Category Archives: Energy Party

Before you fill up, here are a few safety tips…

When I was leaving the Marionette Theatre the other day, I decided to swing by Columbia’s Hydrogen Fueling Station, since I was close by and had never seen it before.

The good  news was that, had I been driving a hydrogen car, there would have been no waiting.

The bad news was the really scary series of warnings posted at eye level.

But then I got to thinking — such warnings would have been a good idea at the very first gasoline fueling station in a community, back in the days when folks weren’t accustomed to working with that extremely volatile substance.

Come to think of it, we DO have such warnings at gasoline stations — along with those that tell us not to operate our cellphones, and to place a container on the ground before pumping into it. We just tend not to notice them any more.

There’s a tradeoff with so many things that pack a lot of energy — gasoline, hydrogen, coal, nuclear. Once you get the economics to work — which tends to be tougher with the lower-risk sources such as wind and solar — it becomes a matter a matter of engineering things to minimize risk. Or so it seems to my nonexpert mind.

Here’s what the future looks like (and yes, Doc Brown, we’ll still need roads in 2015)

Last night, I saw “Back to the Future” for the first time in many a year. And I had to smile at the end. In 1985, it was still credible that we’d have flying cars in 2015. The shocking thing is that that leaves us only four years now. Well, at least it doesn’t take laying down much infrastructure, so I suppose it is conceivable (especially if we’re fueled by a Mr. Fusion).

But today, I saw something that is more likely to be our future — a plug-in electric car. In routine use.

I was visiting Mike Couick over at the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina in Cayce. As it happens, we were talking about sustainable energy (ADCO is working with the Central Midlands Council of Governments and a couple of private partners on a project for local governments). And when we walked outside after the interview, there was some right in front of us.

This Nissan Leaf belongs to ECSC, and is used to drive around the state on co-op business, which surprised me — I assumed it was for local use. How does it manage that sort of range? Mike said all the co-ops have charging stations.

Very cool, I thought.

Mike reminded me that this was really sort of retro, since the original automobiles were electric, before the internal combustion engine decided to eat the world (my wording, not his).

With that in mind, I can’t wait to get back to the future and drive one of these myself. And I’ll pass on the gullwing doors, Mr. DeLorean.

Do Lieberman and McCain have a new best bud?

Speaking of stuff in The Wall Street Journal today, Joe Lieberman had a good piece on the Opinion pages about the importance of the upcoming Tunisian elections.

You should read it all (if you can get past the pay wall), but what grabbed my easily-distracted attention was this:

Third, the U.S. should recognize that the foremost challenges for Tunisia’s new government will be economic, in spurring growth and reducing unemployment. While the U.S. cannot offer billions of dollars of direct aid, given our own economic challenges, there are other actions we can take. These include establishing a robust Millennium Challenge Corporation compact with Tunisia and expanding the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to operate there. Congress should also pass legislation, which I co-sponsored with Sens. John Kerry and John McCain, to establish a Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses, and modeled after similar efforts in Central Europe following the fall of communism.

For the longest time, it was Lieberman, McCain and Lindsey Graham doing everything together, including road trips. Then, there was a sort of transitional trio when Lieberman, Graham and Kerry worked together on trying to push an actual, coherent, comprehensive energy policy for the country (one that looked pretty good from an Energy Party perspective).

Then, Graham took all kinds of horrific grief from the most hateful ideological extremists in his own party from having had any dealings with a Democrat, and pulled out of the deal — tragically, thereby collapsing it.

Now, it’s Lieberman, McCain and Kerry? Is Kerry the new, replacement member of the Three Amigos? Is he Ringo to Graham’s Pete Best?

The USC biomass “travesty”

Hats off to Wayne Washington (and his editor — I always like to remember the editors) for a rather overwhelmingly thorough report today on the mess that is the University of South Carolina’s biomass-to-energy project. An excerpt from the lengthy package in The State today:

On June 28, 2009, an explosion rocked the biomass-fueled power plant on the campus of the University of South Carolina.

The force of the blast sent a metal panel some 60 feet toward the control office of the plant at Whaley and Sumter streets, according to documents obtained from USC by The State newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request.

No one was hurt, but USC officials were concerned enough about the “potentially lethal accident” that they ordered an independent safety review and, in a strongly worded letter to the company that had built the plant, made it clear that university staff would not be allowed back into the building until the review was completed.

The blast underscored what some USC officials privately grumbled about for years: That the plant has been a $20 million disaster, a money pit that was poorly planned and built by a company that had never constructed such a cutting-edge “green energy” power plant before.

Interviews with USC officials and a spokeswoman for the company as well as a review of more than 1,800 pages of documents show that…

Rich material for a discussion. Here’s how it is likely to go, although I look forward to unanticipated variations:

Some of you: Yet another example of USC wasting time and money on unproven, pie-in-the-sky energy alternatives and leaving us in a financial hole with little or nothing to show.

Others of you: What a classic case of the private sector not delivering — a Fortune 500 company that takes millions from a  public institution and doesn’t get the job done…

To me, the whole mess is too complex for simple conclusions, but here’s a stab: Some USC officials under the last administration made an unwise, expensive deal, while at the same time trying to insulate us from loss by getting the company to guarantee savings. Then after that, everything went wrong.

But tell me what y’all think.

How ridiculous can we get?

Just noticed this headline over at the WashPost:

Fuel prices cut into Obama popularity

How ridiculous, how fickle, how petty can the voting public be? Yeah, I know, we’re always like this, but whenever I see statistical proof of the capriciousness of the public affections, I am disillusioned yet again.

This, of course, is why we have never come up with a rational, comprehensive  energy plan. We have a conniption over gas prices going up a little bit — something that would certainly happen, along with a lot of other things, if we were to get serious about energy policy.

So we don’t. Ever. Because our politicians only work with one hand at a time, because they have one finger of the other constantly held up into the wind.

I mean, Obama didn’t even DO anything to make prices rise, and this happens, just the way it always does:

Obama, like previous presidents in times of high oil prices, is taking a hit. Only 39 percent of those who call gas prices a “serious financial hardship” approve of the way he is doing his job, and 33 percent of them say he’s doing a good job on the economy.

