Saturday, May 06, 2006

We have a Winner

That’s right folks, we have a winner in the dinner party raffle.  And the winner is…

HellonHeels. Hellon may have had some divine intervention to win her the 500 credits, as her dinner party was religious in nature, including Jesus, Mohammed, Moses and Buddha. Do you want to bet that her dinner party would be much more relaxed then a dinner party with a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Buddhist? Amazing how far the religions have strayed from their origins.

Some other good dinner party guests? Well, sticking with religious figures, Michele includes Satan on her list, Cat wants disciples Peter and Thomas at her table, Pablo included Aristotle and Bertrand Russel, and Kit included Gandhi.  If you’re looking for politicians, Tricia gives us JFK, Pax wants to break bread with Bush and Lincoln (he says it’s because he wants to give Bush a piece of his mind, but I’m not sure I believe it), a ton of other presidents were asked for, and crazily enough, Keb wants Hitler over for chow.

On the entertainment side, Indeterminacy wanted Benny Goodman over along with other Jazz musicians, Renegade Eye asked for 4 beautiful women including Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba, Sheila wants Woody Allen and Aretha Franklin, and BabyBoglet would include David Bowie, Eddie Vedder and Lou Reed. John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen also made lists.

And on a more sentimental note, Suzanne included all family, including her living sister who would kill her if she wasn’t included.  And Jason included his wife, because he would want to share such a great evening with her.  Great lists everyone, thank you for participating, and congratulations again to HellonHeels.


Posted by Scottage at 2:12 AM / | |  

Friday, May 05, 2006

And Again! “Lost” Again Breaks New Ground with “Bad Twin”

And I thought I was creative! But earlier this week the creators of “Lost” took it to the new level with the creating on an online game based around the show, which I commented on in an earlier post.  Ingenious! A commercial on Wednesday night’s “Lost” episode on ABC kicked off the show, and the excitement is already building.

It turns out that wasn’t the only new promotion which Lost has added to the bag of tricks.  Evidently, there has also been a book written called “Bad Twin”, written by a man named Gary Troup (who I don’t believe exists) who wrote this book (as well as one other), and then got on Flight 815 from Australia to LA. The plot thickens, eh?

If you watched the “Lost” episode on Wednesday, you remember that Sawyer was reading a manuscript, a “whodunit” which he indicated he was anxious to finish.  Guess what: that was the manuscript for “Bad Twins”.  And the book is real; you are able to purchase a copy on for a bit under $15.00.  From the description of the book:

He has a more practical reason, as well, for wanting his brother found: their crazy father, in failing health and with guilty secrets of his own, will not divide the family fortune until both siblings are accounted for. But it isn't just a fortune that's at stake here. Truth itself is up for grabs, as the detective's discoveries seem to challenge everything we think we know about identity, and human nature, and family. As Artisan journeys across the globe to track down the bad twin, he seems to have moved into a mirror- world where friends and enemies have a way of looking very much alike. The P. I. may have his long-awaited chance to put his courage and ideals to the test, but if he doesn't get to the bottom of this case soon, it could very well cost him his life. Troup's long-awaited Bad Twin is a suspenseful novel that touches on many powerful themes, including the consequence of vengeance, the power of redemption, and where to turn when all seems lost.

Supposedly, a short video clip of Troup promoting the book also was discovered this past week. The clip mentiones another book by Troup; called the Valenzetti Equation, which is marked as “Out of Print”. Check out the description of this book, which I never heard of or saw before now.

What if a mathematical equation could predict the apocalypse?  Using recently-declassified material and hundreds of hours of interviews with former employees of the United Nations and prominent members of the defense and academic establishment, best-selling author Gary Troup turns his finely honed sense of mystery toward one of the most vexing mathematical riddles of our time.

Again, there’s no indication that Troup is a real person. But is name is significant: the name Gary Troup is an anogram for the word Purgatory.  The book has been published by Hyperion Books, which is owned by Disney, who also owns ABC.  And the website dedicated to Troup also contains some links to some sites I hadn’t seen before.  

Is this part of the new game, or is this a separate plot line altogether, one never knows with “Lost”. But without question, the writers of the show are thinking out of the box as to how to enrich the viewer experience and capture a larger audience.  And I, for one, commend them.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:42 PM / | |  

Factors in Rising Gas Prices

In my first post about rising gas prices, I covered the way the price of gasoline is determined, and what factors contribute to the cost of one gallon of gas. In this post, I’ll examine four factors that have contributed to the sudden meteoric rise in that price: supply and demand, vertical integration of the oil market and price gouging, previous stagnation of prices in the gasoline market, and government influence for the oil companies.

Both the right and the left are pointing fingers and screaming about these four issues, and so it’s important to have a strong understanding of what role each has played in this most recent crisis.  At the end, I’m sure it will be clear that the all four factors contribute to the rising price, and that perhaps as a result there is no real villain in this situation.  But this will set us up to look at solutions, which exist and have not been explored thoroughly.

Supply and Demand

For those of you who don’t have an economics background, supply and demand refers to the two components of a transaction; supply is what is being sold, and refers to how much of any commodity or service is available at a given price, and demand refers to how many people are willing to purchase a product at any given price.  Each is represented by a line on a graph showing the changing supply and demand at various prices.

