Saturday, July 26, 2008

On Global Warming

While I don't think I've ever really talked about it here, one of my many interests is the battle between climatologists and those who deny the reality of Anthropogenic (that is, man-made) Global Warming (AGW).

It's a fascinating thing to watch, since many of the most vocal denialists seem to be coming at the topic with at least some understanding of the science involved. They're not generally experts, but they've devoted enough time that they can at least lay claim to a reasonable understanding of the science involved (often more than I have, anyway).

Still, they harbor some deep-seated political or philosophical beliefs that cause them to interpret that science in a way that is contrary to what the experts come up with, but that supports their preexisting beliefs. This is somewhat different from the manufactured debate about evolution, for instance, because those arguing against it are at least attempting to operate in the sphere of reason.

Of course, vastly more don't operate in the sphere of reason, have no understanding of the science involved, and simply parrot what they read on the Drudge Report. To be fair, many who believe in AGW don't do so for rational reasons either. But they're likely right despite that fact.

Case in point: I recently had someone tell me that AGW is a myth because "last year was the coldest on record." This is, of course, total bullshit. Perhaps last year really was the coldest on record somewhere, but that has nothing to do with the global temperature. And even if it were true globally (in fact, last year was slightly cooler than the year before), it says nothing about the overall trend towards warming, which is vastly more important than any individual point of data. The claim was also made that there's no scientific evidence to support AGW, which is of course nonsense.

However, as I said, I'm not an expert on climatology and I mainly defer to the general consensus of people who really do understand such things on a deep level. This general consensus skews strongly towards the belief that AGW is a reality.

Still, I have to ask myself: "What if the denialists are right?"

Well, luckily for me, I subscribe to Bob Park's weekly email newsletter, and he said it far better than I ever could:
Suppose, I asked myself, that the deniers are right and the CO2 thing is a mistake? What will happen if the world takes the CO2 thing seriously, adopting common sense measures to counter anthropogenic warming and there never was any warming in the first place? 1) there will more non-renewable resources to leave to our progeny; 2) we will breath cleaner air and see the stars again, the way we saw them half a century ago; 3) we could stop paving over the planet, and 4) cut down on the number of billionaires. If we’re wrong we could have a party. We could have a party either way.
Dang, I wish I had said that.

Now, it's entirely possible that some of the better-informed denialists are just making an academic case that the current understanding of AGW is wrong and, theory aside, support doing many of the same things that the rest of us support. But that's certainly not the case among their more ignorant followers, who mostly seem to subscribe to the belief that if AGW isn't real we should just go on doing what we've been doing.

Exactly what benefit do we get from not changing what we're doing? I can't think of one, and am left wondering just why anyone would support that course of action. Is it laziness? It is hiding one's head in the sand? Where are their parties?

Honestly, I have no idea. Anyone have a clue about this?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The twisted mind of Nathan Bech


You'd think that after my nice civil discussions with a member of his staff, I'd lay off Nathan Bech for awhile. He did tell me I'm Bech's harshest critic, after all. Maybe I should pause and let others catch up to my level of harshness. Or maybe the guy just deserves a break.

Truth be told, I probably would have given him a break, because I'm not super-interested in giving him a ton of press, and I'm not too concerned about him winning the election. Olver should retain his seat easily.

But if there's one thing I can't resist, it's a batshit-insane press release. And Bech has served one up to me on a golden platter.

To be honest, I don't even know where to start with this piece of bullshit. Let's just quote and fisk, shall we?
Olver Home Heating Plan Fails 75% of Needy Bech says "Drilling will provide relief for all."

21st July 2008

Nathan Bech (R - West Springfield) expressed bewilderment about incumbent John Olver's (D- Amherst) continued unwillingness to loosen regulations for new refineries or to allow drilling for oil in ANWR and offshore drilling in the United States. "Olver knows seniors and poor people will freeze this winter if we do nothing. He knows his plan won't work and still he pursues the same failing polices," said Bech
Here's the first problem (aside from the fact they forgot a period at the end of that paragraph): Bech is talking about "this winter."

Does he seriously think that ANWR and offshore drilling will keep anybody from freezing this winter? Because that's just insane. Try 2030, if you're lucky.

But I've been over all that before, so let's not worry about it now.

Moving on..
In a speech before the House of Representatives on Wednesday July 16th Olver explained, "A whole new crisis looms as families face a price approaching $5 per gallon for heating oil for their homes. That's twice last winter's price. Last winter in Massachusetts and New England alone, 350,000 low-income families used the LIHEAP program to get by, yet only one in four of the families eligible by income use [sic] the program. Many of those already eligible families will be in desperate need of help this winter, and many more middle-income families' budgets will be severely stressed by the doubled price of home heating oil."
See where I put that "[sic]"? There's an intentional misrepresentation a typo there.