No wonder politicos are terrified to take action.

Everybody wants to talk about nuclear, but who wants to listen?

Last night I went for the first time to one of EngenuitySC’s Science Cafe sessions at the Capital City Club. I’d been meaning to go to one for quite some time, and I finally made it to this one.

So did a lot of people. When I called at the last minute to RSVP, the session was full. But I was told to come anyway, as there were usually no-shows.

So I showed up. And while there were a few empty seats as the session was starting, I stood at first in case a latecomer needed one of the seats. Otherwise, SRO.

Neil McLean, Executive Director of EngenuitySC, began the evening with a somewhat wary welcome to the crowd, noting that this was the biggest turnout ever, and that he saw quite a few… new faces… in the audience. He then expressed his hope that the interaction would be civil.

The topic? “Sustainable Nuclear Power: Perspectives on Risk and External Costs.” The speaker was Travis W. Knight, the acting director of USC’s Nuclear Engineering Graduate Program.

He didn’t have an easy night of it. As I tweeted at the time,

Nuclear skeptics in crowd won’t let speaker at Science Cafe get on with his presentation; one keeps interrupting to read from The Economist.

and later…

Neil McLean of EngenuitySC has to change rules — 1 question per person — to let Science Cafe speaker continue with nuclear presentation.

When Mary Pat Baldauf, sustainability facilitator for the city of Columbia, wrote back to say it sounded like she was missing a good one, I told her she was “You’re missing humdinger. Speaker fairly rattled by crowd’s hostile interruptions. No way to have a debate, much less a lecture.”

In retrospect — and things really did settle down after Neil imposed that rule, and the speaker began to hit his stride a bit better — maybe I made it sound more dramatic than it was.

But judge for yourself. Here’s a recording from the first few minutes of the lecture. You’ll note that there are three interruptions during the 3 minutes and 25 seconds on the recording, including one from the Economist reader.

For my part, I found the lecture informative. But I went away thinking, with what is happening in Japan, everybody wants to talk about nuclear power. But how many people want to listen?

Obama’s just looking better and better to me (and the UnParty) all the time

And no, this isn’t just because the Republicans who would oppose him seem engaged in a contest to see who can be the biggest whack job. It’s more about Obama himself.

Earlier, I indicated that Obama was, after a weak outing in 2008, looking more and more like the Energy Party candidate for 2012.

Well, now… and I’m even more happy about this… he’s looking more and more like he wants the nod of the UnParty.

I saw this most clearly reading a piece in the NYT’s Week In Review from Sunday, “Obama, Searching for a Vision.”

Well, first off, I don’t think Obama’s searching for a vision. I think he’s got one, and it looks clearer, and better, every day. Perhaps he is, as the piece suggests, “being pressed as never before to define what American liberalism means for the 21st century.” At least, pressed by some.

But what I think he’s doing is something much higher and better — defining pragmatism for the 21st century. This is what I’ve always liked about him, but as he comes to embody it more fully, as the right hates him more passionately and the left whines louder about how disappointing he is, I see him more favorably than ever.

Perhaps this can be explained most simply by the fact that he keeps doing stuff I agree with. Take this passage from the piece:

Mr. Obama has always cast himself as a pragmatist and he seems to be feeling his way in the post-midterm election environment. In some areas, he has retreated. The decision announced last week to try the accused Sept. 11 plotters in a military commission at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, represented a 180-degree reversal under pressure from congressional Republicans and some Democrats. His embrace of a free-trade pact with Colombia continued a new emphasis on trade for a Democrat who once vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta.

The war in Libya represents one of the most complicated issues for Mr. Obama as he sets out his own form of modern liberalism. The hero of the anti-war movement in 2008 effectively is adopting Mr. Clinton’s humanitarian interventions in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s as a model, while trying to distinguish his actions from Mr. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most of that I knew about, and have applauded. But somehow I missed that he had shaken off the completely irrational, amoral opposition of Big Labor to the Colombia Free Trade pact. Way to go, Mr. President!

Most political commentators, trapped in the extremely limiting notion that the politicians they write and speak about must either be of the left or right, can’t make him out. But he keeps making perfect sense to me. Perhaps I should send a memo out to the MSM letting them know that there’s a third way they can think of a politician (actual, there’s an infinite number of ways, but let’s not blow their little minds; one step at a time). There’s left (as “left” is popularly and imperfectly described) and right (as “right” is popularly and imperfectly described), and then there’s Brad Warthen. As in, “The candidate’s recent statements have been Warthenesque,” or “That was a distinctly Braddish move he made last week.”

It would open up whole new vistas for our national political conversation. Certainly a broader landscape than what we’re used to, with its limited expectations.

I LIKE a guy who at least tries to give us health care reform. I thought he didn’t go nearly far enough on that, but now that I see Republicans’ internal organs have turned inside-out in apoplexy at what little he’s done, I suppose he lowered his sights out of compassion for what REAL reform would have done to them.

I like a guy who realizes that closing Guantánamo (as both he AND McCain wanted to do, and generally for sound reasons) and trying all those guys in civil courts was impractical, and moves on.

And folks, please — he was never the “anti-war” candidate. Come on. He considered Iraq to be the “wrong war” — a respectable position to take — and that the “right war” was Afghanistan. Yeah, I have a beef with his timeline stuff, but at least he’s left a hole in that wide enough to drive a Humvee through. He’s been pragmatic about it. And yeah, maybe he got out-toughed by the French, but that’s a GOOD thing. Let France feel like the knight in shining armor for once. Maybe it will be less surly in the future.

But seriously, the guy just looks better all the time — from an UnParty perspective.

How many SC lawmakers does it take to screw up light bulbs?

You thought that SC lawmakers had already done everything they could possibly do to emphasize to the world that, if given the slightest excuse, they would secede all over again? Well, you were wrong.

These boys are creative, and they never miss a new way to celebrate the spirit of Nullification. This just in:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina legislators are throwing a lifeline to traditional incandescent light bulbs as they try to trump federal energy standards.

