Thursday, June 26, 2008

Power Corrupts

A few months ago, it looked like a victory for human rights. Robert Mugabe, his brutal administration, and his Zanu-PF party appeared to be defeated in Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary elections in March by the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This would have ended his 28-year grip on this impoverished, oppressed country and its inflation-laden economy.

Now, three months later, Mugabe is the "sole effective candidate in Friday's presidential run-off, and he cannot fail to win with an overwhelming majority."

How did this come to be?
Amid continuing violence on its supporters, the MDC has withdrawn from the contest.

However, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said his supporters should vote rather than face violent reprisals.

Reports suggested Zanu-PF membership cards were selling for huge sums of money on the black market.

Those buying the cards believe they will offer some protection from attack by militias, a BBC correspondent reports.
* * *
The streets of Harare are quiet because there is no longer any need for the groups of violent political activists in Zanu-PF T-shirts who have been roaming them, looking for people to beat up.


The official media scarcely mentions Mr Tsvangirai or the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) unless they are obliged to.

The main English-language television news programme at 8pm each evening on the ZBC is an hour-long paean of praise to Mr Mugabe and his past record.

The programme's reporting merges imperceptibly with the frequent election advertisements for Mr Mugabe. If anything, the reporters and newscasters praise him more than his own party hacks.
So that's how you keep the people's support at a time when "on Monday [June 24] the Zimbabwean dollar fell to 30 billion against the US dollar. The cost of a tub of margarine in a Harare store on Monday was Z$420m" (previous link). Yes, that "m" is for "million".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If You Must Drive, Drive 55

A statistic that can save you money: fuel economy by speed.

15 mph - 24.4 mpg
20 mph - 27.9 mpg
25 mph - 30.5 mpg
30 mph - 31.7 mpg
35 mph - 31.2 mpg
40 mph - 31.0 mpg
45 mph - 31.6 mpg
50 mph - 32.4 mpg
55 mph - 32.4 mpg

60 mph - 31.4 mpg
65 mph - 29.2 mpg
70 mph - 26.8 mpg
75 mph - 24.8 mpg

(Adapted from Table 4.22, "Fuel Economy by Speed, 1973, 1984, and 1997 Studies (miles per gallon)", Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26-2007, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

At $4.00 per gallon of gas, you save over half a gallon of gas, and $2.00, for every 55 miles you travel going 55 mph instead of 75 mph. (Thanks to Anonymous for correcting my "fuzzy math".) So if you don't have to get anywhere fast, drive 55 (or 50)! Use less gas and pollute less, compared with faster speeds.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Struggling and Scampering

The fable of the grasshopper and the ant: The ants work hard during the summer to prepare their colony for the winter. The grasshopper, lounging under a nearby tree, laughs at them for working when they could be relaxing, or playing. When the winter comes, the ants are prepared, and the grasshopper is not. He must beg them for assistance to survive the winter.

The fable, along with the Faustian Bargain, are two of the most relevant metaphors of our current economic situation. What the ants did was called planning, a responsibility that even real-life, non-anthropomorphized animals, such as squirrels, undertake. Planning is something we did not do nearly enough of when the "weather" was nice and gas was cheap.

People forget that there are real consequences to their decisions. We are experiencing the real consequences now of every politically-motivated decision to allow sprawl to creep gallons of gas away from anything else, to let our passenger railroad wither on tracks owned by freight companies who care little about Amtrak as long as it pays rent, to turn transportation policy at all levels of government into a feeding trough for highway-building interests, and to allow the previously-externalized costs of our economic, fiscal, and environmental irresponsibility to bundle up and come crashing down on our unprepared society like the Yucatan Peninsula asteroid believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other species in the Cretaceous Period.

Our reaction to these consequences has been that of struggling and scampering, affirming Carter-administration Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger's quote that "we have only two modes: complacency and panic". We are doing rational self-rationing that might have been mitigated had we planned better. We are substituting lower-quality for higher-quality foods, the gas-station-quality, preservative-laden ham for the hams sold in authentic delis. We are driving and flying less (a boon for climate change and air quality and people's lungs) and staying in more. High school kids are curtailing their cruising. Police patrols are being cut back. Municipalities at the sub-prime mortgage crisis ground zero are going bankrupt, while others are raising taxes to pay for services, further cutting into families' disposable incomes. The airline industry is in a well-known downward spiral.

In Wilmington, NC, a few months ago, motorists eschewed honesty while swarming a gas station accidentally selling gas for $0.35 per gallon. Car dealerships are dangling free gas or "$2.99 gas guarantees" to try and unload their rapidly devaluing gas guzzlers. The cargo trucking industry is in a tailspin, as the boastful, red-white-and-blue signs on the backs of tractor-trailers contending that "without trucks, America stops" begin to ring true in a nation that has shunned local self-reliance for a dependency on the unsustainable global marketplace. Now we have finally started to undertake serious planning for high energy costs, and those who have never shied from spitting on environmentalism are beginning to fight for some marginal turf on the growing isle of conservation consciousness.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

If Climate Change Doesn't Kill Polar Bears....

...Then the Icelandic police will! For the first time in 15 years a polar bear had arrived via the ice floe and was "promptly shot dead" according to the Daily Mail. I'm not sure which part of the story is more ridiculous: that despite the polar bear being on the endangered species list, local law prevails allowing the police to shoot it dead or that there appears to be only one tranquiliser gun in the entire country, which is flown from place to place depending on where it is needed.