Above, you can see a supply and demand curve.  The point marked as the “Equilibrium point” is the price that the product will be sold at to optimize sales and profitability, theoretically. If the price is higher, the demand will decrease, and product will remain unsold.  If the cost is lower, there will be more demand than there is product, leaving disgruntled customers and profits unclaimed.  That’s the heart of economics.

The theory goes that in a truly competitive market, the price of any commodity will equilibrate at a price that will allow for all demand to be met by supply at a price the market will bear. The price will allow for natural replenishment of the resource and demand will be met in the entire market, in this case the entire world, as all countries use oil.

Increase in Demand

Now look at the graph below. Here, there is an increase in demand.  An example of an increase in demand would be 3 Billion new drivers/consumers from Asia.  If the price remained the same, there would be huge shortages, and demand would far exceed capacity, leaving oil companies to increase supply or raise prices.

And demand is definitely increasing.  Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post points out that China has emerged as the #2 oil consumer in the world, and that between China and India there is 8 times the population in the US.  With both these countries industrializing, there will be huge demand from both China and India.  

Demand is also increasing in the United States.  The tendency is to believe that cars have grown smaller and more fuel efficient today, but really more people drive SUVs and trucks than ever before, meaning decreased aver gas mileage. Americans are less likely to walk today than in the past, and surveys indicate that we are liable to drive even journeys of a few blocks.  In fact, notes that one out of every 4 barrels of oil produced are consumed by the United States. That’s about to change!

Decrease in Supply

And while the demand for oil is increasing, the supply is decreasing, both potentially and in actuality. In actuality, new environmental initiatives have reduced the output of refineries as they adjust to new fuel standards.

What’s more, April and May are the normal time for maintenance on the refineries, and thus their output is considerably lower than other times of the year, as they gear up for the busy summer season.  Add in decreases in production from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as news that Kuwait’s largest oil field, the second largest oil field in the world, is running dry, and production is down significantly.

But while these actual reductions in output are temporary, and should no longer be a factor in a matter of weeks, the potential threats to oil supplies represent a longer term and larger scale threat. Increasing tensions between the US and Iran and the conflict in Iraq, representing two of the largest oil producers in the world, are a large part of the increasing prices. As such, oil is presently selling for $75 a barrel.

"Political tensions in Iran, a refinery outage in Italy and supply disruptions in Africa (are) keeping the bulls running towards record values," said Vienna's PVM Oil Associates, predicting near-term price increases.
"The price surge (also) was supported by fund investments," PVM said, noting reports that America's biggest pension fund, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, planned to allocate as much as $1 billion into oil and other commodities by August.
The shutdown Tuesday of the 400,000 barrel a day refinery complex at Priolo in Sicily also raised the floor supporting prices, along with plans by Total SA to shut down its Girassol oil field later this month in an effort to prolong production from Angola's large deep-water field.

Supply and demand effects are magnified because they are factored at all stages of the process described in the first article: supply and demand determines the price of a barrel of crude, it effects the cost of refinement, it effects the cost to transport the refined crude, and it effects the prices at individual gas stations.  

And again, these are natural fluctuations for the oil market, and should, in a truly competitive market, push gas prices to a point where they will curb our consumption of gas to the point where oil production will be able to supply demand throughout the world at a price which the market will bear.

Vertical Integration of the Oil Market

Most liberals reject supply and demand as only accounting for a small percentage of the price increases we are seeing today.  Most of the liberal attention is focused on the concept that collusion between the large oil companies is largely responsible for the skyrocketing gas prices we are seeing today.  And the liberals are not without a fair amount of evidence.

Consolidation of the Oil Market

Over the past 10+ years, the oil industry has been consolidating power in the hands a few major companies.  There has been a huge consolidation of power amongst five oil companies.

While people remember the famed 7 sisters, there were also a large number of somewhat smaller oil companies that have, over the years, been swallowed up by ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell.   all statistics indicate the widening disparity between the Big 5 and the remaining small companies.

In March 2004, The Public Citizen did a report on factors effecting gasoline prices and the oil market, and the paper was obviously written from a liberal perspective. But certain facts are presented that are telling, and I have found collaboration for many statistics in other articles.  For example, look at the disparity in market share for the Big 5 oil companies 1993 to 2003, just a 10 year span:

The 14.2% of global oil production from 2003 is roughly as much as all of OPEC combined.  Opec only provides approximately 15% of our domestic oil needs, the rest coming from Canada, Mexico, Norway and England, and much of that oil is still refined by the oil powerhouses.

Collusion between Big 5 Oil Companies

The Public Citizen paper goes on to point out an incident in 2001 where the Federal Trade Commission determined that the oil companies withheld gas in order to drive up prices. The article indicates this concludes this could only occur if there was collusion between the companies. Additionally, the author points to the whopping $125 Billion in after-tax profits for the oil companies between Bush’s inauguration in January 2001 and April 2004 as proof of collusion between the companies.

Wow, that’s a lot of money! But you know what; it does not constitute proof of collusion between the oil companies. Sure, it’s logical that they worked together to derive a price, if you want that to be the conclusion. But nothing has proved to me yet that collusion exists, despite these exorbitant prices.

This excerpt is from a 2005 FTC report on gasoline prices and the fluctuation in prices:

One of the Report’s conclusions is that over the past 20 years, changes in the price of crude oil have led to 85 percent of the changes in the retail price of gasoline in the U.S., while other important factors have included increasing demand, supply restrictions, and federal, state, and local regulations such as “clean fuel” requirements and taxes.