The House on Thursday approved legislation with a 76-20 vote that would allow companies to manufacture the bulbs in South Carolina and sell them here.

The measure needs routine final approval next week before heading to the Senate.

Federal energy standards have manufacturers turning to compact fluorescent, halogen and LED bulbs. Manufacturers phase out traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year.

Proponents say more efficient bulbs cost too much and they don’t like the light they provide.

The Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act allows manufacturers to make the traditional bulbs and stamp them as “Made in South Carolina.” They could only be sold in the Palmetto State.

Someone who doesn’t understand South Carolina — someone who thinks the sesquicentennial of secession is a commemoration of the way we were, rather than a celebration of who we ARE — might think that this is just a particularly moronic way of rejecting any kind of concern for the planet as “liberal,” and therefore beyond the pale.

But if you really do understand South Carolina, you realize that yes, it’s that, but it’s also a chance to relive the heady days of 1860, and cock a snook at the federal gummint. Especially that Obama.

So that’s, what? Three birds with one stone? Environmentalism. The Union. And Obama.

These guys aren’t dummies, no matter what you think. They are geniuses at what they do.

They’re going to keep trying until they provoke that Obama enough that he tries to resupply Fort Sumter. They’ll be ready for him, too.

Welcome to the Energy Party, Mr. Obama (I hope)

Hope. Change. Energy Party... /2008 file photo

Heard an encouraging report on the radio this morning that I can’t seem to find now online, but there’s this from the WSJ:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama, under pressure to respond to rising gas prices, will outline Wednesday a series of initiatives to cut the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, including new initiatives to expand oil production, increase the use of natural gas to power vehicles and increase production of ethanol….

The political heat over energy policy is rising in tandem with the price of gasoline and diesel fuels at filling stations, in a ritual that has become familiar in Washington since the oil price shocks of the mid-1970s. “We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now,” Mr. Obama said during a March 11 news conference. “Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes.”

The White House will cast the new effort, a combination of new ideas and previously announced initiatives, as an effort to deal with the nation’s long-term energy challenge, not just the high gas prices of the moment.

Mr. Obama will put forward an overall goal of reducing oil imports by one third over a decade, with half the reduction from decreasing consumption and half from increasing domestic supply, according to two people briefed by the White House…

And this from the NYT:

WASHINGTON — With gasoline prices rising, oil supplies from the Middle East pinched by political upheaval and growing calls in Congress for expanded domestic oil and gas production, President Obama on Wednesday will set a goal of a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade, aides said Tuesday.

The president, in a speech to be delivered at Georgetown University, will say that the United States needs, for geopolitical and economic reasons, to reduce its reliance on imported oil, according to White House officials who provided a preview of the speech on the condition that they not be identified. More than half of the oil burned in the United States today comes from overseas and from Mexico and Canada.

Mr. Obama will propose a mix of measures, none of them new, to help the nation cut down on its thirst for oil. He will point out the nation’s tendency, since the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, to panic when gas prices rise and then fall back into old gas-guzzling habits when they recede.

He will call for a consistent long-term fuel-savings strategy of producing more electric cars, converting trucks to run on natural gas, building new refineries to brew billions of gallons of biofuels and setting new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. Congress has been debating these measures for years.

The president will also repeat his assertion that despite the frightening situation at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex in Japan, nuclear power will remain an important source of electricity in the United States for decades to come, aides said.

He will respond to members of Congress and oil industry executives who have complained that the administration has choked off domestic oil and gas production by imposing costly new regulations and by blocking exploration on millions of acres of potentially oil-rich tracts both on shore and off.

The administration is not prepared to open new public lands and waters to drilling, officials said, but will use a new set of incentives and penalties to prod industry to develop resources on the lands they already have access to…

Wish I could find the radio report, because it pretty much painted what the president will have to say as being VERY Energy Party. As you may recall I took both Mr. Obama and John McCain to task in 2008 for being unworthy of Energy Party support, however many other virtues the two may have possessed (and as you know, I liked them both — it was the first time ever that both parties nominated my first choices in their respective fields).

But increasingly, Mr. Obama seems to GET IT — that it’s not about keeping gas prices low; it’s not about pleasing the left or the right. It’s about freeing this country from its dependence from foreign oil, for all sorts of economic and geopolitical reasons. Nothing we could do would be more likely to make the nation stronger and healthier.

It’s about being a grownup, and taking the long view.

Obama: Ready To Tap Oil Reserve If Needed — which it ISN’T, not by a long shot

The president at this afternoon's presser. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Well, gasoline prices are rising toward levels that might, just might, cause some of us to face reality and acknowledge that it’s not a good idea at all to be so desperately dependent on cheap oil from crazy-dangerous parts of the world, and what are our elected leaders — Democrats and Republicans — doing?

Why, what they always do — pandering. But there’s pandering, and then there’s pandering.

The GOP is busily blaming Barack “Root of All Evil” Obama. The president himself is responding by saying, at a press conference today, that he’s prepared to tap the strategic oil reserve, if needed.

But that last part is key, and his way out as a rational man. It’s like his promise to “start” withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by a certain date, which in no way commits him to draw down dangerously before it’s wise to do so. Obama’s smart; he’s not going to pander so far that he commits himself to something irresponsible. This is a quality that he has demonstrated time and again, and which has greatly reassured me ever since he beat my (slightly) preferred candidate for the presidency. This is the quality — or one of them — that made me glad to say so often, back in 2008, that for the first time in my editorial career, both major-party candidates for president were ones I felt good about (and both of whom we endorsed, in their respective primaries).

It’s certainly more defensible than Mr. Boehner’s reflexive partisan bashing. And it’s WAY more defensible than Al “Friend of the Earth” Gore asking Bill Clinton to tap the reserve to help him win the 2000 election.

To quote from the report I just saw on the NPR site:

Obama said he’s prepared to tap the U.S. emergency oil reserve if needed. But as gas prices climbed toward $4 a gallon, the president said the U.S. must adopt a long-term strategy of conservation and domestic production to wean itself off foreign oil.

“We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now. Every few years gas prices go up, politicians pull out the same political playbook, and nothing changes,” Obama said.

