Energy Sustainability: The American Approach

So, everybody is talking about gas prices, many times in crisis-couched language. 


I want to get something straight before I move on: I am on your side, dear reader.  I would like to see the US be energy independent, I’d like it to be the most energy-efficient nation on earth.  I’d like to see us have the lowest per-capita production of greenhouse gases of any developed country (even though I’m sort-of a skeptic in the global warming area, I really just want the Europeans to find something new about the US to whine about).

I’m on your side OK?

Now, let me shock my conservative friends, and maybe get back a little goodwill with Southern Beale  …

When it came to energy policy, I’d say that Jimmy Carter had things about right.

Excuse me…

…OK, sorry, had to take a shower after that. 🙂  Seriously, I’d say policy-wise (on energy and energy alone) Carter understood the problem and was WAY ahead of his time.  In fact, I think he could have gone farther.

Have I become a liberal?  Should I sign up for my “Yes We Can” bumper sticker?  Hardly.  Carter was doomed to failure, as any approach by HRC or McCain would be (and maybe Obama – but he MAY be the man to pull this off, I don’t know).  You see, I think what Carter’s approach represented (along with this post by Mack) , is a profound misunderstanding of what makes Americans tick.

We Americans will conserve, for a good cause.  What we will not do, at least indefinitely, is hunker down.

We just don’t do it well.  Yes, there was rationing during WWII.  But my grandpa used to tell me stories.  People whined and complained the whole time.  People cheated when they could get away with it.  Had the war gone on another year, there probably would have been outright rebellion.

I think that what turned my generation off most about Carter was the feeling of hunkering down that flowed though all of his policies, not just his energy policies.  I remember the whole misery index thing, and the “malaise”. 

Remember when he said this?  “I think it’s inevitable that there will be a lower standard of living than what everybody had always anticipated… The only trend is downhill.”

You just don’t say that kind of stuff to Americans.  Only people who don’t understand Americans (individually and corporeally) say things like that. 

Now, I have recently learned that a majority of bloggers are pessimists, but I can tell you from a lifetime’s worth of experience and layman’s study that the majority of Americans are optimists.  Heck, I’d go so far to say that the majority of us are dreamers.

How do I know?  Think about it.  I don’t care what Michael Savage says, people do NOT emigrate to America to get on the dole.  Britain, Germany and France may have their share of that kind of immigrant, but that’s a fairy tale here.  Have you ever spoken to a first generation American?  They are dreamers, every darned last one of them.

I’ve said it before: America is an optimistic country because that’s where all the optimists went.  And it’s in our national DNA.  Yes, even in the poorest neighborhoods – I’ve spent my fair share of time in fellowship with those in poverty (albeit those who are overtly Christian and filed with a certain kind of “joy”) – I hear more optimism than I’ve ever heard in a crowd of college aged suburban kids.

That’s why I believe in American exceptionalism.  NOT that there is something morally superior about our country, or that God blesses us more than other nations.  I think America is exceptional because the majority of its people are optimists and dreamers.

Now, this national character causes us to make some profound blunders from time to time, but it also means that we, as a people, will bravely dare instead of…well, hunkering down.

We alway eventually rebel against walls and ceilings and fences.  Always.  I love that about America.

So, you want energy sustainability, energy independence, lowering of greenhouse gases?  Do not approach the problem as a problem, but a contest.  Americans will sacrifice ANYTHING in the name of winning a contest.

The space race is a good example.  Americans normally do not shine well to runaway government spending, and there was a little complaining at the time, but the idea of BEATING the Russians to the moon caused the people to overlook differences over the insane spending that was neccessary to get to the moon.  To this day, we still consider it a good investment, mainly because, well, we beat the Russians.

The Russians are still pretty good bad guys, but I think that we need new villians if we are going to come together and get energy independent.  And, the middle eastern countries are not powerful enough to be boogeymen (not to mention the fallout from declaring a cold war on Islamic countries).