“U.S. consumers are frustrated by rising gasoline prices, and they deserve to know the facts. Further, only through a hard look at the facts can officials make what likely are tough decisions and devise meaningful responses to important consumer issues,” said Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “The Federal Trade Commission will continue to watch closely for signs of anticompetitive or fraudulent conduct in the petroleum industry, and will take swift action against any law violation.”

It couldn’t be much clearer that they are looking for signs of collusion and at the very least are not finding clear proof of collusion between the companies.  Liberals (a group I generally associate myself with) can bemoan government influence, but I tend to agree with this conclusion, that no direct collusion occurred.  However, I come to this conclusion because I believe no collusion was necessary.

Lack of Competition in the Oil Industry

That is not to say that everything is kosher here.  There is clearly a lack of competition in this market. The competition that should drive companies to arrive at the best price, because otherwise another company will undercut them and take their market share, doesn’t exist here, leaving the companies free to set a price that is exorbitant, because the other companies have no incentive to undercut them. This 2004 report says exactly that.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, analysts said mergers within the industry had left the market in the hands of relatively few major companies that now have little incentive to produce surplus gasoline.
"The problem is not a conspiracy, but the rational action of large companies with market power," pointed out Mark Cooper, director of research for the American Consumer Federation.
Cooper continued: "With weak competitive market forces, individual companies have flexibility for strategic actions that raise prices and profits. Individual companies can let supplies become tight in their area and keep stocks low since there are few competitors who might counter this strategy."

Look at the chart to your right.  The chart is meant to support the Big Oil companies by showing that they make a lower profit margin than all the other big companies out there.  But what it also shows us is that the oil companies are making larger profits than any of the other companies.  And what’s more, those numbers are from 2004; This past quarters earnings, just released last month, nearly meet the annual profits for these companies.

Further, the profit margins alluded tois not necessarily all encompassing.  The assumption is that the chart is looking at the markup from the purchased refined gasoline or oil to the consumer purchase.  But lack of competition in this market means that the Big 5 Oil companies not only receive the markup to the consumer, but often the markup from refinement and even the markup from crude extraction and production as well.

And herein lays the problem.  In a competitive market, these companies would push to lower prices by decreasing their markup in various stages of oil production, making their oil more price-attractive to the consumer and grabbing market share from their competitors.  But in this market, collusion is not necessary because competition doesn’t exist, and the parties know the market well enough to keep prices pretty much in line without collusion.

Stagnation of Prices in the Gasoline Market

The Seattle Times compares purchasing a gallon of gas to a gallon of milk, pointing out that both were about the same price 20 years ago, and have risen to be the same price again, 20 years later. Yes, the price of milk has gradually increased over all these years, whereas gas has jumped up in price.  But the article indicates these increases are overdue, and the only question is why people react to these price increases.

Why, in short, are we as consumers far more sensitive to the price of gasoline than practically anything else we buy?
The reasons have a lot to do with our perceptions as consumers, say experts on buying behavior. Because gasoline is sold separately from other goods and goes through big, unpredictable price swings, each increase stands out and reinforces our sense that current prices are unfair and unprecedented.

"Gasoline is a unique product," said David Stewart, who teaches marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "You have to go to a specific place, a service station, to fill up, so it becomes an event that really stands out relative to other kinds of shopping."

The article points to the years of cheaper gas, and the drastic rise in prices, giving people an unrealistic view of the recent rise in prices. And this is undoubtedly true, to some extent.  People have made plans, business plans and budgets based on expectations of the cost of gasoline.  With prices rising so rapidly, the American public can’t help but be shocked as their expectations are thrown out the window.

In Reality…

In reality, however, we have seen prices rising over the past 5 years. Since January 2001, oil prices have increased 240%.  The past 5 years have seen massive increases in the number of SUVs and light trucks on the road, and presently more than 2.5 trillion miles are driven in the United States each year.  Today we drive almost twice as much as we did in 1980.

The US consumes of 20 Million barrels of oil per day, of which 45% is used for motor gasoline. 178 Million gallons of gasoline are consumed by American drivers every single day, a number that has been rising over 2.5% every single year.  

As such, to attribute the recent jumps in price to market adjustment, the market making corrections for past price stability, would appear to be an incorrect evaluation of the evens leading up to this price increase.  

Indeed, the chart we see here indicates clearly that the price has fluctuated throughout the past 55 years based on supply and demand.  To me, this is clearly a case where the increased prices are a reaction to present conditions as opposed a reaction to past conditions, and thus I disagree with the notion of the recent price increases being the result of a correction for past stagnation in the oil industry.

Government Influence for the Oil Companies

Liberals also point to the amount of money spent on government lobbying, as well as the close ties of Bush and Cheney to the oil industry, as clear proof that the oil industry is gaining favors from the US government.  The oil industry pays over $50 Million every year to lobby Congress and the White House, which, if it has resulted in easier conditions for the companies, is money well spent.

This issue I’m going to hold off on, for the most part, until the next post in the series. But suffice it to say that while I have seen some favoritism towards the oil industry, I do not believe that the government, under any president, would have been able to affect anti-monopolistic legislation fast enough to prevent the lack of competition in the market that has occurred, and I don’t believe the policies implemented by this government have purposefully been used to try to drive the price up.