If you compare Bech's press release to Olver's, you'll see that Olver didn't say that only one in four eligible families "use" the program, he said they "used" the program. There's a subtle but important difference, which Bech will now further twist to his own bizarre interpretation.

Oddly, you'll also find Olver's "middle class" replaced by Bech's "middle-income." But it's the use/used distinction that Bech exploits.

Witness the insanity!
Bech argued that Olver's own words prove three quarters of the people refuse government handouts for heating oil. "The people of central and western Massachusetts do not want to be dependant [sic] on welfare to heat their homes. We are self sufficient and don't want to take handouts. We simply want government to get out of the way and let increased supply lower costs. If we allow new refineries to be built and if we allow off-shore drilling energy prices will go down," said Bech.
Holy fuck that's stupid.

Seriously, Nathan? You seriously think that Olver's words "prove three quarters of the people refuse government handouts for heating oil"? Are you high? Do you have even the faintest idea what you're talking about?

Now, a sane person hearing that only a quarter of eligible recipients get help from LIHEAP might imagine many reasons for why that's the case.

For instance, they might assume that most people who are eligible for assistance are unaware of it, so they never even think to apply for help. Or they might assume that the application process is so grueling that a lot of eligible people don't make it through. Or they might assume that there are other programs that people use in its place.

They absolutely do not assume that poor people are refusing "government handouts" that would help keep them from freezing to death!

The only people who would assume that are either rich assholes that are totally disconnected from reality, or deranged militia members living in shacks and preparing for "the coming race war." Either way, they share a detachment from reality.

Want to know why only a quarter of people eligible for LIHEAP get help? Maybe this is related...
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is not an entitlement program, meaning that you are not guaranteed help because you meet certain criteria. Congress provides a specific amount of money each year for LIHEAP.

When the LIHEAP funds are gone, LIHEAP grantees can no longer provide federal help until Congress provides funds for the next Federal Fiscal Year that begins on October 1st of each year. Therefore, it is possible (at the time one applies) that a state will have exhausted its available federal LIHEAP grant monies, and thus be unable to serve additional households even if those households are eligible to receive help.
Yeah, and how's that funding going?

Oh, not so well:
FY 2009 Proposed Funding
The President’s proposal for FY 2009 LIHEAP funding is a cut of 22 percent, reducing the block grant from $1.98 billion to $1.7 billion and the emergency contingency fund from $590.3 million to $300 million. The President has proposed zero funding for the Community Services Block Grant and the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Starting to see a trend here?

The whole point of Olver's speech to Congress was to try to get more funding for LIHEAP. That's why he was talking about people who are eligible but couldn't use it. Only a quarter of those eligible get help, not because they refuse it, but because there's no fucking money to give them!

It takes a truly twisted mind to turn an attempt to get proper funding for heating assistance for poor people into a claim that people reject that very assistance out of some twisted desire to conform to Republican ideals. It's impressive, in the same way that 2girls1cup is impressive. And both can cause nausea.

Must we go on with this?

Yeah, we must...
Olver blamed Republicans for the crisis saying, "Congress must end rampant speculation in crude oil futures, yet our Republican colleagues in both branches have consistently opposed such legislation."
Hey, that's true! Maybe things are looking up!
Bech responded, "It is Economics 101, when action to increase supply is taken, the price of futures goes down and speculators leave the market place. When the executive offshore drilling ban was lifted last week the price of crude went down $9 a barrel with in [sic] hours.
Hey, he's doing pretty well. Bech and Olver agree that speculation is a problem, they just differ in the best way to solve it. I'm inclined to agree with Olver and disagree with Bech on this matter, but reasonable people can differ.

Maybe this is a sign of an upcoming improvement in the Bech press releases! Oh, but wait... that quote didn't close... there's one more sentence to go...
Olver doesn't seem to have a problem with speculators in the pharmaceutical industry; after all he has thousands of dollars in Pfizer stock."

I thought we were talking about energy costs and LIHEAP and people freezing this winter, and Bech comes out with a slam that Olver owns stock in Pfizer? What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? How is it relevant to anything anyone is talking about? Is speculation some sort of problem when it comes to pharmaceutical prices? How does this have anything to do with anything???

I give up. This is way past just honesty problems. This is dementia.

No more mystery

Remember that post I made a few days ago? The one immediately beneath this one? If not, I recommend you read it now or nothing I say in this post is going to make much sense. Or maybe it will. Either way, I'm bored with it now and am just posting this so I can move on to something more interesting.