No, if I were the president, I would name the Chinese the enemy, and I would couch a goal of energy independence as THE way we could kick Chinese ass.  One, China really is the biggest long-term threat to the superiority of the US on the world stage.  And two, the people that run the country are very, very bad guys.

Finally, if America were to become the most fuel efficient on earth, we would have an economic advantage over the Chinese (they have fuel costs, too) that would far outweigh their advantage in labor costs.  If we want to stay number one, we need an advantage.  Energy indepenence is it.

Have a goal?  The answer with Americans is to ALWAYS appeal to their optimism and competitive instincts.  Asking them to hunker down is just a good way to lose elections over and over again.

What A Lovely Ride

The antidote for a rough day or week is a lullaby by James Taylor.  Last night, we let James sing us to sleep with his signature “Sweet Baby James”.  I think I like the idea so much, I’m going to move it to late Friday nights and do it weekly – a different Taylor copyright violation 😉 to help us wash away the cares of the week.  When I’ve run out of Taylor tunes, we’ll find another artist for our weekly lullaby.  For now, enjoy Secret O’ Life, the mellow exploration of metaphysics and deep philosophy, made into sweet poetry.



“Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothin’ to it.”

“It’s OK to feel afraid, but don’t let it stand in your way”

Although this song could have easily slipped into nihilism (it is existential at its core), instead, Taylor turns it into “a lovely ride”.  And that’s just what we need at the end of a hard week.

Goodnight, my friends.

A Climate Change Question

I want you to do me a favor, and read this speech given by Micheal Crichton at the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy in Washington DC on November 6, 2005.  It’s long, but it’s VERY important that you get where Crichton is coming from so you can get where I am coming from.

I love when he talks about how our worst fears are mostly unfounded, but that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about.

Complexity Theory is very dear to me, and key to the way I look at the world, both at work and at home.  At work, it manifests itself in changes to programs, which in turn cause incredible problems in other programs that on the surface do not seem to be related.  Sometimes I fall prey to linear thinking, when computer systems, no matter what Cobol programmers tell you, are in no means linear.  It is EXTREMELY important to view a computer system in a holistic way.  I think this is also true in “the way the world works”.

So, I want to apply this thinking to our modern discussion about climate change.  (By the way, if you think the name of the crisis changing to “climate change” from “global warming” is happenstace – you have a thing or two to learn about marketing).

Now, don’t worry, I’m not appraoching this as a “denier”. In fact, I’ll grant every assertion ever made by Al Gore for purposes of this discussion.  But, understanding how the world works (especially from a systems engineering perspective), I wonder if we know what we’re doing as much as we claim.

Here’s my question: Let’s say we institute every proposal out there, and it works.  We reverse the upward temperature trend to a downward one.  Have we given any thought to how we’ll stop the downward trend?

Do the scientists who study these things know, really know, what the ideal concentration of CO2 would be to maintain the ideal temperature? And do we know the ideal temperature?  What happens if we overcompensate, as one would do when his car begins sliding on ice?  How do we reverse THAT trend?  Start burning wood and coal on a massive basis?

There are no Change Control policies in complex systems such as the earth’s climate.  We have to think these things through, and I’m not sure we have, because we’ve been so focused on the problem.

Certainly there are scientists who have given thought to this, right?  Can one of you point me to a layman’s synopsis, because I am genuinely curious.

Hope in the Bridge

During the short time I was in college (majoring in beer), my circle of friends thought I was the most brilliant songwriter they had ever heard.  They puffed me up all the time, listening to my oh-so angsty songs of loneliness and social inequity.  I bought into it, and mentally prepared myself to be the next Dylan.

One of the people in this circle of friends (at the time a roommate of a longtime friend of mine, annechen ) was a Recording Industry Management major, and pitched my songs to a publisher in Nashville as part of a project.  I was secretly hoping for validation of my brilliance, maybe even a publishing deal.

What I got, instead, was a harsh mirror showing just what a mess my songs were.