That being said, I’m not sure that the government has done all it can to keep prices low, and that there is some favoritism from the Bush/Cheney White House towards the oil industry.  It is not, however, enough favoritism to create this huge fluctuation we have seen recently in prices.


After researching the four causes indicated by both the right and the left, I believe that supply and demand is the largest determiner in the huge price increases we’ve seen in gasoline over the past few months.  However, the effects of decreasing supply and increasing demand have been exacerbated by the lack of competition in the market and the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to enact measures that would maintain lower fuel prices.

I hope to follow this up in a few days with a post on how to combat rising prices. It will focus on what the Bush Administration has already done to try to keep prices low, what has been done in other countries towards the same end, measures that are being proposed by groups from both the right and the left, and my own suggestions for measures that would improve the present crisis.

I will finish up with a look at the effects that rising oil prices are having on society, both on a consumer and a business level.  I will also examine some of the positive effects of rising oil prices, and I’ll focus on some of the comments I’ve received throughout the series.

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Posted by Scottage at 3:06 AM / | |  

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Dinner Party Game Meme and 500 BE Credit Raffle

This post will remain the second post of my blog until Friday, May 5th.  Please scroll down for new posts.

This is a very cool game that I read about over at Renegade Eye’s site, although I think it was in a movie before as well, I forget the name of it, a group of liberals who invited right-wingers over for dinner, heard their argument, then killed them and planted them in the tomato garden.

Anyway, the game goes like this. Let’s say you’re having a dinner party. You can invite any four people, living or dead, from any period in history. Who do you invite?  If you played before, use different guests.

So anyway, I'll start.

John Lennon

Karl Marx

Thomas Jefferson

Jessica Alba

Mahatma Gandhi

Could you imagine the conversation you could have over dinner about the utopian society and the nature of government?  Admittedly, there might be a person or two I would want more than Gandhi, but the combination of the 4 I think would be fascinating.

How about you?  Two choices here: either 1) write in the comments section the four people you would have for dinner, or 2) post this on your site, and make sure you link back to your post in the comments section.

Anyone who is listed in the comments section will be registered for a raffle that will take place on Friday night, May 5th. Top prize will be 500 BE credits in 2 installments, second prize will be 250 BE credits, and a number of winners will win 10 credits. All winners will be linked to in a larger post as well.

So who do you invite for dinner?  And if you feel like it, give us a menu as well. Gandhi would make cooking real tough, wouldn’t he?  Actually, I think both he and Lennon would be strict vegetarians, while I’m pretty sure Thomas Jefferson was a meat and potatoes man. Anyway, look forward to your answers.

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Posted by Scottage at 8:30 PM / | |  


Consider me blown away!  

I missed it, completely at first, what with all the excitement in the show. Right from the get go, non-stop action. Ana Lucia getting strangled by Henry, Hurley stepping up the courtship of Libby, Sawyer and Ana Lucia having sex in the jungle, Michael coming back and regaining consciousness.  Each commercial I was on the phone with me friend, talking about the scenes, and theorizing as to what would happen next.

It passed before my eyes!

Of course our theories were no where close to the genius of the ending of last night’s episode, as Michael apparently has been brainwashed, and took out Ana Lucia to free Henry. And I must admit it hurt to see him kill poor Libby, the first real sign of happiness for Hurley, who I like tremendously. I was shocked and awed by it all.

And I missed the best part!

Today, I was looking through old posts, trying to start my favorites list so I can build it on the fly when I add past posts to the site.  And then I found it, a post from last week, mentioning a game that was going to be launched during the commercials on this episode of Lost!  A game that would follow the Lost storyline, ostensibly examining another hatch or something, and revealing more Lost secrets.

I totally missed it!

So I went back on my TiVo, replaying all the commercial segments, and saw nothing. I must have missed it. And then watching the commercials a second time around, there it was, a commercial for The Hanso Organization, a fictional company that has been talked about in the show.  It looks like a normal commercial, and it sounds like a normal commercial, although well done, but all of the sudden I realized this was no normal commercial.

I wrote it down!

The commercial said: Since the dawn of time, man has been curious, imagining all that is possible. The Hanso Foundation, reaching out to a better tomorrow.  Discover the experience for yourself. Call 1-877-Hansorg.

I called the number!

It took a couple tries to get through, but there it was, a message in Japanese with a few English words that can be made out. IT is quiet and hard to hear regardless.  And it tells you the next step. As for me, I’m letting you take those next steps, because I need to figure out my next step, and stay one step ahead of you. Who knows, maybe at the end I won’t be so lost!  Good luck all.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:18 PM / | |  

Vice President Colbert?

Last night, on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert hosted Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  Huckabee is a Republican Governor and a potential presidential nominee for 2008.  Huckabee also recently lost a whopping 110 pounds, which was the focus of the show, and many jokes from both participants.

But when Colbert pressed Huckabee for an answer on whether or not he would run, Huckabee indicated he would do so if Colbert was his VP candidate.  “If you run as my running mate, Stephen, we could change America.” Nice!  

I’m not sure about Huckabee, but Colbert might get my vote (even though I’m a dem).  Of course, I suspect he’ll have more trouble getting Bush’s vote, after Colbert’s comments at the Correspondents’ Dinner!  Of course, that may be all the more reason to vote for Colbert.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:13 PM / | |  

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Big Blogger Task #1

Woohoooo! I have been allowed into Big Blogger 2, the blog version of Big Brother. I gotta say, this looks like tons of fun, and I’m very psyched.  There are, I believe, 9 other housemates, and the BIG BLOGGER who watches everything we do.  Every week we get assignments, and a couple weeks in people start getting kicked out.  I don’t know if there’s a prize, but it sounds fun enough to me.  

