Friday, May 30, 2008

Fuel prices - get used to it.

There are gas price protests in Europe.

What is one to do about supply and demand? Instead of protest, people should be buying more fuel efficient cars.

Oh wait, the protests are in Europe, where most everyone already has a fuel efficient car.

I don't see the purpose of protesting oil prices. As if all the oil producing countries are suddenly going to say, "Oh, the French people are protesting, we better stabilize our internal conflicts and increase output!"

What they should be protesting is American overconsumption. And by American, I am including Canada, who are just as bad!

See last years article.

There is one simple thing that could have held oil prices in check. And it might just be the very thing Europeans are protesting.

More tax.

Before you shoot the messenger, let me explain.

Historically, the USA prides itself on cheap gasoline. The government charges a pittance tax on it, and their mentality treats it like an infinite resource they have the right to abuse.

Elections are won and lost on promises of cheap gas.

As a result of years of low taxes at the pump, Americans have loaded up on pickup trucks and SUVs, the bigger the better. They have become the global glutton for overconsumption, and their growing demand, in a world of growing demand, has shot oil prices up and up and up.

But what if the American government, starting in the 1970's, taxed petroleum European style (300%) instead of American style (around 20%)?

First of all, the majority Americans would be driving hybrids and small cars instead of SUV's and pickup trucks. Their oil demand would be half, or less, than what it is today.

The big American car companies might have focused on fuel efficiency. The nineties boom might have been hybrid cars instead of Hummers.

The US trade deficit wouldn't be so horrendous because oil would be cheaper, and they'd be importing a lot less of it.

Today, pump prices would probably be what they are now. Except, instead of donating that money to unstable oil producing countries, the majority of it would be paying down the US deficit.

Here's a debt clock showing how much is sent to the government, and how much goes to OPEC, starting the moment you came to my blog.

gas tax

If they taxed gas European style, the US might not have a deficit at all. If they taxed each litre of gas one dollar way back when actual cost was around 15 cents, they might actually have a balanced budget right now.

Here is the current US debt clock.

The Gross National Debt

Exact calculations are hard to make. One must factor in the reduction in demand if the US government charged major taxes on gasoline.

Here's a clock of how much the US oil addiction costs. It's nearly half of the US national debt. A large chunk of the remainder is interest.

Total Fossil Fuel Imports

The answer was, and still is, tax tax tax. Only through crippling taxes can the US decrease it's oil demand. A sudden spike in taxes might hurt the consumer, but it might just decrease global oil demand by as much as ten percent overnight, and much more in the long run.

What will the result be? Demand goes down, prices goes down. It's that simple.

Furthermore, heavy tax might actually boost the rise of a young industry. Much like cheap gas popularized the gas guzzlers, huge taxes could spawn the rush for hybrids and later, electric vehicles.

Healthy car sales leads to a healthier economy.

It could also help save the environment, which alone should be reason enough.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is Intergalactic Travel Another Step Closer?

Sci-fi movies show wormholes and warp speed travel, while modern scientists struggle with theories and overcoming problems in outerspace. One problem however may have just been solved by an astronomers study. There might just be an intergalactic highway on our Solar System's doorstep.

See article posted recently on the Globe and Mail,.

Currently, the majority of our electricity starts with the process of producing a lot of heat: Coal is burned to create heat: Nuclear reactions cause intense amounts of heat; fossil fuels, etc.
The heat then boils water, creating steam, which was the basis of the stream train.
The steam builds up pressure, causing things to open and close. In the case of power plants, it causes turbines to turn.
That energy is converted into electricity and sent zapping into our homes.

The dilemma is, we need a cheap and endless source of intense heat here on earth to maintain electricity generation.

We may not have found it here yet, but according to this article, it exists in space in the form of a web of superheated dark matter and other elements that connect the Universe like a giant spider web.

In theory, the heat could form a sort of energy highway through space. Tap into it and skim along like a street trolly that runs off electricity.

