservationist. I see no problem with conserving natural resources (driving a lower-mileage car, for example) or being nice to animals (even the ones you eat), as long as it doesn't involve imposing your will on others.

Note the propeller scars on the tail and back of the cow. I think responsible boaters should keep an eye out for the animals and to not run them over with their boats, but they're not always on the surface and you can't always see them, even if you drive slowly. If you're in an area where manatees live, just be careful, please.

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Environmental Hysteria: I've Got A Bridge to Sell You

I'm having some writer's block issues while doing my Ensigns' fitness reports. Therefore, I blog.

Happy belated Earth Day - seems like I'm getting in the habit of forgetting Earth Day, due to it being a particularly silly sort of a day. It reminds me, however, how annoyed I am by the cult of environmentalism and that I haven't done an Environmental Hysteria post in nearly a year.

The emergence of the "carbon offset" left me scratching my head for a bit while I was busy doing other things. I suppose the idea really began to gain momentum upon the release of An Inconvenient Truth and Al Gore's questionable claims of greenitude.

Anyway, it was nice to see some sanity with respect to the carbon credit scam in the Financial Times. Here's how it works (from Wikipedia, sorry):
Carbon credits create a market for reducing greenhouse emissions by giving a monetary value to the cost of polluting the air. This means that carbon becomes a cost of business and is seen like other inputs such as raw materials or labor.

By way of example, assume a factory produces 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions in a year. The government then enacts a law that limits the maximum emissions a business can have. So the factory is given a quota of say 80,000 tonnes. The factory either reduces its emissions to 80,000 tonnes or is required to purchase carbon credits to offset the excess.

A business would buy the carbon credits on an open market from organisations that have been approved as being able to sell legitimate carbon credits. One seller might be a company that will plant so many trees for every carbon credit you buy from them. So, for this factory it might pollute a tonne, but is essentially now paying
another group to go out and plant trees which will, say, draw a tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As emission levels are predicted to keep rising over time, it is invisioned that the number of companies wanting/needing to buy more credits will increase hence pushing the market price up, and hence encouraging more groups to undertake environmentally friendly activities which create for them carbon credits to sell. Another model is that companies which use below their quota can sell their excess as 'carbon credits' also, the possibilities are endless hence making it an open market.

It is suggested that initially the quotas should be liberal, which would make the demand for carbon credits, and their resulting price, low so that business find it easy to transition towards paying for credits. Then over time, the quota of emissions a government sets (based on, say, international agreements) will gradually be reduced until the target level of emissions is reached.

Thank goodness this scam is completely voluntary for the time being. I remember while I was working on my MBA, there was a bit of rhetoric from one or two professors about businesses' social responsibility - which I called them on. Businesses are for-profit enterprises and not about making people feel good about themselves. If you want to imagine you are protecting the environment then go chain yourself to a tree or something on your own time.

Here's what the FT investigation found:

■ Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.

■ Industrial companies profiting from doing very little – or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

■ Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.

■ A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.

■ Companies and individuals being charged over the odds for the private purchase of European Union carbon permits that have plummeted in value because they do not result in emissions cuts.

This is no way to run a business and those companies that waste their precious resources on this crap deserve to go out of business. What this amounts to is racketeering - pay this money or you will be punished. Maybe it could more accurately be called tithing. A voluntary contribution to the Church of Environmental Hysteria to allow socially concious businessmen to feel good about the evil Captialism that has made them so succsessful, therefore implying they ought to be ashamed of their success. A sin tax. Paying for absolution of the sin of success.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Good grief, it turns out I was a terrorist target:
Six foreign-born Muslims were arrested and accused Tuesday of plotting to attack the Army's Fort Dix and massacre scores of U.S. soldiers — a plot investigators say was foiled when the men took a video of themselves firing assault weapons to a store to have the footage put onto a DVD.
...They also allegedly spoke of attacking a Navy installation in Philadelphia during the annual Army-Navy football game, when the place would be full of sailors, and conducted surveillance at other military installations in the region.
The guy giving the press conference just said they missed a golden opportunity during the Army-Navy game and that they were surveilling the ships inport. One of those was my ship. I hope it was our menacing force protection posture that discouraged them from thinking we were a soft target.

Bloviating Zepplin - Ask

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Webcomics = Terrorism

OK, this is way over the top.

Matt Boyd, writer for the completed web comic MacHall, and now Three Panel Soul, was recently fired from his job where he was working under a government contract. He was overheard by a fearful coworker while discussing the purchase of a rifle for paper target practice, around the same time as the VT shootings. The coworker reported this and he was promptly fired, without even the opportunity to clean out his desk.

Three Panel Soul began a short series of comics about the events here.

Some of his former coworkers saw these comics and called them in as a threat, and later Matt was visited by four police detectives at his home. The coworkers also claimed the woman pictured in comic #21 resembled one of them, apparently unaware that Matt does not create the art for the strip. The comics were called a borderline terroristic threat.

I'm sorry Matt worked with hypersensitive whiners, it's a shame about his job. Is this the sort of work environment people with real jobs deal with every day? I'm glad I'm allowed to play with multi-million-dollar weapon systems for a living.

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Open Source

Whew, the sure-fire way for me to beat a geekgasm is to venture into fanfic/'shipper's territory. I like to geek out on sci fi, but I've always stopped at that line. When I do creative writing, I invent my own characters and plot. Fanfic just ain't my thing... and 'shipping is kind of creepy. (Take Harry Potter 'shippers, for example.)
Anyway, I was reading the Intar-webs a few days ago, as I am wont to do from time to time, and I found this article at Michelle Malkin describing the Army's self-destructive policy toward blogging.