For our first task, we are required to design a brand new product that would be used for the house.  There’s nothing in there, no power or plumbing at first I believe, so I figured necessities would be key. We do have drinks (Sump Cola, from Rebecca), and we got cereal (Scorn Flakes, from Scotland of the Soul), but we have neither major food stores nor milk for the cereal.  Thus, I present the house with the cut-up cow.

Welcome to the world of major food storage with the Cut-Up Cow!  Originally designed for use in bomb-shelters, the Cut-Up Cow provides enough meat, vegetables, and milk for 30 days of family feasting.

The Cut-Up Cow is a self-contained storage unit and cooker for you and your family. Hungry? Cut off a steak, put it in the self-contained oven in the stomach cavity, and ½ an hour later, your eating.  Thirsty?  You know where to get the milk. For vegetables, the optional refrigerated storage pack keeps your vegetables crisp, but you choose where to store it.

The Cut-Up Cow converts hydrogen molecules from the air to generate power, and uses layers from the cows on skin to insulate the food and maintain freshness of the food. Sure, it smells like cow, but it tastes like cow too.  So come grab your Cut-Up Cow today, and feed your family for two months.

So my thanks to Big Blogger Two for including me in the game.  Hopefully I’ll get a cheering section from some of my readers out there, and good luck to all the houseguests:

Hillbilly Mansion
I Don’t Do Mornings
Knockin’ On The Golden Door
Lantern of Light
Legless in Perpetuum
Redneck Diva
Scotland of the Soul
Will Type For Food

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Posted by Scottage at 10:57 PM / | |  

Israel Meme

First off, thanks to Soccer Dad for tagging me for the Israel Meme.  The Israel Meme, created by Daled Amos, is an opportunity to share a story from my time in Israel.  Admittedly, this was tough for me, since I have so many interesting experiences from Israel, but I decided on a story from when I first moved to Israel, and I hope you like it.  Certainly, the process bought back great memories!

Near the end of 1995 I traveled to Israel for what was supposed to be a 6 month excursion and what turned into my making Aliyah. I was heading to an Ulpan at Kibbutz Beit Hashitah, and to be frank I think I was running away from Philly more than I was running to Israel.  I was looking for a new shot at some real happiness in my life, and in many ways, my last truly happy memories were from my last Israel trip in 1987.  

I arrived at Ben Gurion after midnight, and took a cab up to Beit Hashitah.  I got the key to my room, smoked a couple cigarettes, and tried to catch a few winks. Problem was, I was pretty excited, and had didn’t get much in the sleep department.  So at 5:00 am I got up, took a long walk, and settled in for a smoke in this beautiful grove on the Kibbutz with hundreds of baby trees.

I was staring at the mountain across from the kibbutz, puffing away at a cigarette, when a 70 year old man sat down next to me, and motioned for a cigarette. I gave him one and lit it up, wondering if he would be able to speak English.  He took a drag at the American Marlboro, pointed appreciatively at it while nodding to me.

The old man then answered my question by, without introduction, moving right into the story of the Mountain I was looking at, Mount Gilboa. His accent was thick but I understood every word, and remember his speech to this very day.  And at that moment, I knew for the first time I had found a home.

“That is Mount Gilboa, from the Torah. I know, you haven’t heard that story, but it’s there, you can look it up. Once, long ago in our history, Saul stood on that peak with his sons, with Jonathan, and David, mighty David not yet king, stood on the other peak. And beneath them, the Philistines were outnumbering us 100 to 1.”

“When Jonathan fell, Saul was so distraught he committed suicide….well, sort of. You know, a Jew won’t take his own life. He commanded his own aid to kill him. Oy, could you imagine having that job? Anyway, he did it, then went over to David and told him. David, yes, the one who slew Goliath. And that’s who he was, a warrior…not the type you want to upset, not the one you want to tell bad news.”

“Well, the aid learned it first hand, because David killed him right on the spot when he heard what happened to Saul. And then he said a curse. David looked at the two peaks of Gilboa, his peak where the Israelis, eh, they weren’t doing so bad, and the other peak, where Saul and Jonathan had died, and he said that the peak would turn to blood, and wash away everything living. Nothing would ever live there again.”

“Now the crazy thing is it happened. And of course the Philistines, they see this guy, who already was a very good warrior to say the least, turn a mountain to blood, killing all their friends over there, and they think, you know what, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to mess with him. And they left, and David became king.  And that is why, to this day, there are trees on one side, and the other side is bare.”

With that, the man got up, not even giving me a chance for introductions, nodded thanks for the cigarette, and walked off. Later I would find out that his name was also Saul, that he was a New Yorker who moved to Israel as a teenager in 1949, and that he had run the tree nursery, the largest in Israel, for nearly 50 years.

I worked for Saul in that tree nursery, starting at 4 am and planting nearly 4,000 trees, all of which were transplanted throughout Israel, a country that needs trees desperately.  It was hard work, but so fulfilling. And most of the time Saul was more or less quiet, never talking as much as he did that morning, when he didn’t eve know me.

