June 16th, 2008

Toddler Fun: We Don't Need No Stinking Climbing Wall!

This morning, when I was in the bathroom, T. decided he wanted a toothbrush but did not ask me for one. Instead, he stepped on his step and reached for it. It was too far back, so he took a look at the front of the cabinet, stretched up so he could get his toes around the _knobs on the cabinet_ and used them to stand on so he could reach the toothbrush. He got the toothbrush, carefully stepped back down to the step and then to the floor.


And I was wondering if the climbing wall would be too much for him. Not from any technical perspective, altho he may have his father's caution with respect to moderate heights.

Washington Post series on the housing boom/bust/aftermath

Part 2 is out today; here's a bit to whet your interest:

"As his team analyzed the individual loan files, Zimmer said he was struck by evidence of fraud, such as doctored bank statements. "Fraudulent loans were a big part of the subprime mess," he said. Mortgage brokers forged borrowers' signatures and pumped up their income, he said. People seeking to buy and sell a home for a quick profit lied that they were going to live in the home -- qualifying for a lower interest rate. But People's Choice calculated that it would have been too complicated and expensive to go after fraud, Zimmer said.

Even as People's Choice sought to preserve its business, the housing climate continued to deteriorate. Many borrowers were defaulting so quickly that the company did not have time to pool those mortgages and sell them off as securities."

"too expensive and complicated to go after fraud" when "borrowers were defaulting" before the hot potato could be passed along to the next chump in the chain? Nice math, guys!

Read it all at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/creditcrisis/

Well, you'll have to wait until Tuesday for part 3.

Railing at the economists: coverage of gas thefts/thieves

More from the idiot economists over at the NYT:


Basic question: I'm not seeing any articles about gas siphoning, even tho gas is expensive. And besides, how could they sell it?

Essentially, a question asked by someone who is convinced you'd have to buy a lot of stuff to start a garden, and that mending clothes isn't economical. I should quit reading this stuff, but the headlines suck me in and it's too late by the time I've clicked because I read too fast. Just as a lark, I went over to google news and typed in "gas thieves", to see if articles are, in fact, hard to find on this topic (I've seen a half dozen over the last few weeks, personally, but maybe I was filtering for them).


Here, the auto mechanics note that smart siphoners have bypassed the little gas tank door, in favor of cutting the gas line directly. Clever!


As with the previous article, locking gas caps are sold out. We also learn that the cops don't track gas theft separately and many people don't report it figuring it's too low dollar to bother with.


All three of the above note that trucks are particularly targeted, presumably because they have bigger tanks. Possibly also because there are a lot of desperate truckers out there willing to buy diesel that, er, fell off the back of, er, a truck. Hmmm.


While I don't have the other links, this farmer is suffering from fuel theft. The other article said that irrigation pumps were a particular target. Again, some of the temptation is how big the tanks are; I'm sure isolation contributes as well.


Clearly, the author of this piece is acting like this a new thing and that locking gas caps are a new idea to their readers/viewers. However, the final graf is an all-too-familiar:

"Auto parts workers say some thieves have gotten so desperate that they have begun drilling under gas tanks to empty them."

Classic Boise: gosh, life moves a lot slower out here and we don't have the problems of the Big Cities. Hardly. They just lie about it.


Siphoning from a cop car! And the news van! Nice! And working airport parking lots. Clever -- you can be pretty sure you'll have a leisurely time working your way through an entire fleet before someone shows up. Sort of like mosquitos. Or vampire bats. Gas vampires. And like black flies, they'll drill you before they drink up (the tank, anyway). I particularly love that they advocate locking gas caps as the last graf -- AFTER they note thieves are drilling tanks. Yeah, locking gas caps will help with _that_ problem.

Everything I've quotes is from before the NYT column, but is less than a week old. I've searched for gas thieves on google in the past (6-12 months ago?) and mostly come up with drive-off articles. Only one such article showed up on the first page of results this time.


Those Canadians are so nice! They don't want to make people prepay because of the inconvenience. And yet some Canadians will almost strand people after nearly drinking the tank dry.


This article is another drilling article which notes that drive-offs have largely ended due to changes in gas station policies (won't turn on the pump unless you pay in advance). It starts with a sympathetic mother driving her kid to school and continues to describe how SUVs and pick-ups are favorite targets for thieves going after the fuel line and/or drilling the tank because it's easier to get at the underside. Again, the special attractions of big rigs and delivery vans because they have bigger tanks.


NJ state employees charged with gas theft! It's the new white collar crime, apparently. These were all for personal use.

This one probably went up after the NYT column, but it's a great summary. Gas over price X means the locking gas caps fly off the shelves. Drilling. Bunch of homes in a neighborhood all hit at once. Police only just starting to hear about it. No more drive-offs because the stations require prepay -- it's all here. Including the 70 year old guy they charged for pumping 900+ gallons from underground tanks (that's the kind of coverage I'd been seeing over the last few weeks -- thieves hitting gas stations with tanks hidden in winnebagos and stuff like that).