The closest strand might be so far away we'd never possibly get there. But if one is close, and we had the technology to tap into the heat of the dark-matter highway, travelling off to explore the galaxy could become a reality.

Hybrids and the Canada US price discrepancy

Someday soon I hope to be in the market to buy a brand new car. To ease my carbon footprint conscience, I've decided I'm buying a hybrid vehicle. Due to my present state of poverty, I'm doing my research on the best deals before jumping into the market.

My most irksome discovery has come from the difference in price between Canada and the USA.

If you buy a car in Ontario, you have to pay both the GST, at 6% and the PST at 8%.
If you buy the car in the USA, you only have to pay the GST when importing to Canada, plus whatever tax the USA charges. So automatically you've saved yourself a few percent on Provincial Sales Tax.

States with no sales tax are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.
Other State tax rates fluctuate, averaging around 5%. A list of tax rates can be found here.

I've priced out the following Hybrids, according to their respective Canadian and American websites.

Toyota Prius
Canada - $29,500
USA - $21,500
Savings - $8000
Percentage difference - 37.2%

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Canada $30,660
USA - $25,650
Savings - $5010
Percentage difference - 19.5%

Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Canada - $41,075
USA - $34,200
Savings - 6875
Percentage difference - 20.1%

Honda Civic Hybrid
Canada - $26,350
USA - 22,600
Savings - $3750
Percentage difference - 16.5%

Nissan Altima Hybrid
Canada - $33,998
USA - $25,480
Savings - $8518
Percentage savings 33.4%

I can tell a rip off when I see one. The scary part is, the price premium in Canada isn't just on cars, it's on almost everything. If you were to do all your electronics shopping in the states, you'd save a 15-40% on what you pay in Canada. Some things I've bought are child car seats, strollers and jewelery.
I'd recommend to anyone living in Canada, at or near a border, if you need to make a big purchase or a few moderate ones, take a trip over the border and do your shopping there. Even if you have to stop at the border and pay 6% tax, it's well worth it!

I sometimes think of the business opportunity, if one were to somehow tap into the discrepancy by taking care of all the legal details when importing stuff to Canada...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Most memorable travel drinks...

There wasn't just one drink, but rather four that come to mind as deliciously memorable.

Place - It wasn't necessarily the most delicious beer I'd ever drank, but certainly the most satisfying. We'd been in The Sudan for two weeks, a dry Islamic country that condemns alcohol. Most of our time had been spent battling through bureaucracy and gathering various permits to legalize our travel plans and mere presence in Sudan.
The desert sun was powerful and the heat coming through the windows of the beach buggy felt like a furnace blowing onto my face.

Up ahead, my good friend Ian had come to a stop. I caught up and, thankful for the respite, took a place under the shade of the tarpaulin which pulled out from the side of his landy.

Ian fished around in his tiny fridge and returned with two cold Ethiopian beers. Words can't describe the unexpected appearance of a cold beer in stiflingly hot desert. It felt like a reward for our tough drive through the rocky desert. It also had a bonus element of satisfaction, we were breaking the law. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in the Islamic country Sudan.

Most refreshing - I'd had a long day travelling all the way from Morocco to Gibraltar. It was summer, and I was exhausted and thirsty from having walked up the steep hill to the centre of Gibraltar. Having lived in Morocco, I never thought much of the local Heinekin beer. It was average. On this day, for some unknown reason, I ordered a half-pint of Heinekin from what was advertised as the oldest pub in Gibraltar. The first sip was delicious, amazingly delicious. Ice cold and incredibly crisp and refreshing, as though all of the beer traits advertised in a commercial were exploding onto my tongue (except for the bikini models that is).
I felt the urge to order a second, but digressed. I preferred to have the memory of that one delicious, crisp and cold beer to remain fixed as the best beer I'd ever drank.