“I don’t want to leave this to the next president,” he said.

Some in Congress have been calling on Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And the president made clear Friday that that was an option, although he indicated he wasn’t yet prepared to exercise it. He declined to specify the conditions that would trigger the step, but said it was teed up and could happen quickly if he chooses to call for it….

His threshold, based on what he said, is a Hurricane Katrina, or worse. Personally, I’d raise the bar a bit higher than that, but he’s on the right track, trying to set a high standard. (You make a disruption like Katrina the standard, then next thing you know, you’re tempted to lower it to, say, a BP oil spill — and that’s not the direction you want to go in.)

The key word here is “strategic,” a threshold that I would think wouldn’t be crossed until we have a sustained inability to GET oil to power our economy — something we came close to, in spots, in recent crises. But it seems to me one only turns to such “strategic” options as a last resort. The president should be “prepared to tap the U.S. emergency oil reserve if needed” in the same sense he is expected to be prepared to crack open the “football” and activate the codes for going nuclear. OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get where I’m going with this. It’s something we hope and pray never happens, and we do our best to pursue policies that avoid such an eventuality.

By the way, back to that excerpt above. I particularly love “the president said the U.S. must adopt a long-term strategy of conservation and domestic production to wean itself off foreign oil.” Earlier today, I disparaged the president for being no Energy Party man. (I was essentially repeating an observation I made about both him and McCain in a July 6, 2008, column.)

But maybe I was wrong. If he keeps saying things like that, he may deserve the Energy nomination in 2012 after all.

They’re not blaming the earthquake on Obama (yet), but…

The bitter little joke I made earlier about FoxNews not having blamed the earthquake off Japan on President Obama was meant to be funny, but…

This morning, I saw this Tweet:



Boehner Blames Obama for Energy Costs: GOP: Obama to Blame for Higher Energy Costs #tcot

What are you gonna do with people like that?

Of course, he’s got half of a point:

“They’ve canceled new leases for exploration, jeopardized our nuclear energy industry, and imposed a de facto moratorium on future drilling in our country. They’ve even pushed a cap-and-trade energy tax that the president himself admitted would cause the price of energy to skyrocket,” Boehner said.

Republicans have repeatedly criticized the administration and congressional Democrats for what they perceive to be a lackluster response to the rapidly rising cost of oil.

… but half a point, in the hands of partisan ideologues, is a very dangerous thing.

I say “half a point” because the president is no more an Energy Party man than the speaker is. Both of them only see the half that their respective ideologies allow. Boehner is for drilling, domestic exploration, nuclear energy and the like. Obama is for alternative energy sources, conservation, and other “green” initiatives. When the truth is, we need to do ALL of those things, and more, to achieve the critically important (economically and strategically) goal of energy independence.

Yet another way that our two-party system prevents our leaders from even considering real, comprehensive solutions to compelling national problems. Which is another reason we MUST not allow them to further strengthen their death grip on our electoral system.

One other thing: I allowed this comment from our persistent gadfly Steven/Michael/Fred/Luke/etc. earlier today:

… so that I could say this: You’re absolutely correct. But callin’ it business as usual don’t make it right, boss. It just makes it twice as wrong.

Vote UnParty.

ARRGGHH! Here’s what I MEANT to say to Phillip

This morning on a previous post, Phillip Bush said:

I think I have it straight, now: if you disagree with Brad’s position, you are guilty of being over-emotional. If you agree, you are being rational. Brad, you really need to let this one go. You like to talk about “left and right” and position yourself as someone in a calm, unemotional, rational center, but the truth that you have opinions on various issues just like anybody else. They tend not to divide in a partisanly-predictable way, which indicates that you think for yourself on each issue, and that’s certainly admirable. But we are all human, and every considered opinion by every truly thinking citizen (and you certainly are that, as are almost all the commenters here) is a combination of emotion and reason, at least as that individual sees it. You’re not immune from that combination of factors, and it’s argumentatively lazy to just dismiss someone’s disagreement as saying, in effect, “well you’re just emotional and I’m rational, so the argument’s over.” You were off base on the other thread on jfx’s comment, which was no less a combination of emotion and reason than your own reasons for endorsing our invasion of Iraq. Most conservatives who criticize Obama are NOT nutty “birthers” and practitioners of Obama-Derangement-Syndrome; and most who think Blair was a slick prevaricator on the war can’t be dismissed as purely emotional BDS-ers. (That would be at least half the planet in that case.)

I certainly don’t pretend that my opinions are devoid of an emotional basis: and for the record, going back to Mr. Schiller, my point was not that the right wing or the left wing is more prone to emotionalism or even rhetorical over-the-top-ness; but that anti-intellectualism per se is (at least at this moment in American history) a cudgel wielded in particular by the right. It’s inexact for you to say that Mr. Schiller was equally guilty of “the worst kind of anti-intellectualism”: that would mean he would be doing such things as criticizing Tea Party leaders for “sounding like a professor,” just one of the gibes (meant to be an insult, I guess) directed at our current President. Schiller was guilty of a lot of things, stereotyping and overgeneralization among them, but anti-intellectualism is a very different and very specific thing.

I’ve been running from meeting to meeting today, which is why I hadn’t posted anything until a few minutes ago. But I was here for about 15 minutes right after Phillip posted that, so I wrote a medium-length reply, and just as I was about to save it and run out… Google Chrome shut down. Then Firefox shut down. Then EVERYTHING ELSE I had open shut down, spontaneously. And my laptop started restarted itself, and just as I ran out the door screaming, I saw it was adding insult to injury by running CHKDSK.

Sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.


When I get back, ol’ Hal calmly informed me that he had taken it upon himself to download the following::

– Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems
– Security Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems
– Update for Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Junk Email Filter
– Security Update for Windows 7 for x64-based Systems

I’m betting none of it was necessary. And I don’t see why the blasted machine couldn’t give me heads-up first.

Of course, everyone here at ADCO will tell me that’s what I get for insisting upon being the only person in the office who doesn’t use a Mac. On that subject, and having just mentioned HAL, you might enjoy this Apple ad.