Forget the sloppy phrasing, the broken narrative, the forced rhyming, the unimaginative chord structure.  Yes, the executive let me know about all of these things.  But what stuck with me, what sticks with me to this day, was the criticism that my songs didn’t let people up for air.  I held the listener underwater until they drowned, emotionally.


There is a rule (or at least there was) in Nashville songwriting that goes like this: it doesn’t matter how down you take them in the verses and the chorus, but you’ve got to give them hope in the bridge.  It doesn’t matter if it’s one line, or part of a line, an effective song never, ever goes without giving at least a glimmer of hope.

So, I started listening to songs on the radio, and in my album collection, and there it was,plain as day.  Sure, there were exceptions (He Stopped Loving Her Today comes to mind), but I was amazed at how many successful songs followed this formula.  And how songs I hated did not (Eve of Destruction – has there ever been a more stupid song?  I’d rather listen to Macarena).

Being angst ridden, one of my favorite songs at the time was the old Carpenters hit, “Goodbye to Love”.  Check out the opening lyrics:

I’ll say goodbye to love
No one ever cared if I should live or die
Time and time again the chance for love has passed me by
And all I know of love is how to live without it
I just can’t seem to find it.

The song goes on like that for 3 minutes. But, check out the bridge:

What lies in the future is a mystery to us all
No one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls
There may come a time when I will see that I’ve been wrong
But for now this is my song.

I knew that the publisher was right, even though I refused to accept it because my ego had been so bruised.  When I finally did start writing again, I incorporated this rule, not just into songs, but into sermons, short stories, blog posts (for the most part).

So anyway, I thought of that when reading this post by John Lamb at Hispanic Nashville.  He gets it. He understands how to be an effective activist, evangelist,salesman, whatever you want to call it.  Yes, he spends 80% of the post highlighting a problem:

It’s only a matter of time before the misery strategy moves the Doomsday Clock to the time when we wake up and see how awful we have become.

 but then he includes this:

If we are willing to listen, however, we can be inspired to change our laws without such suffering. From USA Today:

“The pope can’t change the laws of our country,” [Bishop Thomas] Wenski says. “Hopefully he will touch the hearts of many people in our country.”

You see what he did there?  He let us up for air.  He not only made us look at our own shame, he gave us something to aspire to.

This post would not be counted in the Schleprock Index, because he included that one line. 

Think of your readers.  We know what the problems are.  You’ve told us over and over and over again that we’re on the Eve of Destruction.  What do we do about it?  You’ve told us how things suck, now tell us how to not make them suck. 

You’ve told us ad nauseum how bad Pepsi is.  Now, we’re ready for the pitch.  Tell us how good Coke is.

Everybody remembers Frank Capra’s happy endings.  But 80% of his movies were about awful stuff happening to people.  Why, then, do we tend to think of his movies as inspiring?  Why do we, every Christmas, watch a movie about a man’s life falling apart, about his dreams never coming true, about his despair to the point of suicide? 

Answer that question, and you’ll get to the heart of what I’ve been getting at.

There Is A Young Cowboy

Is there a romantic male worth his salt who does not get all wistful when hearing the first verse of “Sweet Baby James”?

One day, I’m going to see the stars in a wide open sky, unfiltered by suburban lights.  I’m going to play guitar by campfire on a nippy autumn night, thinking about women and glasses of beer.

I know, I know.  The idealised version is never as good as the real thing.  In real life, our romantic notions are messier, smellier, harder.  But,thinking and dreaming about them is part of the stuff of life, no? 

So, I’ll let the vision in my head sing me to sleep.  Goodnight, all you moonlight ladies.

Wousy Wousy Woo

SchleprockI’m working on an interesting project, well maybe only interesting to me, wherein I gauge pessimism and despair in the Nashville blogsphere.  Full disclosure: I’m an extreme optimist, annoyingly so.  If that isn’t already quite clear, it will be in a moment.

Now, I’ve always known that certain blogs I like to visit are downright depressing.  I knew that at these blogs there seemed to be a preponderance of “things suck” posts – either personally, nationally, or world-wide.  Some seem to border on despair.  But, it was just a feeling.