Anyway, some of the mysteries in that last post are now not so mysterious. I've had some polite discourse with the formerly mysterious Brian S. Murphy, who is Nathan Bech's Volunteer Coordinator. Pleasantries were exchanged, tales were told, etc.

Contrary to what I had speculated about, my annoying commenter "BSM" was not Mr. Murphy (who is quite civil). My bad!

On the other hand, BSM is a supporter of Nathan Bech (albeit informally), swiped most of the comments directly from a policy paper written by Brian S. Murphy, used BSM as a name to somehow "credit" Mr. Murphy, and contacted Mr. Murphy to brag about the commenting, at which point a chiding was presumably administered.

So while it wasn't a direct connection, there was at least some connection there. Mr. Murphy had basically been identity-thefted! Though most identity thieves don't brag about it to the victim. This is a shame, because it would make catching them a lot easier. Still... Not cool, BSM!

Of course that was only one element of the whole weirdness. There was also the matter of the Phoenix blog. And that was the real Brian S. Murphy commenting!

I chided him in my post for not disclosing his affiliation, and he conceded the point in email:
I will make sure that we include our affiliation when we comment on a blog. It's a fair criticism of something that wasn't intentional. I don't think it gets to our honesty at all. You made a good point and we'll modify what we do going forward.
So that's good, and gives me little to complain about here.

There was also discussion about who's behind Bech's Wikipedia page. I'm not going to go into details about that one, but will give you the gist.

The story given to me by Mr. Murphy indicates that while it indeed was someone with a political agenda, they weren't officially with any campaign, and indeed support neither Bech nor Olver. They also sound like sort of a dumbass.

There was more to the emails than just that, of course. I got a lot of campaigny talk about what Nathan Bech is about and what he believes and so forth. Which is all well and good, and I will perhaps talk more about it at another time. Some of it's good, some of it's just plain baffling. I also might do a Q&A thingy with Bech at some point. We'll see.

Brian Murphy was quite pleasant in representing Bech. His emails were well-written, and not super make-fun-of-able. He also came off as pretty sincere. The kind of guy you can have a civil conversation with, even if you disagree.

So, some mysteries are cleared up, some speculation is put to rest, and after my pleasant email exchanges with Mr. Murphy I must be feeling good about Nathan Bech, right? Maybe I'll lay off him for a bit? Only time will tell!

yeah, I'm writing another post about him now...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The hilarious ineptitude of Nathan Bech's spin machine

About a month ago, I wrote a post about Nathan Bech. He's the Republican looking to do battle with John Olver in the fall. He has honesty issues.

About a week after my post, I started getting comments on it from an apologist for Mr. Bech by the pseudonym of BSM.

Generally when a newly created account starts parroting some candidate's platform a week after the post is made, I start to wonder if perhaps the commenter is somehow affiliated with the campaign and just found me through a Google Alert. So, after a bit of back-and-forth, I ended a followup comment with this:
ps Are you part of Bech's internet team? Like the guy who made his Wikipedia page? Just curious.
Perhaps I should explain that Wikipedia part. That was a case of somebody registering an account, making Bech's page (and nothing else), and then disappearing. Another possible indicator of a campaign operative, natch.

Anyway, my question seemed to largely (though not totally) shut up Mr. BSM, and all I got out of him was this:
BSM said...

Unicow -- the man, the myth, the moonbat economist. He can't understand supply and demand but he sure can sling an insult.

Code Pink is calling.
Lovely. I asked again:
[Y]ou didn't answer my ps. Are you part of Bech's team or not? I'm seriously curious, because it's obvious he has one and it looks like you just registered this account to respond to this post. And if my asking about it makes you disappear then I'm just going to assume you are.
...and got the witty retort:
BSM said...

Did you create this blog just to post your thoughts?

I think you are part of the Unicow internet team! All one of you.
Oh snap!

That was the last I heard from the enigmatic "BSM." He never exactly denied being employed by Bech, nor did he admit to it. Alas, we may never know the truth!

That's the backstory. Now we get to the fun stuff.

Bech's campaign recently sent out an email mentioning this Boston Phoenix article in which the writer awarded them the "Crappy Spin of the Day Award" for a totally absurd reinterpretation of something Olver said (as I've mentioned, Bech has honesty problems).

This alone is pretty hilarious, because they actually linked to the article talking about their dishonesty, though they did try to spin it again in the email:

Oh my. That's an even worse spin than the one they got the award for! They gave everyone an easy way to go see just how dishonest Bech is and then backed it up with a totally lame "it's good we got this becuz libruls r bad!" claim. And at the same time, it comes off as desperate for attention! Well done, sirs!