Anyway… if I can remember, here’s what I was going to say to Phillip… But first, I’m going to “Save Draft”…

OK, here goes…

Phillip, your initial observation — “if you disagree with Brad’s position, you are guilty of being over-emotional. If you agree, you are being rational” — is slightly off the mark. That’s not a hard-and-fast law of the universe. It’s more like a useful rule of thumb.

Insert smiley-face emoticon.

But you were dead-on when you said, “you have opinions on various issues just like anybody else. They tend not to divide in a partisanly-predictable way, which indicates that you think for yourself on each issue, and that’s certainly admirable.”

Absolutely! Thank you for getting that! Of COURSE I have opinions! This is an opinion blog!

And thanks particularly for the “admirable” thing.

But to elaborate… as I try over and over to explain here, I am repulsed by the left and the right, Democratic and Republican, as they are currently constituted — because I DO think hard about each issue, which means I don’t accept the pat, off-the-shelf packages that the two predominant ideologies offer.

It’s like cable TV. The thing I’ve always hated about cable TV is that they won’t let me choose, and pay for, only the channels I want. Not because it’s technologically difficult, but because it doesn’t fit the cable companies’, or the networks’ and channels’, business model. They force me to take channels I don’t want in order to get the channels I DO want, because they make more money that way (I think; if that’s not the motivation, someone please explain it to me).

Same deal with the political parties, or the two main competing ideologies. Both Column A and Column B offer some ideas I like. But each of them also offers ideas I utterly reject. There’s no way I can buy either package and be honest with you, or with myself.

The problem is, our shared marketplace of ideas lacks a vocabulary for speaking of the way I think. I try hard to come up with a vocabulary of my own, using ordinary English words, but they so often run up against the problem that certain definitions and delineations are now assumed to be true by everyone, and my ideas don’t connect, even with very smart people. That’s because 24/7 we are bombarded with the political equivalent of Newspeak. If you’ll recall, the way Orwell conceived it, the goal was to reduce language so that it was impossible to express (and therefore, to a great extent, impossible to think of) ideas that were incompatible with IngSoc.

Well, today, the terms that most of us use for expressing political ideas are very limited terms handed to us by the two parties, their attendant interest groups, and increasingly simplistic news media, led by 24/7 TV “news” and the Blogosphere — all of whom find it in their interests to boil everything down to two choices — actually, two SETS of predetermined choices, so that once you pick one, everyone else knows what you think about everything.

I find this appalling. And I continue to resist it. And even though I’m not bad with words, I find it hard, like Winston trying to write half-formed heretical concepts into his diary, just out of sight of the telescreen. Only I’m publishing mine.

But it’s sometimes hard to express. And even when my friends and regular readers UNDERSTAND it, it’s hard for them to describe, because of our lack of that common vocabulary. So when Phillip says I “position yourself as someone in a calm, unemotional, rational center,” I know what he means, and he’s right to say it. But the fact is, I’m not in the center at all, although you’ll occasionally see me acquiesce to being called a “centrist,” just as a convenient shorthand.

But the problem with that term is that it implies that one MUST be on that one-dimensional line between left and right, and that if you ARE neither left nor right, you must be in the “center.” But I’m not. Sometimes I agree more or less with the left, and sometimes with the right. And sometimes neither the left nor the right is far enough out on its own wing to suit me. To paraphrase Billy Ray Valentine, when it comes to the political spectrum, I’m all over that place, baby.

I’m made this point before, such as on this post, and even back in my initial UnParty column. And in a variation on that theme, the Energy Party is all about taking the best ideas from left and right to do all we can to attain energy independence.

OK, I just went on at far greater length than I did on my failed comment earlier — perhaps out of frustration. And as I’ve written every word, I’ve been cognizant that if anyone is patient enough to read it all, he or she is likely to say, That Brad Warthen just thinks his thoughts are so far above everyone else’s that no one else is smart enough to understand him.

But that’s not it. If I were smart enough, I’d be able to explain it better, I suppose. I just get frustrated, because our common vocabulary HAS been reduced by people who have found it to their political advantage to do so, just like Big Brother, so I struggle to express what I truly think. Most people who are as uncomfortable as I am with the either-or paradigm just give up, curse politics, and walk away from it all. I don’t feel like I can do that as a citizen. I have to keep trying, whether I succeed or not. (And whether I get paid a salary to do it or not.) Which is why I’ve written all these millions of words over the years.

“It’s more car than electric:” Chevy apologizes for making the kind of car America needs

I keep hearing Chevy’s tagline for promoting the new Volt on the radio:

“It’s more car than electric”

And every time, I am deeply underwhelmed with GM’s lack of enthusiasm for its new product.

You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like when Nikki Haley tells everyone that her children attend public schools. And then hastens to add that in her Lexington County district, the public school are like private schools. Kind of spoils the affirmation.

What ad wizard decided to say, in effect, “We know you don’t want an electric car any more than we want to make one for you. So rest assured, this is nothing cutting-edge, it’s way more like the sucky cars we’ve made in the past.”

While others out there get the idea that Americans (and the rest of the world; after all, it is a global economy) kind of like something new, something better — take Steve Jobs, who totally gets that people want something better than what they’re used to, something original and even exciting, something that enables them to do things they couldn’t do in the past — GM wants to make sure you don’t think they have any such notions.

I thought GM got the “thanks, America” thing right. But they’ve got this wrong. And I’m not alone. Here’s another view on it:

The Chevrolet brand name is a major problem. Chevrolet stands out in the mind as a classic American brand. In its heyday, they built big steel cars that looked great and endlessly chugged gasoline. In fact, not even two years ago Chevy was running an awesome billboard campaign to reinforce this perception for a powerful and classically American car. Yet now the consumer is supposed to associate Chevy with a small car that can sip gas ever so slightly and still be great.

