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When did conservatives abandon conservation?

Pardon my asking, but don't the words "conserve" and "conservative" come from the same root? I used to think so, but after talking to a few self-proclaimed conservatives these past couple of weeks, I'm not so sure any more.

Republicans are singing a distinct tune these days. (Of course, it should be mentioned that "Republican" and "conservative" are no longer synonymous. Then again, after watching the GOP-controlled Congress roar through a few trillion dollars in the first years of this millennium, I don't know if they ever were.) According to several "conservatives," including a couple who are running for office, the skyrocketing price of gasoline shouldn't prompt us to conserve. What we need to do is go out and drill for more oil.

Why can't we do both?

I've put this question to some "conservatives" recently. Their eyes glaze over, and they spout some GOP-talking-point, non-sequitur-type response of, "We don't want the government telling us what kind of car we have to drive." This is in the dreaded fear that the gub'mint might take the draconian step of actually raising fuel-efficiency standards at some point in our lifetime. Then I usually get some kind of lecture on economics.

As I've said in the past, economics would be elevated to the level of a joke if only it were funny. People who attempt to use economics as though it were a science need help. When speculators' greed and consumers' jitters can have an effect on the boiling point of water, then, and only then, will economics be on the same level of real science (and then only because the real sciences will have been downgraded).

My brilliant and highly educated wife has done extensive postgraduate work in economics, and she likes to draw intersecting curves and speak to me pedantically about equilibrium. I listen when she talks, because she's passionate about what she believes in (plus she's real good-looking), but when the GOP guys try talking economics, they're just taking the party line, and they're about as convincing as a pro-wrestling announcer.

They talk about how it's a global economy, and about how India and China are buying up all the oil, and blah, blah, blah. But when I mention conservation, they scoff. Oh, that won't have any effect on the price. Well, either your so-called economic principles work, or they don't. Even as skeptical as I am, I believe that lowering demand will bring down prices.

As for China and India, why don't we take advantage of the situation? Our three countries contain 40 percent of the world's population and a whole lot of economic clout. How about if we form some kind of union to promote conservation and force prices down? Or does that make too much sense?

We can't ignore these giants any more. Heck, we become aware of India every time we call a customer help line. Which reminds me ...

The other day, my family went to a restaurant. The parents of the kids on one of the teams I coach had graciously given me a $50 Visa gift card. My wife had used it on a previous lunch date with my son, and there was about $25 left on it. When the bill came this time, she asked the server to use the balance on the Visa and put the rest on her American Express card.

The server came back and said that the Visa wouldn't go through, not at $25, and not even at $20. I briefly wondered why they had run it at $20, but I just shrugged, and we put the entire thing on the Amex.

The next day, I called Visa and talked to Rajneeshpur (who said his name was Brad). He claimed that restaurants run the card and add a 20 percent surcharge for gratuity (which I always pay in cash) and then take it back off at the end of the transaction. That might explain why they ran it at $20 ... but it should have worked at that value. Plus, that presents a form of Zeno's paradoxes. If they're always adding 20 percent to the total, you'll never be able to get to a zero balance on the card.

So then I called the restaurant's customer-service line and got somebody who sounded like he was from Texas. (Those Indians are clever.) He said that under no circumstances would the restaurant ever do that, but he had heard that Visa does. Oddly enough, they both recommended that I use the card at a department store, which doesn't add 20 percent. Like I actually shop in department stores!

Until I get to the bottom of this, I'm not eating at that restaurant again, and I'm tempted to send the card back to Visa and tell them to insert it diagonally.

Which, getting back to the original point, is what we should be telling Saudi Arabia and all the other "oil-producing countries." Unlike some people, I don't think we should invade them and try to take their oil. Heck, we did that in Iraq and haven't gotten one drop. I do think that we could muscle them through conservation.

And even if it doesn't have a huge impact, isn't it still the right thing to do? Or is conservation not one of your precious family values?

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