This photograph expresses my hopes for the new year:
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photo by Cliff
I do not know the story behind this portmanteau vehicle, so
I am free to make stuff up. (It’s the American way, you know.)
What I imagine is that the car was much beloved by its
owner. Then someone incredibly reckless go in and drove it
off a cliff, totally totaling out the front end.
Many owners would just give up. Not this one. He (I
am kinda assuming it was a guy, sexist of me perhaps) painstakingly,
pridefully restored what he could. It took a long time.
Others told him it was hopeless. He knew better.
It would just take time and effort.
It meant not giving up. It meant having the mental
flexibility to be able to be both mindlessly, persistently dedicated,
yet mindfully creative; and it meant having the wisdom to know which
mindset to employ at which stage of the process.
The end result is not what anyone would have designed de novo.
Frankly, it looks like a camel designed by a committee.
But you go to the body shop with the wreckage you’ve got, not
the wreckage you wished you had. If life gives you lemons,
make a Mustang trike.
Notice the little USA flag on the antenna. That is the best
little detail. There is something indisputably American
about this vehicle.
Now, if we think about the USA for a minute, we realize that it is like
the Mustang. There are two parts: the front end and the back
end. The front end is the foreign policy end.
That’s what the rest of the world sees. It is
crumpled beyond reasonable repair. It has to be replaced.
The back end — the domestic policy — can be salvaged.
Needs paint, needs some new steel and a few add-ons, but it
can be salvaged.
The trunk, of course, is intact. It has a lock.
some things domestic need to be put away from view. We need a
place where we can lock things away, things that are just ours.
what of the engine? The engine of the country is the economy.
The guy who refitted the Mustang has the right idea: put it
out in the open. Make sure that everyone can see what is
on. You don’t need to lift the hood, because
there is no hood.
Here is where the analogy fails. The guy who fixed this thing
found another V-8 engine, just like the original. That is
everyone wants. Astute politicians have been promising a V-8
everyone for as long as I can remember. But in, say, 1968,
35 cents per gallon; an entry-level job paid maybe $2.50.
(ratio=7.14) (These data are from memory, may not be entirely
accurate.) (I was 10 years old then, not really paying attention to
Now, gas is $2.80 a gallon. In order for gas to be equally
affordable, you need a job that pays $20/hour.
A modern (not the
one shown) Mustang engine (supercharged 5.4 liter DOHC 32-valve V8) href="http://media.ford.com/newsroom/feature_display.cfm?release=23017">produces
about 375 kilowatts of power. Note that a typical household
in the USA uses href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_use_in_the_United_States#Regional_variation">about
10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. In case you are curious,
I’ll tell you that a 500-horsepower Mustang would have to run for just
27 hours to produce 10,000 kilowatt-hours. What that means is
that our transportation system is astonishingly costly, if you express
the cost in terms of what else you could do with that limited resource.
In 2008, we have to ask ourselves if it makes sense to keep doing this.
The idea economic system would strike a balance between
productivity and energy savings. While there will be endless
debates about what the ideal balance is, we are taking a big gamble
with the balance we are keeping right now.
Perhaps Yankee ingenuity will save us.