I doubt that that will happen, especially with the Volt’s current positioning strategy: “More Car Than Electric.” That positioning hardly screams out “Chevy is a small, fuel-efficient car.” Instead, Chevy is attempting the impossible task of fighting deep-rooted perceptions, specifically that small (and electric) cars are not powerful. For consumers, small and powerful are conflicting qualities in a car. Any consumer making judgments on vehicle horsepower or toughness will make a strong determination without even hearing so much as the sound of an engine. A simple eyeball test will tell them that a Chevy Volt is not “more car” than the significantly larger vehicle it’s parked next to. Trying to convince the American consumers otherwise is an exercise in futility.

And yet another one:

I have been waiting for the Volt since it was announced in January 2007. From what I have been able to read through October 2010, all of GM’s buzz about the Volt has been positive. So I was flabbergasted and deeply annoyed that GM should choose the slogan, “It’s more car than electric”, as their lead advertising catch-phrase. What a negative way to advertise GM’s outstanding engineering achievement!

One university student who knows my Volt advocacy — I wear a Volt tee-shirt during the summer — has asked me, “Is GM apologizing for this car?” Another asked, “Why would anyone want to buy it a Volt if GM is ashamed of the engineering that makes this car both unique and ecologically appealing?” I can’t answer them because this phrase is so out of character for the group that made this car and for potential customers like myself who have been cheering on GM since January 2007. Did this phrase arise from a focus group packed with folks who’d rather be driving a Cobalt or a Cruze?

Yeah, I get it that they’re thinking an electric car won’t have the range, or the pickup, that their 2000 Buick Regal with the supercharger (which I mention because, well, I own one) has. But it completely ignores that people likely to buy an electric car are looking for something completely different, something that gets them from point A to point B more efficiently, cheaper and without the harm to the planet and national security. People like that — or at least, like me — don’t even care if that something is a “car.” We actively, ardently want something different.

This approach is made even more ironic, sounds even more tone-deaf, because I hear it during the sponsor breaks on NPR news shows. Like you’ve got to apologize to that audience for making a break with the internal combustion engine. What ARE these people thinking?

(Oh, and why do I, the founder of the Energy Party, drive a 2000 Buick Regal with a supercharger? Because I could afford it, when I suddenly needed a car after my last truck spontaneously combusted one day on I-77. I could NOT afford a Prius, much less a hybrid Camry, which is what I really wanted. Of course, a fully electric car would have been even better. But I’m not likely to be able to afford one of those until someone comes out with a mass-production one and sells a LOT of them, and the technology keeps improving, and the prices drop, so I can pick me up a used one. In the meantime, I take my solace where I can — such as enjoying the sweet way my Regal zips around trucks on the Interstate when I engage the supercharger, which works the way the afterburner on a jet works, by dumping a lot of extra fuel into the burner. Primitive, and wasteful, and foolish, but also exciting — sort of like tossing a water balloon full of gasoline onto a campfire. OOPS, I did it again — another error. It’s corrected below, in the comments…

But GM doesn’t get the likely customer for an electric car. And I wonder whether it ever will.

“Stupid bloody cabaret”

That headline comes from John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Bill Haydon, a character given to dry sarcasm among other vices, utters the words upon leaving a meeting in which there had been much posing and preening for show, but little point:

“Stupid bloody cabaret,” Bill remarked, waving vaguely at the mothers. “Percy’s getting more insufferable every day.”

That phrase entered my mind as I read in The Wall Street Journal about the ritual conducted in Congress yesterday when the boss of BP was called on the carpet:

Mr. Hayward stuck to his plan. He sat for hours on Thursday, alone at a witness table, parrying questions from indignant members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a deliberate monotone.

Over and over, he said he wasn’t involved in the decisions preceding the accident and declined to speculate on causes until investigations were complete.

Summoning executives of companies caught up in financial or legal trouble to receive televised scoldings is a ritual of U.S. politics. Detroit auto titans, Wall Street bankers, and the head of Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp. have all done time in Congress’s dock as lawmakers looked for someone to blame for the calamities of the past two years.

Such proceedings are not designed to accomplish anything, beyond the public embarrassment of the guest of honor. Never mind that those subjected to such treatment so often richly deserve the treatment. The whole thing strikes me as inappropriate in a country devoted to the rule of law.

If we wish to prosecute, haul the guy into court. If we wish to make BP pay, make them cough up a huge amount of money. Which we had already done, and appropriately so. If we need to obtain information from them, this is hardly the forum for doing so. Quite the opposite, in fact. A fact-finding gathering would have the people there who could actually answer the question, and investigators better equipped to ask them than these politicoes.

This is about lawmakers preening before the cameras, exhibiting their righteous indignation to the folks back home. This is the modern equivalent of the public stocks, and the congressmen are the ones in the crowd who want to be seen as the first to heave a rotten tomato, or a dead cat, or a stone at the person thus restrained.

Mind you, I feel no pity for Mr. Howard. This is what he gets paid the big bucks for. What disturbs me is, what an inadequate way this is to deal with the problem. It makes my country’s system of addressing problems look tawdry and empty.

I’m probably going to displease my Democratic friends with this one, because as I read further down in the story, I see they were the main ones showing off their indignation. But that was just today. Some other day, with some other subject, it would be all about Republicans trying to humiliate someone they were angry with.

It’s the process that seems inconsistent with a rational way of dealing with this horrendous problem. And like so many things that I find objectionable in our society, this is about television. Remove the cameras, and this event wouldn’t be happening — or would be very different. Actually, I take that back. It’s not television per se. In an earlier era, they’d have been showing off for the newsreel cameras. It’s just that with television, constituents with nothing better to do can watch it in real time.

You doubt that it was pointless, beyond venting emotions? Then tell me — what effective action did the session lead to? What WAS the point? What has been done, as a result of that show?

You want me to tell you what the real-world consequence of that grilling was? BP’s stock went up, because its CEO “survived” the process. Really.

You know what I’d like to see? All these members of Congress in their chamber, seriously debating a real, sensible Energy Policy, one that helps us move beyond dependence on the BPs of the world. That would be useful. But I guess that’s just too hard.

We could blow it up — blow it up REAL GOOD!