Also, in what way is his "opponent" fighting back? It was an article (technically a blog post) in the Phoenix. Olver had nothing to do with it. Even Reilly wasn't "fighting back," he was making fun of how pathetic Bech's press release was. Is Bech just going to redefine words to suit his purposes? It looks that way.

Thanks to Mr. Bech's email, I went and read the Phoenix article. Thanks Nathan! I wouldn't have noticed that otherwise.

Nor would I have noticed the comments on it. Particularly the two by a "Brian S. Murphy."

Hmm... why does that seem so familiar? The apologetics for Bech, the sense of intellectual superiority that can only come from having studied economics at the prestigious "Western New England College," the ineffecutual sarcasm, the tendency to ignore the issue at hand? The initials?

Could it be my friend BSM? [Update: Probably not. See bottom of post.]

Honestly, there's no way to know for sure. It could be Buffy St. Marie. Or the Bloated Spaghetti Monster. It's a mystery!

But here's something we do know. Nathan Bech's FEC filings are online. They're pretty hilarious in themselves, since they show that of $70,410.95 in itemized receipts for campaign donations, $58,860.95 (that's 83.5%) came from Bech making loans to himself. This is clearly a grassroots campaign!

But who cares about itemized receipts? Far more interesting is the list of disbursements.

Who's that we see halfway down the page next to a payment to "Staff"?

Surprise! It's someone by the name of Brian Murphy!

Of course, it's certainly possible that these are different Brian Murphys, right? And BSM could be anyone. But I don't think it's being overly presumptuous to assume that all these Brian Murphys with a great love for the otherwise-not-very-popular Nathan Bech are most likely the same person. [Update: Or maybe it was. Well, two out of three isn't too bad!]

It's perfectly fine if Mr. Murphy wants to comment on blogs and defend his overlord. That's his right.

However, by not disclosing that he works for Nathan Bech he's being inherently dishonest in his postings. There's a reason that respected journalists (and even pain-in-the-ass bloggers) talk about "full disclosure." It appears another commenter on the Phoenix article is probably also affiliated with Bech (though I didn't spot him in the FEC filings), but he at least links to the Bech website in his name. That's semi-disclosure, anyway.

See, if you don't disclose these things up front then people just assume you're just a normal guy with an opinion, not an interested party. Which means you won't get the kind of scrutiny you'd get if people knew you're actually part of the campaign staff. It's basically a more subtle form of sockpuppetry.

And the ducking of a direct question (assuming BSM and Brian S. Murphy are the same person) only makes matters worse. It was an easy opportunity to tell the truth, and the only response was an attempt to change the subject by lamely attacking me. One can only assume that if they're the same person, then BSM certainly didn't want people to know that he's on Bech's staff.

You know Bech's honesty problems? They apparently extend to his staff as well.

Try not to be too shocked.


Update 7/20/08:

This morning I received an interesting email from Mr. Murphy. He informs me that he has not posted here, which I will take him at his word on. He also says he didn't make the Wikipedia page, which I hadn't meant to imply was him anyway, but there you have it. Brian S. Murphy is apparently not BSM.

What makes that interesting is that he claims that he does know who "BSM" is and who made the Wikipedia page (different people). We're going to discuss this when I can get in touch with him, so prepare for intrigue!

Also, I'm apparently Bech's "harshest critic, bar none." Which is sort of neat. I think that just means I'm unusually harsh, but the recognition is nice!

There was more to the email, which maybe I'll talk about later. I will say that Mr. Murphy came across reasonably well in his email and not as the sort of person who'd say "Code Pink is calling." (Though it's hard to know from one email.)

Finally, while the BSM/Brian Murphy connection may not exist, I do stand by the bulk of this post regarding the importance of full disclosure (it just applies to the Phoenix blog instead of mine now). I also still think that the Bech campaign continues to put out incredibly dishonest press releases, and that the spin machine is missing a few cogs. But maybe Mr. Murphy will wow me with something later. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Segways? How about some alternatives?

As you may have heard, there's a fundraiser coming up to purchase a Segway for the Fitchburg Police.

Now, it's not something that would come from tax money, so if people want to spend six grand on a Segway for the cops, they're welcome to do so. But I can't help but wonder just which alternate forms of transportation we could get to help the police be "visible to the public" and "go larger distances in a short amount of time," both benefits cited by Chief DeMoura.

Let's look at the options, shall we?