Best hot drink - I was in Kenya. It was morning and I'd camped out in a small nature reserve next to a crystal-blue lake called Bogoria. I had some premium Kenyan coffee that I'd bought from a supermarket. It was the stuff that's rumoured to be too good for export and reserved for Kenyan consumption.
Using my camping stove, I boiled up half a litre of water in a small pot.
Next, using a funnel I'd bought specifically for this purpose, a coffee filter and two spoons of coffee grounds, I carefully poured the boiling water over the grains, and drained them into my coffee cup.
It was a time consuming process. Finally, I went to sip the coffee. Again, it could have been a commercial where a coffee drinker shows the delicious satisfaction of sipping a robust brew. That's how I felt, surprised by the rich flavour bouncing around the back of my tongue and lingering deliciously with the breaths that followed.

Most delicious non-alcoholic.

I was in Zanzibar. I find it difficult to say many good things about Zanzibar. It's corrupt, disappointing, touristy and dangerous. Street hassle is as bad as I've seen. The police would rather lock you up, call you a liar, and take your last dollar than help out a scammed tourist.
The Island has it's good points, and I became friends with a couple local business owners and my teacher during my study-stay in the town. I was on the cheap when I went there, unlike millionaire tourists who stay in the highly secure five star resorts.
One day, I stopped in a puny Zanzibar restaurant and ordered a Passion fruit Lassie. I'd had the Indian yoghurt drinks before, they were always a nice change and helped take the zing out of a spicy curry.
It was sweet and delicious. One sip had me addicted. Creamy and fruity, with just the right zing and the lingering taste of passion fruit. As the remnant of flavour diminished, like a disappearing ghost on the tongue, I felt myself instinctively reaching for another addictive sip.

I often find myself trying to rekindle the drinking memories. I scour the supermarkets and luxury coffee shops like starbucks in search of a perfect Kenyan brew. I order a different brand of beer every chance I get, but never get the same satisfaction as I did from that cold Gibraltar Heinekin.

The closest I ever come is a nice sunset drink, on a holiday or a nice weekend, with friends and family, after a long hard day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Moroccan Canadian Visa struggle, continued...

It's an ongoing saga. I've blogged about our visa battles at the Canadian embassy before.

It was December that I sent the application for Siham's permanant resident visa in, and shortly after Christmas we received a letter saying it would take seven months to be processed, although times could vary.

The website says something different. It claims the expected time for visa processing in Rabat is the following.

30% of cases are processed within 4 months.
50% of cases are processed within 5 months.
70% of cases are processed within 6 months.
80% of cases are processed within 7 months.

Considering I'm Canadian, my wife's Moroccan, and we have a son, I expected to be on the shorter end of that process, meaning we'd be processed sometime in around March/April.

My wife's been visiting in Canada for two and a half months now, and is waiting to hear about the visa.

We called, emailed, and faxed the embassy to find out a more accurate timetable for when she could expect to have her application processed. She was told, late April, early May.

It's now mid-May. We still haven't heard anything, and I'm getting nervous.

Our first application, which we sent in three years ago, mysteriously disappeared. It takes a lot of time, and money, to gather all the forms for an application, and to have it never arrive is really frustrating.

It might have been the Moroccan postal service.
It might have been the Canadian postal service.
It might have been.... Something more sinister.

When Siham moved to Canada, or technically came to visit on her visitor's visa, we faxed the address change form to the Canadian embassy in Rabat.

A couple weeks later, I was wondering how her application was going, and logged into the CIC website. The application status said, "In process since January 7th."

To my surprise, according to the website, the address hadn't changed. We were still registered in Morocco. So I went online and changed it according to the website instructions.

A couple weeks later, I checked again.
Status, "In process." Our address was still listed as Rabat.

So Siham called, and was told we should send the fax again just in case. We were also told to send a fax to another Canadian number. The immigration said not to worry about the address change appearing on the internet, because it was likely the embassy had the address change and it was under control.

Based on our previous run-ins with Canadian immigration in Rabat, I don't want to take anything for granted. My wife's experience trying to get visas has, so far, been a nightmare.

Hopefully the visa status will change soon on the internet.
Hopefully we'll get a letter, or a phone call, or something letting us know what the next step in her application process is.

So we wait, biding our time.