Shades of the “Farm Film Report” on SCTV…

Have you seen the latest wacky idea floated for sealing the oil spew in the Gulf? They say nah, they wouldn’t really do it, but it IS leading the NYT site at the moment:

The chatter began weeks ago as armchair engineers brainstormed for ways to stop the torrent of oil  spilling into the Gulf of Mexico: What about nuking the well?

Decades ago, the Soviet Union reportedly used nuclear blasts to successfully seal off runaway gas wells, inserting a bomb deep underground and letting its fiery heat melt the surrounding rock to shut off the flow. Why not try it here?

The idea has gained fans with each failed attempt to stem the leak and each new setback — on Wednesday, the latest rescue effort stalled when a wire saw being used to slice through the riser pipe got stuck.

“Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapon system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil,” Matt Simmons, a Houston energy expert and investment banker, told Bloomberg News on Friday, attributing the nuclear idea to “all the best scientists.”

Or as the CNN reporter John Roberts suggested last week, “Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

This week, with the failure of the “top kill” attempt, the buzz had grown loud enough that federal officials felt compelled to respond…

If we cain’t burn it off, ‘n’ we cain’t top kill it off, ‘n’ if the blamed SAW ain’t gettin’ ‘er done, le’s NUKE the sumbitch. Why, if the Rooskies kin do, so b’God kin we!

That’s the first time I’ve had the sense I was reading The Onion when I wasn’t since… well, since that Monday when our governor went missing.

Graham not so ‘cool’ now on global warming

Back in late February, Tom Friedman wrote the following about our senior senator:

And for those Republicans who think this is only a loser, Senator Graham says think again: “What is our view of carbon as a party? Are we the party of carbon pollution forever in unlimited amounts? Pricing carbon is the key to energy independence, and the byproduct is that young people look at you differently.” Look at how he is received in colleges today. “Instead of being just one more short, white Republican over 50,” says Graham, “I am now semicool. There is an awareness by young people that I am doing something different.”

But today, we have the following  release from some of his erstwhile young fans:

Youth Activists Demand S.C. Leadership on Energy and Climate Legislation

(Columbia, SC) – Responding to Senator Lindsey Graham’s withdrawal from federal energy legislation and the offshore oil disaster, youth activists in South Carolina have called on the Senator to renew his leadership.

“Students at Clemson were proud to stand behind our hometown Senator in pushing for federal energy and climate legislation,” says Gabriel Fair, co-president of Clemson University’s Student for Environmental Action. “Lindsey Graham’s leadership really encouraged the young people who are fighting to cut carbon pollution and create a clean energy economy in this state.”

Over the previous months, Graham has led in federal energy and climate legislation. In February editorial in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman quoted Graham saying, “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate.  It’s a value.  These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment – and the world will be better for it.”

Senator Graham’s withdrawal from the federal energy debate has disappointed students across South Carolina. “We’d like to stand behind our Senator again and hope he comes back to the table and strengthens the bill further,” says Fair.

Students in South Carolina are looking for the jobs comprehensive energy and climate legislation would produce. According to Winthrop University student Lorena Hildebrandt, “Young people face the highest unemployment rates in this country right now. Like many of my friends, I’ll be graduating college soon and looking for a job.  That’s why building a new clean energy economy is so important to young people. It’s absolutely necessary we pass comprehensive federal legislation to create a clean energy economy.”

Graham’s backing away from the process occurs at a crucial time for federal energy legislation.

In light of the unfolding oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans are reconsidering our country’s dependence on oil. Recent polls have indicated that the Deepwater Horizon explosion has actually bolstered support for federal climate legislation, while support for drilling is falling.

According to a poll conducted last week by Clean Energy Works, 61 percent of Americans now favor a climate bill that would cut carbon pollution.  Meanwhile, CBS News reported this week that forty-one percent of Americans feel the risks of offshore drilling are too high, up from twenty-eight percent in 2008.

Students on the coast are worried about what Graham’s pulling out will mean for federal legislation on energy and climate. “We’re disappointed here on the coast that Senator Graham walked away from federal energy and climate legislation,” says Marissa Mitzner, Sustainability Coordinator at Coastal Carolina University. “Especially with the oil disaster in the Gulf unfolding and our own South Carolina coasts vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the threat of oil drilling, we need Senator Graham’s leadership more than ever.”


Face it, senator: You’re not even “semicool” now, not with the kids.

As for what a cool guy like me thinks, well, I’d certainly appreciate a better understanding about why the Dems’ recent moves on immigration mean you can’t lead on this.

Oh, and kids — Tom Friedman didn’t write that in “and editorial.” It was a column. He doesn’t write editorial.

Charleston GOP praises Graham with faint damnation

The Charleston County GOP has censured Lindsey Graham for the unpardonable sin of … gasp! … bipartisanship. From the resolution:

“U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the name of bipartisanship continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism…”

Weakening the GOP brand? Golly, who’da thunk it was possible?

The True Believers of the Holy City also complained that their senior senator “has shown a condescending attitude toward his constituents” with regard to their hyperventilating against his attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

The Lowcountry GOPpers really don’t have to go to this much trouble to make me like Lindsey. I already thought he was a good guy, who would be welcome in the UnParty any time; they don’t have to go to this much trouble to reinforce it.

Friedman plugs the Energy Party agenda

We haven’t spoken much about the Energy Party lately, what with being obsessed with the economy and all (see, I told y’all this wouldn’t be fun before we started). Thank goodness, Tom Friedman took the time earlier this week to get us back on track by touting a key plank of the Party platform, in a piece headlined “Real men tax gas.” An excerpt:

But are we really that tough? If the metric is a willingness to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and consider the use of force against Iran, the answer is yes. And we should be eternally grateful to the Americans willing to go off and fight those fights. But in another way – when it comes to doing things that would actually weaken the people we are sending our boys and girls to fight – we are total wimps. We are, in fact, the wimps of the world. We are, in fact, so wimpy our politicians are afraid to even talk about how wimpy we are.

How so? France today generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, and it has managed to deal with all the radioactive waste issues without any problems or panics. And us? We get about 20 percent and have not been able or willing to build one new nuclear plant since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, even though that accident led to no deaths or injuries to plant workers or neighbors. We’re too afraid to store nuclear waste deep in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain – totally safe – at a time when French mayors clamor to have reactors in their towns to create jobs. In short, the French stayed the course on clean nuclear power, despite Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and we ran for cover.