  • Cost: $6,000, plus energy costs for charging.
  • Pros:
    • Makes you look high-tech.
    • Makes you about 6 inches taller, good for increasing visibility and spotting crime at a distance!
    • Can go 12 mph for about 2 hours.
    • Easy to use, even for uncoordinated or out-of-shape officers.
  • Cons:
    • It's hard to respect anyone riding a Segway.
    • Requires electricity (energy costs, danger of running out of juice in the field, etc.).
    • Can't jump curbs.
    • Makes you look like you're trying to hump a robot.


  • Cost: about $1,000 for this one (6 for $6,000).
  • Pros:
    • Goes up to 35 mph or so if you're a good sprinter and can be ridden at a lower speed all day.
    • Elevates you slightly compared to foot traffic.
    • No difficulty going off-road or jumping curbs (depending on rider).
    • Can apparently be useful in a shootout (see photo).
  • Cons:
    • Doesn't reverse direction quickly.
    • Flat tires are a pain in the ass.
    • Not good for out-of-shape cops.
    • Saddle sores.


  • Cost: roughly $100-$300 (20-60 for $6,000).
  • Pros:
    • Elevates you about 3-4 inches, increasing visibility and so forth.
    • Can maneuver quickly.
    • In a tight spot, can be wielded as a weapon.
    • Can be used to do awesome tricks and entertain the community.
  • Cons:
    • Requires some fitness and balance, plus practice for the aforementioned awesome tricks.
    • Poor off-road abilities.
    • Cops and skaters do not traditionally get along.
    • Skinned knees.


  • Cost: varies, but probably at least $6,000 for the horse and about $3,000 a year for food and whatnot.
  • Pros:
    • Comes with a certain innate dignity.
    • Little girls will get all excited to see you.
    • Best visibility of any of the options here.
    • Can say "Hi-ho Silver, away!" when fighting crime.
  • Cons
    • Expenses of buying, feeding, and housing a horse.
    • A male horse may lead to embarrassing moments if it gets sexually aroused.
    • Not appropriate for overweight officers.
    • Manure.


  • Cost: $100-$300 (20-60 for $6,000).
  • Pros:
    • Highly maneuverable.
    • Some cops in Antwerp already do it, and don't you want to be like Antwerp?
    • Two to three-inch elevation... visibility, etc.
    • Can move pretty fast.
  • Cons:
    • Rollerblades are almost as goofy-looking as Segways.
    • Necessitates a backpack to carry around some normal shoes.
    • Might make you look like you got separated from a gay pride parade.
    • If you have to fire your gun you might go rolling backwards.

"Personal Mobility Device" (aka old-person scooter)

  • Cost: varies, about $4,000 for the one pictured, but may be as low as $2,000 (1-3 for $6,000).
  • Pros:
    • The town's senior citizens and quasi-disabled will feel you're one of them.
    • Goes up to 10 mph.
    • Can frighten criminals with your little horn.
    • "With its powerful dual motors, the Wrangler is the ultimate all-terrain personal mobility vehicle."
  • Cons:
    • Requires electricity (like the Segway).
    • Worst visibility of any of the options here.
    • Little basket on the front better suited to transporting a tiny dog than a cuffed prisoner.
    • Judging from that one "Seinfeld" episode, you may get jumped by a gang of crotchety old people.

Pogo Stick

  • Cost: $30-$100 (60-200 for $6,000).
  • Pros:
    • Great visibility if you can hop high enough.
    • "Boing, boing, boing..." noise coming down the street will frighten away criminals.
    • All-terrain (depending on skill).
    • Can go undercover as a really lame street performer.
  • Cons:
    • Hard to move at a high rate of speed.
    • Significant chance of hitting yourself in the chin if you slip off.
    • May cause motion sickness.
    • Best for catching criminals who are directly above you.

Certainly there are more options than the ones I've listed above, but at least this is a start. Feel free to chime in with your own ideas in the comments (no sneakers though, this is about technology, not footwear!).

Let's make sure the FPD has the tools it needs to most effectively fight crime!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Letters to the Editor are Always Fun!

By "always" in the title up there, I of course mean "never."

Honestly, I feel sort of bad picking on people who write letters to the editor. Yeah, 95% of the time they probably deserve it because they're just totally insane, but it still feels sort of like a cheap shot to address a simple letter-writer instead of the propaganda-spewing paper itself.

But here we have an interesting case.

Obviously, people who write letters to the editor don't provide a title for the paper to use as its headline. So you can sort of tell the political inclination of the paper just by seeing how they interpret the letter. Allow me to provide an example!

In this case, here are two quotes from a recent letter to the editor in the S&E dealing with teen pregnancies. Together, they make up the majority of the letter.

Quote 1:
I think there is a larger influence at work that I have not yet heard blamed: music.

I am personally disgusted with most of the music that is on the radio.