The original Wired article states:
The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops' online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.

Well, heck. I understand the need for OPSEC, honestly, but milbloggers are the best public affairs resource the military has. However, even the most innocuous information can useful to an adversary. I don't post future destinations or details about ongoing operations, but I write about day to day life here on the ship and it's available to anyone and there's just no telling what information could be of use to someone looking to harm U.S. servicemen or high-value targets. Somebody on my ship and another ship have already gotten into trouble for posting details about my current visit to Mayport and ships' schedules.

Everything I write here and elsewhere becomes open source, available to anybody at all that wants to look. Just in the last 100 hits on PCIF, I've got one from Malaysia, Argentina, India and all over the U.S. (including the Pentagon); I've also had hits from plenty of middle eastern and from China and South Korea. (All South Korean military officers are spies. No kidding.) Anything I write will be unclassified and if I am informed that my posts may be harmful to ongoing operations, I'll take them down. I post on a variety of topics, some of which are military-related and some that are tangetial to operations my ship participates in.

I don't think that silencing milbloggers is good, but we all need to realize the potential harm it could do. I think training and spotchecking will help, but milbloggers need to take personal responsibility for the information they put out there. It turns out that the Army actually is not restricting milblogs any more than they already do, but it's good for us to be reminded that the Internet is not a private medium and that it never forgets.

That's what I get for taking three days to post about breaking news.

I personally enjoy how my old friend Josh handles this. He's currently a reservist called to active duty in Iraq and his Iceblog is pretty entertaining. Wish him luck.

OPFOR - Aw Hell.
Coconut Commando - No More Blogging For The Commando?
Mary Katharine Ham - How to Lose the Information War for Good: The Death of Combat Blogging

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*Twitch* Geekgasm!

I can't help myself, honestly. There's only three new episodes of Heroes this season and I've started getting enthralled with all the Heroes 360 Experience content.

I think it's fantastic what many TV shows do these days with extra content for fans to discover by paying attention. I don't watch much on TV, but what few shows I do watch, I really like. Shows like Lost and Heroes have all kinds of cool interrelated websites and easter eggs which supplement the plot and depth of plot. I should start including easter eggs on PCIF.
What kind of an easter egg, I have no idea.
If you've never seen an episode of Heroes, NBC has them all online. If you've ever enjoyed any sort of episodic storytelling, I highly recommend you join me in my drooling fandom.
For more content, the graphic novels are terrific.
Besides, any show that has Malcolm McDowell pulling off a grandfatherly archvillan has got to be considered amazing by anyones standards. (Archvillain, of course. Grandfatherly? Wow!)

Could I write about current events that are irking me? Sure... as soon as I'm done obsessing.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Culture of Fitness II: Command PT

I remember being annoyed with this particular idea while on shore duty, but appreciative of two things: that my command built time into the very tight schedule to allow students time to PT, and that physical training resources were available to those who sought them out.

I want to see the statistics on number of workdays lost to athletic activities. I don’t know how well founded in reality my complaint is due to lack of ability to find the data. I personally have injured myself chronically while exercising, and so perhaps I expect that many others have done the same. I hurt myself due to lack of training and overexerting myself. Once I got on a program that a friend who is also a personal trainer helped me develop, I became better able to exercise without exacerbating my injuries. My tendonitis, shin splints and bad ankles will likely stay with me the rest of my life though, and get progressively worse.

My gripe with the Navy’s “Culture of Fitness” is that there is no training for anybody on how to achieve physical fitness or how to avoid injury. Just go do pushups. Go lift wieghts. Go run. Thanks for nothing. I am an advocate of personal responsibility, but one doesn't know what one doesn't know. If Big Navy wants to dictate PT three times a week, Big Navy better be prepared for the consequences of people not knowing what the hell they are doing.

My gripes with Command PT are several:

- Time taken away from work day. Today, we had Command PT. Liberty now expires at 0600 for all hands on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, in order to prevent lost work time. So I need to wake up at 0400, and leave my house no later than 0500. I got here today and the gate was still locked. It remained locked until after 0600 and after a couple of guys who were already onboard came down to the gate admonish the 100 or so of us (including the CO, XO and all Department Heads) standing there for not going around to another gate. This, after we had called the quarterdeck and said someone was on their way. In the time it took to get to the other gate and back, the gate should've been open and the majority of us waited.

So we started late, finished on time, but had quarters an hour later as planned. I had to wait half an hour for the shower (one for 25 officers, imagine berthing with 50+ guys sharing 3 showers).

- Personal Responsibility. What is the incentive for people to exercise on their own. I have several people who make a habit of working out in the morning who now have to cut their workout short to get to command PT. Others of us exercise later in the day. Why should I do that now? I've wasted enough time and have too much to do to be a gym rat all day long.

- Idiocy. If you're going to out in public and yell cadences and run in formation, at least you could try to run a huge group PT, you should have some idea what you're doing. I thought we looked ridiculous today. You have to go at a slowish pace so that everyone can keep up, but you call cadence faster than the pace you're going. Your guide goes into the middle of the formation where no one can see him, let alone guide off of him, and the whole crew accordions down the pier while other ships look on. It's embarrassing. Plus nobody sings cadences about the surface Navy. There's a reason for that.

Look, I understand that Command PT can build esprit de corps and camaraderie if done well. I have personally never seen it done well in my entire time in the Navy. Except in ROTC, when the Marines were running it.

Go figure.

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