How about Denmark? Little Denmark, sweet, never-hurt-a-fly Denmark, was hit hard by the 1973 Arab oil embargo. In 1973, Denmark got all its oil from the Middle East. Today? Zero. Why? Because Denmark got tough. It imposed on itself a carbon tax, a roughly $5-a-gallon gasoline tax, made massive investments in energy efficiency and in systems to generate energy from waste, along with a discovery of North Sea oil (about 40 percent of its needs).

And us? When it comes to raising gasoline taxes or carbon taxes – at a perfect time like this when prices are already low – our politicians tell us it is simply “off the table.” So I repeat, who is the real tough guy here?

As Friedman correctly asserts, raising the gas tax would be a “win, win, win, win, win” that would make us “physically healthier, economically healthier and strategically healthier.” But none of our politicians, of either party, have the guts even to bring up the subject, because they can hear the voters screaming at them with all the mature outrage evinced in this unrelated, but hilarious, commercial (only instead of screaming, “I want those sweeties,” we’d be hollering, “We want our cheap gas!”)

Anyway, I posted something on Twitter about the Friedman column earlier this week, and Doug Ross responded on Facebook. I’ll share our exchange here just to get the blog discussion going:

Doug Ross

Real men must like double digit inflation, high food prices, and punishing low income Americans who need to drive to work
Brad Warthen

We love all that stuff. We just don’t like quiche.
Did you read the piece?
Doug Ross

I did read the article. He says he wants to take 10 cents of each dollar and give it to “the poor” to cushion the $1 per gallon cost. What about the people who aren’t “poor” who will see their fuel costs go up by several thousand dollars a year? and the increase in cost of every single item that is manufactured and transported. it’s a recipe Read Morefor economic disaster. Some of Friedman’s ideas go beyond “ivory tower” to the point where the people in the ivory towers have to crane their necks to see him.
We have all the money we need to do what Friedman wants currently in the federal coffers. Our political “leaders” choose to do other things.
Brad Warthen

But raising the revenue isn’t the point; it’s just a side benefit.
The point is making ourselves more energy-independent so we stop underwriting the thugs of the world.
If France and Denmark can do it, so can we.
Doug Ross

Oh, if we could just be like Denmark and France!!! Apparently that’s the new American Dream
And yeah, for those who are confused — I was using that “irony” thing again when I said “we love all that stuff.” But I was serious about not liking quiche.

Santee Cooper on Pee Dee coal plant: Never mind

You know, back during the controversy, when everyone else seemed to know exactly what they thought on the subject, I never was sure whether I favored Santee Cooper building the proposed coal plant in the Pee Dee or not.

The arguments against were fairly strong-sounding, but they never fully answered the question of where the power would come from instead. I would have found the arguers more persuasive if they had said we need to expedite nuclear plants. But they said too often that we could do away with the need via conservation. I’m all for conservation, but that’s a solution that makes more sense if you’re not planning on growing your economy. And in South Carolina, we need to grow our economy.

Now there’s an answer to where the power will come from — Duke Energy. And so now even the former advocates are saying “never mind,” which makes sense:

PINOPOLIS – Santee Cooper will not pursue construction of a controversial coal-fired power plant that has drawn intense opposition from environmentalists over the amount of mercury and greenhouse gas pollution the facility would release.

The board of directors of the state-owned utility voted unanimously today to suspend an effort to secure state permits for the $2.2 billion plant in Florence County along the Great Pee Dee River. The board’s vote followed a similar vote this morning during a board committee meeting.

The agency’s action makes it unlikely the plant will ever be built, said Santee Cooper board chairman O.L. Thompson.

Committee members and Santee Cooper staff said the down economy, looming federal regulation of carbon and a potential agreement with another power company made it possible to forgo building the power plant.

So I don’t have to struggle to make up my mind about it any more. That’s good.

Perspectives on hydrogen

Here’s something that struck me as interesting this morning. Did you read the op-ed piece by my friend Kevin Dietrich, arguing — as you would expect someone at the S.C. Policy Council to argue — against our state’s investment in hydrogen research? An excerpt:

In the past few years, taxpayers have poured tens of millions of state and local tax dollars into hydrogen research even though multiple experts question how viable the technology will be in offsetting U.S. reliance on foreign oil or reducing carbon emissions.

“A hydrogen car is one of the least efficient, most expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Joseph Romm, a physicist in charge of renewable energy research during the Carter administration. Asked when hydrogen cars will be broadly available, Romm replied: “Not in our lifetime, and very possibly never.”

The Los Angeles Times was blunter in assessing the future of hydrogen-powered vehicles: “Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won’t work in cars…. Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars.”

What struck me about it was that, without naming the author, Kevin was quoting the very same L.A. Times column by Dan Neil that I was praising yesterday. (Now I know why Cindi Scoppe happened to run across the Neil piece and bring it to my attention yesterday — she was doing her due diligence as an editor in checking Kevin’s source material, and recognized the piece as something I’d be interested in.)

The difference, of course, lies in the degrees to which Kevin and I considered the full text of the piece to which we referred. I was up-front with y’all about Neil’s arguments against hydrogen as a fuel source for cars. I didn’t blink at that at all. But I also emphasized the very positive things he said about Honda’s hydrogen car project, on my way to making some positive points about why hydrogen research is worthwhile.

Kevin, in standard S.C. Policy Council “if it involves the government spending money, it’s bad” style, cited ONLY the negative. Kevin’s a good guy, and he’s completely sincere about the things he says. But I ask you — given what I got out of the Neil piece and what Kevin got out of it — who has his eyes completely open? Who explored the full implications of the piece (which I again invite you to go read for yourself)?

I raise this point not to criticize Kevin, but to praise our state and community’s commitment to this research. From what I’ve seen and heard, the hydrogen researchers are very realistic about the limitations of H as a fuel source for cars from where we stand at this moment. But their eyes are open to what this research DOES offer South Carolina, Columbia and the nation.