Songs introduces sexual themes to younger and younger audiences, and so they feel ready to expirement [sic] when their parents haven't yet talked about safe sex with their children.
This part is obviously pretty dumb. It's the typical blaming of pop culture for whatever ills you perceive in society.

Presumably, the letter-writer is an older person who finds hip-hop frightening and has forgotten that the only reason most people need to engage in sex is that it's really a whole lot of fun.

It also misses that perhaps "younger and younger" children maybe shouldn't be listening to the Lords of Acid (or whatever kids listen to these days). Which is a parenting issue more than a music issue.

Quote 2 (starts right where Quote 1 ended):
Also I think with the rise in teen pregnancies comes parent paranoia. I feel, in complete disagreement with your article, that parents who continually advocate a no-sex policy with their teens -- and I'm talking older teens not 13- and 14-year-olds -- will only push their kids to have sex behind their backs.

That will only make things worse because teens will then be embarrassed to ask for birth control and condoms, because they don't feel they can talk to parents about it.

I think the best way to prevent teenage pregnancy is to be very open with your children about sex.
Now, this second part is not just larger than the first part, but it's actually pretty sensible (though starting earlier than 13 or 14 would be preferable, kids can already get pregnant at those ages). Abstinence-only education is a huge failure, any way you look at it. And being open with your children about sex is good advice.

Guess which part of this letter the Sentinel decided to focus on? The part criticizing abstinence-only sex ed?

Here's the letter: Reader: Popular music to blame for teen pregnancy increase.

I guess what I'm getting at is that if you write a letter to the editor expressing criticism of a policy that the editor endorses, stick to just that topic. If you mix in anything else, it's going to get the headline. Especially if it's crazy.

Monday, July 07, 2008


So, I'm trying a new commenting engine. Please leave a comment on this post and help me test it out. Preferably one letting me know what you think of the thing.

With any luck I can circumvent the whole obnoxious "must have a blogger account" issue while also not descending into the ugly world that is total comment jackassery.


UPDATE: Okay I already noticed one small issue. The commenting link may not always appear unless you actually click on the post title and go into its own page.

Also, let me know if you're forced to go through a terrible registration process.

Also also, you can leave an assholey comment if you want so I can test the moderation. Go on, have at me!


UPDATE II: Well, I got it set so that it displays the commenting link at least, but it means old comments are either unaccessible or poorly imported (the thing keeps timing out). Argh! Anyway, going to stick with that for the moment. I can bring the old comments back easily enough if I feel the need.

DiNatale's Gas Price Craziness

After my little post on Nathan Bech being a big fat liar a commenter (and local blogger) pointed me to this editorial by city councilor Marcus DiNatale.

Apparently the aforementioned commenter was annoyed with its dumbassery and was looking for someone to debunk it in a calm and rational manner. Which is of course what I'm known for. Polite political discourse.

So let's see what the dumbass had to say...

The basic argument was expressed in the headline Federal restrictions fueling gas price boom. Pretty simple concept. Here's a quote:
For years voters have heard from federal politicians that the United States needs to relinquish its dependence on foreign oil. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Canada supplies America with the most oil per day at 1.7 million barrels, followed by Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela. It is also a fact that the United States will spend approximately $400 billion in crude oil imports for 2008, and this number will continue to rise if Congress continues its failure to act on behalf of the American people. There are three solutions to alleviate this pain at the pump: Allow American oil companies to drill, build refineries, and encourage nuclear power development.
I did go over two of these "solutions" in the Bech post, but let me reiterate the points here.

Drilling is not only potentially environmentally disastrous, but there's little indication that it would make much difference. We're talking about a 1.8 cent decrease in price per gallon in 2025. Not exactly earth shattering stuff.

As for refineries, there's little incentive to build new ones since their profit margins are traditionally tiny and they're a huge pain in the ass. Anyway, there's unlikely to be any benefit there for a solid decade. Plus it probably makes more sense to continue what the industry has already been doing for the last few decades and decreasing the number of small refineries while expanding and improving the efficiency of the big ones. This is why our capacity for refining has increased while the actual number of refineries has decreased since the last one was built in 1976.

I didn't address nuclear power before, because Bech didn't talk about it. So let's get that out of the way too. Nuclear plants are ridiculously expensive to build (for good reason), but the actual power output is largely on the same cost level with coal plants, both of which are considerably cheaper fuels than oil and natural gas.

It's actually a little odd that DiNatale mentions nuclear power, since that's really only a factor in the production of electricity and has little impact on gas prices (to Bech's credit, that's probably why he didn't mention it). The US doesn't use a significant amount of oil in electricity production, so even if all those plants swapped to nuclear we're not talking about any significant change in gasoline price, which was supposedly the topic at hand. (There is a debate to be had about nuclear power, but it doesn't involve gas prices.)

