Thursday, May 11, 2006

We Poor Suckers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. crude and gasoline futures ended sharply higher on Thursday as kidnappings in Nigeria and refinery snags in the United States stoked supply worries even though inventories rose last week. International Energy Agency director Claude Mandil said on Thursday he was surprised record high oil prices had not had more impact in curbing demand.
"Maybe that's due to a time lag," Mandil said. "It needs recognition by the general public that they have to save energy ... It would be a good thing for demand to decrease."
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It seems as though the oil companies will use any excuse at their disposal to raise the price of a barrel of crude. Unrest, kidnappings, heat, cold, uncertainty, inflation, the Phillies winning, increase in demand or decrease in supply - whatever it takes, they will do whatever it takes because we will take whatever they give us. Why? Because we have no choice. We have to get to work to pay for the gasoline that gets us to work.
That's why I'm surprised (really?) at the comments from IEA director Mandil. He fails to grasp a basic concept of life in America that I grasp, and I'm sure you do, too. The basic concept: We are a nation of vehicular convenience. According to the U.S. Census, the average time to commute to work in Philadelphia is 30 minutes, which is fourth highest in the nation. It isn't surprising because we have been driven to the suburbs, where the homes are, and commute to the cities, where the work is. Is that too difficult a concept for a director to grasp? It shouldn't be. If it takes 30 minutes to get to work, it isn't likely that we are going to walk. The sad part is that there isn't more public transit to more locations, so that we would not be so beholden to our cars.
The other not-so basic concept is that for years, we have been sold on the big, supposedly-safer SUV as a mode of transportation. Vehicles that are better suited to big-game hunting than grocery shopping are infesting our highways. They block my view of the road and eat up gasoline at an alarming rate. I parked next to one yesterday that had a placard proclaiming that it had an "Off Road Package". From the looks of the shine on it, the vehicle had barely been Off-Driveway, let alone off-road. As designed, the vehicle was using about 10% of its brain capacity, which I believe matched the capacity of the driver as well.
Through a combination of factors both in and out of our control, we are slaves to the oil industry. Theoretically, they could charge us $5 a gallon and we would pay it, because we have no choice. We have been enticed to buy the big homes in suburbia and forced to commute to our jobs in the city because we feel that our lifestyles are enhanced by this behavior. We were so comfortable in it that we bought bigger and bigger vehicles to cart around our bigger and bigger asses because they told us that the bigger vehicles were safer for our precious kids. My Question to You: How does it feel to be played like a violin by big business and suckered into a lifestyle that you can no longer tolerate? You're fed up because you fed yourself up at the behest of your pals at General Motors, Exxon-Mobil and Pulte Homes. Welcome to America.
What really happened is that we were suckered into a malaise of never-ending consumerism. Higher prices for bigger vehicles - more money to buy the gasoline that runs them - higher property taxes for the bigger homes - and more time spent traveling to our jobs that could be better used doing something we like to do. The really sad part is, we have elected a president (twice) who wallows in our misery and even encourages it by his inaction. Now, we are left with something like 980 days of his inflicted misery (check the counter) and, like the prison colony at French Guiana, there is no escape. Unless, like Papillion, you build a raft out of coconuts and dive off a cliff, risking your life, hoping that the tides take you to freedom. Papillion was driven to a desparate act because he had no other choice. We have a choice because we have free will, which was given us by our Creator.
Start building your raft folks, because the Warden isn't going to help you.
For another interesting viewpoint on the subject, visit my friend Firestarter5 here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anthony:

I was a new driver during the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 70's. Actually, I parked my parents car ('72 VW bug) and rode my bike the 8 mile round trip to my summer job at, of all things, an oil refinery. The pain and uncertainty of that period has driven my auto purchases for the last 30+ years (4 cylinders). Sadly, I feel, many of my fellow citizens that grew up during that same period, either were not as traumatized by that event, or chose to forget those experiences, and these are the people that most upset me.

You correctly state that “consumerism” is a culprit here. We have “purchased” ourselves right into this situation. Maybe its asking too much of us to demand more fuel efficient cars when gas is “cheap” and your neighbor’s are all filling their driveways with these large and larger SUV’s etc. (wonder what Freud would say?). I think a few things need to happen:
1. Government regulation, dictating mpg goals must be established. Didn’t Carter mandate this and if so, what happened to them (was it a Reagan rollback)

and,

2. As Thomas Friedman suggests in “The World is Flat”, the President needs to lay down a challenge, similar to the Kennedy, to-the-moon challenge, to the nation, for the development of alternative fuels. Sadly, this will not happen with the current guy in office.

Anthony said...

I too was a new driver in the mid 70s, and remember the 60-cent a gallon threshold that many felt was outrageous, and was to a kid making $2.10 an hour.

While I remember those days, it is more that I have not been completely suckered into consumerism with regard to autos. For me, the practicality far outweighs the need for speed. Automobiles have gone far beyond their originally intended purpose of being horseless carriages to symbols of status and power.

It was John Kerry's "Apollo Project" idea for developing alternative fuel vehicles that first attracted me to him. It made a lot of sense. Probably too much sense for the present administration.

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