I never forgot the story of Gilboa, and the way Saul told it. I’ve read the true account since, and been on the mountain, determined that the soil and sunlight are identical on both peeks.  There should be life on both sides of the mountain but there aren’t. And so every day I looked at proof of the validity of the Torah, or at least of that story, and was inspired by it. To me, this is the power of Israel, and it has touched my heart forever.

Oops, forgot, I need to tag 4 people to complete the post. Well, fortunately I have gotten to know many great Israeli writers through my blog, so I will tag Desert Peace, Ra'anana Ramblings, AbbaGav, and Meryl Yourish, assuming they all wish to participate.


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Posted by Scottage at 12:22 PM / | |  

New Snub Club Winners

Just a quick note that two more posts have been added as Snub Club winners, both from the The Online Magazine Formerly Known as Rob’s Blog. Great posts! Check out Who Is In Charge Up There? and How to Escape Any Legal Challenge to Being Big Brother.  You’ll be glad you did!


And another Snub Club Winner has been named. Have you heard of signing statements? I must admit I hadn't until I read this piece by Grey Does Matter. Truly an excellent piece. The first Snub Club roundup will be this Sunday, so feel free to get a submission in before then.


Posted by Scottage at 12:11 AM / | |  

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fly, Eagles Fly…On The Road To Victory!

The Eagles had an amazing draft this past weekend, getting talent even late in the draft and executing a more complete draft than even the teams with the high picks.

Oddly enough, the player that may benefit ‘Da Birds the most was selected in the 5th round. Colorado return man Jeremy Bloom hopes to revitalize an area that was abysmal for my Eagles last year, and his blend of natural speed, ability to handle Olympic pressure, and toughness will make him a serious asset for years to come.

But having just exited the era of Terrell, is he a bit too much flash for this blue-collar team? He just may be. There are definitely question of whether he’s committed to football, and I doubt his pretty-boy status, as seen in the pic below, will do much to impress his old-school teammates. But if he becomes a real football player, he could help us better starting field position by 10-15 yards, which is a key to success.

The rest of the Eagles draft focused on the line, which is perfect to me. I believe games are won or lost in the trenches, and while se had serious injuries on both sides of the line last year, I don’t think we ever looked good against the run. Well, our top draft pick, Brodrick Bunkley, should solve many of those interior defensive line issues.  And while most think OL Winston Justice will be the man this year, I’ve been impressed with OG Max Jean-Gilles.

Plus, the eagles had some key free agent additions. Wideout Jabr Gaffney is tall, has great hands, excellent speed, and is a fearless replacement for Terrell Owens without TO’s attitude. I predict Gaffney will be an all-pro with Donovan throwing to him, you can put your money on it now.

Bringing back Roderick Hood and Shawn Barber for the Eagles D means the addition of two veterans who know the Eagles’ style of play and can jump into the action feet first. And Defensive End Darren Howard will make an excellent bookend for Jevon Kearse.

The vast majority of the Eagles team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago and has been the class of the NFC for the past five years is intact, but now we have added talent at a variety of key positions. Don’t look now, but with all the injuries behind them, it appears that the Eagles will be  headed back to the Super Bowl again this year!

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Posted by Scottage at 11:17 PM / | |  

The Truth about Rising Gas Prices

Last week I posted on the rising oil prices, and received a sharp rebuke from a conservative who believed that knee-jerk reactions like mine would further exacerbate the problem. So I decided to do more research into the issue of rising gas prices, and to try to determine if we are seeing true market balancing long overdue in the oil industry, or if we were witnessing the effects of government favoritism to the oil industry.

The answer, as I’m sure will be no surprise to readers of this site, will lie somewhere in the middle of the two views. We will see that, yes, these market fluctuations were well overdue, and that in some ways the rising price of a gallon of gas should be expected and even welcomed.  

But we’ll also see that these marked price increases have been greater as a result of greater collusion with the major players in the oil industry, and that had anti-trust legislation been practiced against big-oil in the past 5 years, we would be facing much lower prices today.

Finally, we will see that, indeed, some policies that could be used to reduce the relative or actual price of a gallon of gas could serve to further increase gas prices in the long run. But we will also see that some government regulation is either necessary now or will be necessary soon to prevent the collapse of many small businesses, and economic ruin for some individuals and families.

The Price Makeup of a Gallon of Gas

Let’s start by determining the various costs that go into determining the price of a gallon of gas.  I found an excellent piece on this topic from ABC News that was published on April 15th, when gas was a meager $2.68 a gallon, so all these costs should be increased by about 17% to compensate for today’s prices at the pump. But we will still get an excellent idea of the how the price of a gallon of gas is determined.

The example is taken from an area with low gas taxes. Of the $2.68 for a gallon of gas:

Right away, this refutes the notion that the gas tax is a major portion of the cost of a gallon of gas, or that repealing the gas tax will provide any real relief to consumers. We also see that the real rise in the price of a gallon of gas comes from the price of crude and the cost of refinement, as well as the markups on both these items.

Increased Markup

I’m sure the first question everyone asks is how much is the markup? Of course we all just saw reports of record profits from oil companies, including an $8B quarterly profit from Exxon-Mobil.  Is this a clear sign of price gauging by big oil? Well, not necessarily.

The markup on a gallon of gasoline has definitely risen substantially over the past year; the report just cited indicates that the markup for a gallon of gas has jumped from $.80 to $1.40 per gallon over the past year and a half (pre-Katrina prices). Outrageous, right?  Well hold on a second.