Bascially, all of DiNatale's "solutions" for high gas prices will in reality have little or nothing to do with the actual price of gas.

But that's far from the end of DiNatale's editorial. Indeed, that was just the opening. He goes on to bash "Liberal politicians" and "fear mongering... environmental special-interest groups" in what I can only assume is an attempt to ingratiate himself to local Republicans.

DiNatale appears especially eager to drill in ANWR, and wants to make us all feel good about it!
One specific area of contention for drilling is the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. According to, 75 percent of Alaskans favor exploration and production, and only 8 percent of ANWR would be considered for exploration (2,000 acres of over 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain).
Let's take that apart, shall we?

First of all, is a propaganda site created by a group called "Arctic Power." Arctic Power was formed by oil companies. Specifically, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and ChevronTexaco. All but ExxonMobil have dropped out recently. I guess Exxon just figured nobody would notice the incredibly huge fucking conflict of interest.

The real site for ANWR is here. Not as pretty a website, but then again it's not funded by oil company money.

Now, you may think that maybe Marcus DiNatale was just pulled in by the slick propaganda put out by an oil conglomerate and are willing to cut him some slack. As we'll see later, it really doesn't matter, because even if he knew oil companies were behind the site he seems to have more faith in their truthiness than any sane human being should have.

Second, it really doesn't matter one bit if 75% of Alaskans support drilling in ANWR. Even if the number is accurate, it's a fallacious appeal to popularity, and doesn't mean that what they support is right. By way of example, if 75% of Alaskans supported clubbing baby seals, that doesn't mean we should all support clubbing baby seals.

As for the 2,000 acres figure; that doesn't sound so bad in such a large area, does it? It sure sounded good in Prudhoe Bay, where they claimed only 2,100 acres would be affected back in 1972. Too bad that's now expanded to a total drilling footprint of 12,000 acres with drill sites spreading over 640,000 acres. You have to be pretty gullible to think this time we'd really keep things down to just 2,000 acres.

DiNatale goes on to try to convince us even the animals want us to drill in ANWR:
Environmentalist groups say that wildlife would be in danger as a result of oil exploration in ANWR. However, the small amount of oil and gas development going on currently in ANWR coexists successfully with wildlife. The Central Artic Caribou Herd has grown from 3,000 animals to its current level of 32,000. Brown bear, fox and bird populations have also not been impacted negatively.
Yay, wildlife loves oil exploration!

Indeed, the Central Arctic Caribou Herd has grown (though the figures I've seen placed it at 5,000 before, not 3,000). Too bad we're dealing with the Porcupine Herd. I wonder what more informed people say...
Although the same animals, the two herds are very different. The Porcupine herd migrates over a much larger range, an arduous journey that takes its toll on the herd. Scientists also believe the Central Artic herd, a much smaller herd, has access to several acceptable calving grounds. The Porcupine herd has fewer alternatives and the herd has suffered declines in years when deep snow cover made it difficult to reach its preferred calving grounds on Alaska's coastal plain.

Some biologists suggest a major reason why the Central Arctic herd has flourished is because as much as three-quarters of the area where it calves has virtually no oil activity.

"Yes, the herd has grown, but only 25 percent has been affected," said Griffith, an associate research professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. "The fact that it has grown does not mean there is no effect. It means that the effect wasn't sufficient to keep it from growing at all."

Ground observations of the Central Arctic herd in the nearby Kuparuk oil fields have found that over time the caribou increasingly avoid areas of intense activity - especially during the sensitive calving period -- and shift into areas with fewer roads and pipelines.
Dangit, maybe wildlife doesn't appreciate oil drilling as much as we're supposed to believe!

Okay, so far DiNatale has presented what's basically John McCain's plan. Which is to say, one that will have negligible effects in the short-term and largely unknown (but not especially compelling) effects in the long-term.

It's not just McCain he parrots, though. Remember when I mentioned how he seems awfully eager to accept the oil companies' propaganda about all of this? It wasn't just presumption. He actually goes on to quote the president of Shell Oil!
Shell Oil President and CEO John Hofmeister stated, "In the United States, access to our own oil and gas resources has been limited for the last 30 years, prohibiting companies such as Shell from exploring and developing resources for the benefit of the American people. It is not a free market. According to the Department of the Interior, 62 percent of all on-shore federal lands are off-limits to oil and gas developments, with restrictions applying to 92 percent of all federal lands. The Argonne National Laboratory did a report in 2004 that identified 40 specific federal policy areas that halt, limit, delay, or restrict natural gas projects. The problem of access can be solved in this country by the same government that has prohibited it. Congress could have chosen to lift some or all of the current restrictions on exploration and production of oil and gas. Congress could provide national policy to reverse the persistent decline of domestically secure natural resource development. There is simply no way to keep up - let alone get ahead of demand - except by producing more oil and building more refining capacity."
Holy crud that's a long quote. He must trust Shell Oil just as much as he trusts ExxonMobil!