Yeah. That's why we need an economist to explain the lack of news coverage of gas thieves. To be fair, we could use an explanation of what the thieves are doing with the gas -- is there a resale market? Some of the articles I've read in the past indicate there is (desperate truckers buying cheaper diesel because they bid on a job and then their fuel costs went up), but I've been unsuccessful tracking any of that down right now. I have a tough time imagining someone needs 900+ gallons for himself, but hey, maybe it's a farmer replacing what someone else stole from him. My first google efforts have failed to turn anything up.

Interesting little teaser in this article about drive-offs:


This is an involved discussion of prepay policy at small gas stations in rural Illinois. Some of the driveoffs involved a guy with a bunch of canisters in his pickup bed; he was definitely reselling. Stations without prepay were differentially targeted (duh), but still reluctant to impose a prepay rule for the usual idiot reasons (that means we don't trust our customers! well, YEAH!).

"Thefts have been reported across Madison and St. Clair counties, officials said, including a case last week in which an Edwardsville man was charged with stealing from three Glen Carbon stations, then selling the gas to others and turning a profit." They got him on camera, connected him to other thefts and think they know where he was selling it and that other people were involved. That's organized crime, and I cannot believe that it's only happening in rural Illinois.

Want a _real_ economic argument for why there haven't been very many articles on gas theft?

(1) Well, there _have_ been a bunch of articles.
(2) Actually doing real journalism involves like, a little effort. Which costs money. Which profit-making media conglomerates don't really like to do, if they can help it.

So what you see instead is a bunch of the small town papers and news organizations covering it when, presumably, they are inundated with complaints about it.

This one's a really great article:


The idea here is that quite a lot of the crime might not even be noticed by the victim, since
it's done without damaging the car or emptying the tank (3-5 gallons from each vehicle in a lot, say). The article concludes by noting that probably a lot of siphoners are career criminals or truly down-and-out and depending on how they're doing it, they could really damage their health.

If this is the case, it might just be that people are getting their next fix with a gallon of
stolen gas.

ETA: Who is buying the stolen fuel, Take Two:



Again, farms, trucks, transportation yards all favored targets for thieves. This article also ties it into metals thefts, which makes sense to me. Without any support, this article suggests desperate truckers for the fuels. Solving the metals problem isn't that hard; stop the cash payments for metals. At least one state instituted a photo system (we'll take your picture and your address and send you a check, okay?).

These guys say truck stops are fencing the stuff, but supply no evidence ("It's believed the fuel is then sold on the black market to truck stops."). (Where is this "black market"? Is it near the Shaw's? Maybe Macy's?)

And FINALLY! Evidence!

The farm gas is dyed red and doesn't have road taxes in it (makes sense), so you can _track_ it!


Basically: some guys with a pump (13 gallons/minute) were robbing farmers and selling to truckers. Ah! Keep it all in the family guys, cause you know how much nicer, kinder and gentler life is in the country, eh? The truckers couldn't resist, because they were getting killed on diesel prices. Law enforcement, while they can understand the temptation, aren't too sympathetic, because the red dye means everyone knew exactly what they were buying. They may charge the buyers as well as the thieves/sellers. As well they should!

Of Bikes, Pipes and the Gurgling Goodness

There've been some articles (hey, if an NYT guy can assert there _haven't_ been articles, I can assert I've seen articles without links) lately about how motorcycle events/sales/what have you are hurting, which is a little weird, of course, because scooters have taken off like a rocket, and some motorcycles get great gas mileage. Of course, the kind of motorcycles that have events built around them _don't_, which is really where we are at right now.

In the course of digging on this gas theft question, I ran across indications that people were so interested in motorcycles that people have been stealing them.


Of course, that's in a city where it's viable to ride motorcycles for commuting year round.

Once upon a time, one might lock one's bike (not motorcycle; bicycle) to a pipe to prevent it being stolen. These days, of course, there's a risk the pipe will be stolen. Well, probably not the ones you'd lock a bike to, but definitely the copper in a house -- or that operates the gate for the level crossing for the high speed commuter train. Gives me the willies sometimes.

It's all well and good to take advantage of this kind of trend to sell locking gas caps, but the cold hard truth is that is not going to be adequate in a world in which people are drilling tanks and cutting fuel lines and shoving a bucket underneath to capture the gurgling goodness for whatever purposes they might intend for it (resale? barter for a fix? to fuel their own vehicle to get to the next theft?).

You could _imagine_ a world in which the gas tank and lines were protected from this kind of thing, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see this as a feature in the future. But that certainly doesn't help us with our current cars. Anyone who can lock up their vehicle wherever they park it (garage, etc.) has an edge; I could sort of see that encouraging the split between drive vs. public transport/vanpool/carpool -- make someone _else_ take the gas theft risk associated with control of the vehicle. (Are park 'n' ride lots particularly subject to gas siphoning?)

As the world gets more fully connected, I could also imagine using cameras to protect lots/cars -- or even some kind of surveillance system retrofittable on an individual car/parking space. R. jokes that there are probably cars out on the road now where if they have a full tank of gas, the scrap value of the car + the gas in the tank is worth more than the book value of the car on Empty.