The rise in markup is a 75% rise over this time, which happens to just about correlate with the 66-75% rise in gas prices over the same time. From this, we can deduce (meaning this is my opinion and theory, not fact, so criticize away) that while the markup has risen substantially, the profit margin has stayed about the same.

Don’t understand what I’m driving at? Well, think of it this way. We are all looking at how much big oil makes on a gallon of gas. Instead, think of how much big oil makes on a dollar’s worth of product. They should still be making about the same amount on a dollar’s worth of product that they did before Katrina.  

Most companies determine their success by analyzing profit margin, leading to questions of being overcritical of the oil companies.  However, profit margins are kept reasonable by the existence of a competitive market forcing companies to maintain lower margins. In a competitive market, one could reasonably expect the oil companies to focus on net profit in order to maintain a competitive price and retain customers. That did not happen here.

A competitive market, and the shift to net profits, would lower gas prices, but there are questions as to how substantial the price decreases would be. We will analyze the lack of competition in the oil marketplace and how that has affected price in a later post in this series. In the interim, I believe that gas prices would drop about $.30 to $.40 in a competitive market, and while that’s welcomed relief, it’s also a drop in the bucket.

Is the Markup the Main Reason for Inflated Prices?

As determined in the past paragraph, I see a definite correlation between the price of a gallon of gas and its markup. But is this the only reason gas prices are so high? A great article in Breitbart breaks down the influences that have created the inflated prices we see today. The article brings up four important reasons why gas prices are so high:

  1. Global demand for oil has increased dramatically, to 85 million barrels per day, and production capacity is near its limits

  2. Oil traders are nervous that tensions between the United States and the Middle East, as well as other international conflicts, could lead to drastic changes in the oil market

  3. With the global economy expanding, there should be even more demand for oil  in a short time

  4. Speculative investors are jumping feet first into the oil market in order to profit from inflated prices, further inflating those prices

An additional reason alluded to is that new environmental laws by the United States required a more intensive refinement process, which slows down the production of oil, lowering supply and increasing prices.  President Bush has temporarily eliminated these environmentally based restrictions in an effort to reduce gas prices, but the positive effect on prices may be far lower than the negative effect on the environment.

We also cannot discount the roll that our own foreign policy has had on the price of gasoline. Only a week ago a report came out of Qatar that oil prices would drop about $15 for a barrel of crude if politicians would cease their efforts to create fear in the oil markets. The relation is that Qatar has committed over $5B to increasing oil production capacity, but is unwilling to invest that money in this political climate.

Next Steps

Over the next few days, I’m going to focus in or some of the factors that have led to the situation we face today, such as the lack of market adjustments over the past 20+ years, lack of competition in the oil industry. Plus, we’ll look closely at the effects that increased oil prices are having on citizens and small businesses.

We’ll look at the price of gasoline around the world, and identify what that tells us about the state of our own gasoline prices.  We’ll look at the positive effects of increased oil prices. And we’ll finish with an evaluation of what President Bush has done and should do to deal with this growing national concern.

Finally, I will try to incorporate some of the better opinions I have found in the blogosphere into the argument, and gauge the voice of the citizenry versus the realities of the crisis. I hope this will lead us all towards a better understanding of rising gas prices, and what we face in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

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Posted by Scottage at 11:48 AM / | |  

Monday, May 01, 2006

Oh Happy Day! and Full Stephen Colbert Text


After 3 submissions to the blogger help site, 213 response emails to those submissions, and a very threatening phone call this morning, Blogger has restored my content! WOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you to the team at Blogger who accomplished this, including Karl, who signed the response that told me the posts had been restored.

Because I have already reoccupied the URL, they put the posts at a separate, non-functioning URL for now, and I have to transfer them over, so it will be a couple days before you see all the posts. But they are there, they are accurate and intact, and in a couple days it will be like Perspectives of a Nomad never came down. Woohooooo.

Also, I wanted to make mention that I did publish the complete text from Stephen Colbert's monologue at the Correspondents' Dinner last night, but I posted it on an earlier date so people who didn't want the whole text didn't have to scroll down a ton to get to the next post. It took a while to copy it off the videos, but I went through it a couple times, and I think it's 100% accurate. You can read his whole speech here.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:52 PM / | |  

Springsteen Slams President at New Orleans JazzFest; Joins Stephen Colbert in Snub Club

Much of my attention has been drawn to those public figures who have been willing over the past few weeks to speak out against the President despite his spin machine which as shown the capability to tear careers apart. Mick Jagger, Jaime Pressly, Neil Young, and most recently and impressively Stephen Colbert have been focused on here. Well, it’s time to make room for the Boss.

Springsteen, while performing Pete Seeger tunes at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, lashed out at the president and gave him a new nickname, “President Bystander”, and claimed that labeled the government’s support of the city during the crisis “Criminal Ineptitude”.

Perhaps the most pointed moment came as he prepared to sing an old song that he had rewritten lyrics to for New Orleans. Noting that he visited the city's Ninth Ward, perhaps the most devastated area in the city, Springsteen said: "I saw sights I never thought I'd see in an American city," and added: "The criminal ineptitude makes you furious."

With that, he launched into a song titled "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" and dedicated the song to "President Bystander." Its lyrics included the lines: "There's bodies floatin' on Canal and the levees gone to hell ... them who's got out of town, and them who ain't got left to drown, tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?"