So, Mr. Oil mentions a report by the Argonne National Laboratory about natural gas projects. Umm... wait a second. Does your car run on natural gas? Mine doesn't. Are we still talking about gasoline prices? No? Okay, then let's not get into that.

But let's deal with the basic gist, summed up by Mr. DiNatale in his final sentence.
There is your answer to high gas prices. It is Congress restricting free market exploration, not "Big Oil."
Huh. That sentence seriously ended the editorial, and came immediately after that big quote from "Big Oil" itself. Trusting guy, that Marcus DiNatale.

Too bad for him that "Big Oil" has a tendency to not be totally honest.

We're going to ignore all the natural gas stuff, since we're dealing with gasoline prices. So the basic argument being made by "Big Oil"/DiNatale is that Congress is standing in the way by keeping us from drilling and making more refineries.

Well, Congress has so far been successful in preventing ANWR drilling, but as we've already discussed, that's pretty much unrelated to gasoline prices. As for refineries, the reason there haven't been any built since 1976 has less to do with Congress than it does with lack of investors in a tumultuous and low-profit-margin industry.

What are we left with?

Well, personally I'm left with the opinion that Marcus DiNatale is for some reason trying to appeal to the conservative dumbasses who think we can get cheap gasoline prices next week if we just rape the environment. I'm also left with the opinion that he puts way too much trust in what oil companies tell him. Oh, and that his ideas about how to lower gas prices are idiotic.

But there's a lot of that going around.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Longsjo Time Again!

Here's a little known fact about me: many years ago I was a bike racer. Not a great one by any measure (by most measures a pretty terrible one, actually), but I had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people. These days I'm an out-of-shape curmudgeon who drinks too much. Times change.

Anyway, a huge part of the reason I got into cycling in the first place was because of the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic bike race, which I've had at least minor involvement in for the last 18 years; first as a racer, then a volunteer, then a spectator (though I do still try to donate a little prime money during the criterium).

It's really an impressive event, and is perhaps the most famous thing about Fitchburg. It's truly an international affair, and has seen the likes of Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond, Connie Carpenter, Davis Phinney, George Hincapie (Who I actually raced against here! If you call watching him disappear off into the distance while I felt like my legs were about to burst into flames "racing against."), Kathy Watt, and Eric Heiden, among countless other cycling luminaries, grace the streets of Fitchburg.

Try this some time when you're travelling: If you run into a bike racer (Note: the males of this species are easy to spot by their shaved legs and fondness for Lycra) mention Fitchburg to them. Chances are they'll have heard of it. This will work in most of the US, and probably a number of other places throughout the world (Australia, for instance, seems fond of sending teams here).

Is there any other thing that Fitchburg is so famous for? Certainly not that I can think of. That whole "second hilliest city in the US" thing is just silly, and anyway Seattle claims that too.

On top of that, the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic is a memorial to the incredible Art Longsjo, a Fitchburg native, and the first person to be in both the Summer (cycling) and Winter (speed skating) Olympics in the same year. He's got a pretty awesome story behind him and was a totally dominant cyclist until his untimely death in an auto accident. There's a monument to him right on Main Street, and the guy definitely deserved it.

Going even farther, the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic is the second oldest bike race in the country (behind the Tour of Somerville). And it's expanded from its original one-day criterium into a four-day stage race! That's a huge amount of work for the people running the race, but people step up to do it year after year!

What am I getting at?

It's simple really. People have a lot of negative things to say about Fitchburg. Some of them are right, some of them are wrong. But the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic is one thing about the town that is totally and unabashedly positive. Hell, it's even a totally non-profit event that tries to involve the community and gives money to the Boys & Girls Club!

So get out there and watch the races this weekend. It's free, and they're cool. They start tomorrow, but the best race to watch is the one on Sunday that takes place down on Main Street. The Saturday circuit race is pretty good too if you're on Pearl Street, but it's not quite as fast-paced as Sunday's race.

If you've never gone before, then I guarantee that you'll see more fit and attractive people walking the streets of Fitchburg than you'd ever thought possible. And just for one weekend, don't worry about the library budget or trash fees or any of that other stuff. Just enjoy something that this city does really, really well.

Enjoy the race.

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