Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Countries....

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

If I have to tell you where that opening paragraph came from and you are over 24 years old, I worry for our education system. But, it's hard to know what the current state of the "Canon" is these days. But I'll tell after the fold. Regardless, it's a nice intro to the world around us and our current tumultuous times.

This weekend were two excellent articles in the New York Times (which sadly has become my local paper living here in the San Francisco Bay area) about the two different paths Japan and the United States took after the oil crisis of the 1970s. Which according to historical accounts was much worse with people waiting in line for gas, stagflation and a super sense of malaise. President Carter at the time was telling us to turn down our thermostats, and was chided for it because it was un-American to preach for sacrifice and what a bummer it was for the country. Well, have I got news for you, turning down the thermostat is the last thing we need to worry about now if it gets any hotter. (yes I know that weather is becoming more extreme -- dramatic effect is my schtick)

The article on Japanese companies looking to leverage their acquired experience and expertise on efficient operations. The whole article is entirely quotable so I won't bother, but this is one that struck me:

“Japan taught itself decade s ago how to compete with gasoline at $4 per gallon,” said Hisakazu Tsujimoto of the Energy Conservation Center, a government research institute that promotes energy efficiency. “It will fare better than other countries in the new era of high energy costs.”

In my years of experience at different companies in booms and busts, I've learned that booms have a magical ability to paint over sins that come to roost. Once the good times come back, often the muscles needed to move quickly have atrophied after being wind assisted for too long.

That's the gist of article on how America basically saw what was coming and chose to ignore it. Now this isn't unique to Americans as Aesop nailed it with the grasshopper and the ant many years ago. But when you have the size and heft of America, can you mess up in a big way. As Nobel prize winning physicist Arno Penzias said "In the long run, technology makes us what we are already, only more so. Lazy people will be lazier, smart people will be smarter. Moving data faster does not really enter into it. It is like speeding up in a car when you are lost; the result usually just enables you to get lost over a wider area."

The crux of the article is we failed to react because we were worried about the impact of the efficiency edicts on the economy. But an economy grows not by making more of the old things, but innovating and creating on the things we're going to need. That view led to the hybrid synergy drive of the Prius. To me, almost equally sad is think of a major American bicycle manufacturer who makes bikes in the U.S. It's hard. Just like our cars our bikes are made overseas now. As I remember, fligth started not with the automobile but the bicycle. The articles are very sober reads, choose and start exercising those efficiency muscles we'll need for the future.

The opening quote is the opening paragraph from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities"


At 8:45 AM , Blogger Dianna said...

do they still read dickens in high school nowadays??

it annoys me no end that after years of short commutes and jobs close to home, when i have to take a job 20+ miles from home out of necessity, it happens the year that gas reaches $4 a gallon. i don't see me changing that anytime soon, unfortunately, but at least on my off-times i'm not driving much more than five miles in any direction due to living in town.

there was a story on the radio this morning of a woman suing her HOA to allow her to hang out laundry. i love the idea of mcmansions with a clothesline out back and panties flapping in the breeze. ha! when did we become such squeamish weenies?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home