I should note that over the weekend a friend indicated that perhaps reporting on the growing Snub Club, to which Springsteen just earned membership, is negative, that I am wrong to republish these events because it does nothing to help the situation. I must say, I think exactly the opposite is true.

I think it’s empowering to find your voice again when an oppressive force is trying to prevent free speech. I think that the first step in retaking control of this country is being willing talk about these problems despite the fear of retribution. As such, I’ll continue to write about the snubs, and see them as a sign of hope for making this a country run by the people for the people again.  I welcome other opinions, but this seems right to me.

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Posted by Scottage at 10:42 AM / | |  

Stephen Colbert Snubs President to his Face; New Club Member

OK, consider me blown away.  It is one thing to bash the president from an ocean away, or even to snipe at him through the press when he’s close but you’ll never meet up with him. It’s a completely different thing to bash the president with him sitting less than 10 feet away, and for over 15 minutes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  That’s what Stephen Colbert did on Saturday night, and I for one applaud him. {links below}

Bush was not amused by Colbert, and while he tried to smile, the smile was gone halfway through the Colbert section of the dinner. Other attendees admitted that Colbert had attacked harder than most correspondents do at a dinner that is meant to roast the commander in chief.  

Those seated near Bush told E&P's Joe Strupp, who was elsewhere in the room, that Bush had quickly turned from an amused guest to an obviously offended target as Colbert’s comments brought up his low approval ratings and problems in Iraq.  Several veterans of past dinners, who requested anonymity, said the presentation was more directed at attacking the president than in the past.

I thought Colbert was hilarious, but I guess that’s no surprise. The fact that the brunt of his jokes is arguably the most powerful man in the world and has little tolerance for opposition opinion didn’t stop him.  Colbert attacked multiple aspects of the Bush administration, beginning with a great piece on the President’s low approval rating.

Now, I know there's some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

So, Mr. President, …pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash.

I sort of like the thought of like to think of the remaining few Republicans who continue to support Bush despite his ineptitude as backwash.  It seems just about right. Another great swing by Colbert was at Bush’s close attention to appearances, as opposed to reality.  

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

Frankly, there are just too many good jabs to document them all here. He points to Bush’s perchance for revisionist history, influencing the media, and his inability to react to changing world events.  He points to retiring generals and their criticism of Donald Rumsfeld. He made fun of Iraq, Scott McClellan and Tony Snow (“Secret Service name Snow Job”). And he even made allusions to Bush being unintelligent, saying “we’re not brainiacs on the nerd patrol”

The video of the speech has been all over the place on the web, and here is a link to Part 1 and Part 2.  Pardon the horrible advertisements below the video, I got the links here. Also, I have not seen the text of the speech reprinted, so I typed it up.  Since it is so long, I put it on a separate post, linked to here.  It looks like it’s a week old, so it doesn’t slow down the blog.

If you’re watching, make sure you take not of Bush’s face during the whole speech.  He’s trying to smile or laugh, but time and again you see him fighting with the desire to get up and say something, it’s just way to obvious. Otherwise, read the text.  It’s fun stuff. And my complements to Stephen Colbert, I applaud you for having the guts to say this to Bush’s face, and I’ll start watching The Colbert Report!

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Posted by Scottage at 12:46 AM / | |  

Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93 – WOW!

I went to see United 93 today, and must say, WOW! While the story line was, of course, very depressing, the movie was really well done. It never broke down into wild speculation, spectacular special effects, or over dramatization. Instead, it compiles what we do know into a cohesive timeline of the events of September 11th.

First off, 75% of the movie did not take place on the airplane, but instead we were watching events unfold either at FAA headquarters, at Boston Air Traffic Control, or in a military headquarters in the DC. On the plane, we hear little of the small talk and see only a bit of the events; the majority of what we see are the various phone conversations and that knowledge being passed around the passengers.

Unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of the movie was that it didn’t label the specific offices we were watching, perhaps to protect the guilty, but it wasn’t hard to figure out who was who. And by focusing on the offices and the phone calls, the movie stuck to the data that could be verified, and avoided the speculations many feared. Only the final scene, filmed in dream-sequence, was speculation.  

The movie really focused on the lack of leadership and coordination between the various players during the crisis. At first, there was a general disbelief that a hijacking had occurred, as no one had seen one for so many years.  But once they came to the realization that a hijacking even might have occurred, coordinating the offices to minimize the scope of the tragedy was impossible.

The movie seemed to assign most of the blame to the military. The first half of the movie both the FAA and air traffic control looked for the military, unsuccessfully to attempt to get some support in the growing crisis, but the military in both locations were not at their posts.  When the military finally showed up, they were unprepared for the situation, with only four fighter planes in the vicinity, and a lack of a direct chain of command.

Certainly, there was some blame for the FAA and Air Traffic control, primarily linked with their inability to believe that a real event was occurring.  The movie showed how, if they had believed one of a few warning signs, either group would probably not have let United 93 ever take off, which I believe is the real reason for the title.  And some criticism was reserved for President Bush, who was unavailable to give the go command to take down United flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.

Yes, the movie speculated about the events on United 93 that led up to the crash in Shanksville, PA.  But really, it was not about Flight 93 or the potentially heroic acts that prevented that flight reaching its target, the White House. Instead, it was about the series of events that allowed September 11th becoming a tragedy of such epic proportions. I thought it was very well done, and look forward to seeing it again.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:49 AM / | |