Being a numbers guy, I thought it would be cool to quantify it.

So, I’ve come up with The Schleprock Index.  Think of it as a quantification of the answer to the question, “How depressing is it to read my blog?” 

For you youngins, Schleprock was a character on the Flintstones spin-off cartoon “Pebbles and Bam-Bam” which aired in the early 1970’s.  He walked around with a cloud constantly over his head, mumbling “wousy-wousy-woo…”.  He brought bad luck to all who came in contact with him.

The formula for the Schleprock Index is simple: in a given time frame, what percentage of posts are negative descriptions of the way things are?  Examples might be a description of how one’s life personally is going through a rough patch, or societal “hell in a handbasket” posts, or lamentations of world affairs.  The scope is not important; it’s the negativity I want to measure.

So, to get the Shleprock index, you divide the number of negative posts by the total number of posts.  This gives you a percentage (which is what the index really is).  My index does NOT count purely political posts, because what I want to measure is a negative outlook on life and the world in general, not on a particular political candidate or party.

The only imperfection to the index, which I am still working on, is that it does not account for tone: “I can’t find a date” and “we’re all going to die in the impending apocalypse!” both count the same.  I need to find a way to statistically weight the results accounting for tone.

The index offers no commentary, simply holds up a mirror, and you can do with it what you will, or ignore it altogether if you enjoy spreading the misery.  Some people do; that’s your business.  I’m not saying that it isn’t important to point out societal problems.  But I also think that man was not created to live in despair.  He will not live in a place devoid of hope.

I’m compiling a list for April.  My own index at Shoot The Moose is low this month, even for my optimistic outlook.  I came in at a Schleprock index of 14.3 .  Granted, it would have been a LOT higher in December when my wife had her cancer and surgery, but I would doubt if I ever would have an index of over 50 (which is the number at which your blog is considered “depressing” according to the Schleprock Index).

(On a side note, it would be extremely unfair for me to include Kat in my published results.  There should probably be a personal tragedy exemption, I would think.)

I’ll post some numbers once I get them compiled.  But, in my research, I found something that was eyebrow raising, to say the least.

Southern Beale has a Schleprock Index of 61.5 in April.

The Homeless Guy only has a Schleprock index of 38.5.

Just sayin’.

The rest of my research should be pretty interesting, to say the least.

Churchy Phrases (Methodist Edition)

Kat’s post about churchy phrases made me laugh.  Having been in quite a number and variety of churches through X-Alt’s music ministry, I recognized them as primarily Baptist (although I’ve heard them in Assembly of God type churches as well).  Now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard them in a Methodist church, so I thought I would add a few phrases I’ve hear, especially in “city” Methodist churches (I don’t want to say “urban” because that means something entirely different in this day and time).

We’ll bring it up in the [X] Committee

This means “We don’t really want to do whatever it is you’re suggesting, but we don’t want to hurt your feelings.  The church bureaucracy will squash your idea, and we can say ‘we TRIED’.

Peace And Justice

“Peace” is and important concept in Christianity.  “Justice” (IMHO) even more so.  I think each of these should be huge part of our mission in the world, personally and corporally as a body of Christ.  However “peace and justice”, when phrased like that and spoken from the pulpit really means “You can get your Obama bumper sticker at the associate pastor’s house”.

I’ll be brief

I’ve been in many churches where, if things are running behind, they’ll stretch the service until the entire program is complete.  Heck, I’ve been in urban churches whose service would last 2, 2 and a half, even 3 hours!  But, most Methodist churches run a tight ship on a strict schedule.  If things get behind, it is up to the pastor to set things right.  He has to cut one of his three points, or drop the joke about the old lady and the junk dealer.  If he doesn’t do this, prominent members of the church will begin looking at their watches.  After all, we’ve got to beat the Baptists to O’Charleys!

There are many more, but Kat had three, so I’ll stop there, before I get excommunicated, which in the Methodist Church means they stop telling you when the committee meetings are. 🙂

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