Friday, July 25, 2008

Too good to pass up

The Tennesse Republican Party is getting on the "Drill Now, Drill Here ..." bandwagon with the release of a new bumper sticker and campaign. DETAILS are here.

In fairness, there are a fair number of "moderate" and "liberal" Republicans who have resisted a sensible national energy policy in recent years (decades), although I doubt too many were from Tennessee.

Americans who desire a brighter future (with all that entails) will support any effort to get the federal government the hell out of the way when it comes to energy production, whether it is by fossil fuel or alternative means, and to cease meddling with the free market system so that abominations like taxpayer subsidized ethanol are less likely to occur.

Epidemic of Sloth

Today I introduce to you the Oklahomilist SKI Theory, which endeavors to measure at any given moment the slothfulness of society. And I regret to inform you that we are approaching an Indolence Crisis Point.

SKI stands for Shopping Kart Indicator. (Yes, I know that cart is usually spelled with a "c" but it ruins the acronym.)

The shopping cart is an Oklahoma native, born in 1937 as the brain-child of Sylvan Goldman and a mechanic friend named Fred. Goldman was a grocer, with a brother about half-owner in the Standard-Piggly Wiggly chain of supermarkets. The impetus behind the invention was simple: how could customers carry more stuff so that they would buy more stuff. Reportedly the shopping cart got off to a slow start: men thought they were effeminate, some women considered them an insult, too much like a baby carriage

Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping. That, and an attractive store greeter encouraging use of the carts, did the trick.

What happened to the attractive store greeter?

Today the shopping cart, though called by various names, is worldwide. I found it interesting to learn that in some countries (and in Aldi stores) you are required to put up a deposit on your cart so that you will return it. Apparently that concept was either not tried in the U.S. or it was tried and failed. (Perhaps the Aldi experiment will succeed.) Most moderns will agree that the shopping cart is a real labor saving device. Even those of us who consider ourselves "real men" have long gotten over our aversion to the cart. In point of fact, when shopping with the missus, we prefer to drive, don't we?

My Shopping Kart Indicator theory, however, has nothing to do with making purchases or who does or doesn't drive the cart. It refers to the real or perceived inability of shoppers to return the damn things to the cart corrals when they are finished using them. Apparently it is too much trouble for what I fear is a majority of shoppers to push them any farther than to their car, SUV or dual-wheeled pickup truck. What we have, in store lot after store lot, is a residue of carts about which newly-arriving motorists must negotiate, discovering that choice non-handicapped zone parking spaces are unusable because one or more lazy (and possibly illegitimate) shoppers had no energy left after unloading their purchases. Further, one occasionally discovers, upon leaving the store with one's shopping cart, that someone has discarded theirs directly behind your vehicle. With luck you discover this before you attempt to back out.

I have also witnessed rogue shopping carts that have been given a playful nudge by a fun-loving departing motorist, zooming across parking lots only to collide with a nice parked vehicle. (I suspect that several of the "dings" in the side of my car were created in this manner.)

For the love of God and neighbor, dear people, since when have we become so boorishly lazy and inconsiderate?

There was a time when there were no cart corrals and customers were actually expected to return them to the store itself. Even then there was not this much cart chaos! Corrals were added, and then even more, and even extra employees at several stores (you know which they are) who are constantly regathering the abandoned carts, and yet the sloth grows.

I once hypothesized that urban dwellers would be worse than those in small towns. I have tossed that one overboard. In the small town nearest me the problem is epidemic. I often am tempted to shout at the brazen offenders in the car next to mine: "Just how much effort does it take to put your shopping cart in the corral 15 feet away?!!!" But I fear that will only create a breach of the peace without actually changing minds or hearts. I have recently taken to gathering up three, four or five loose shopping carts and pushing them into the nearest corral, hoping to inspire similar acts of good citizenship, but I am afraid that those who see me merely assume that I have forgotten to wear my Wal Mart lanyard, and thus I am only encouraging their shiftlessness.

Realizing that anyone who reads this blog probably isn't afraid of a little extra effort - else how would you have found it in the first place - I would simply ask that you encourage others, your spouse perhaps, to consider "being considerate" and returning the shopping carts to store or corral.

Else I may totally lose it one of these days, and it will make an embarrassing item on the 6 o'clock local news.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Windfarms, Buffalo & Blue Highways

A remarkable change in the landscape is occurring in the American heartland: wind farms are springing up on a substantial scale. And it is a very good thing.

Over the weekend my wife and I took a driving holiday within Oklahoma because we had a couple of extra days available and after living in the Tulsa metro for years we've begun to realize that there is much of the state we have not bothered to explore. Our vacations generally have taken us out of state via interstate highways and toll roads, these designed to make us safer drivers by giving us very little interesting to look at, I suppose. For this trip we determined to use "blue highways," the lesser known roads of America (the term made popular by an autobiographical travelogue published in 1982 and written by William Least Heat Moon who navigated 13,000 miles of American back roads in 1978). On "blue highways" one finds the towns, communities and countrysides that the rest of modern America ignores or has forgotten.

Our goal for this trip: The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge outside of Lawton and Fort Sill in southwest Oklahoma. A friend recommended the visit. He and his wife periodically take their large camper to the refuge and park for days at a time, hiking some of its tr
ails and waking up to the appearance of protected wildlife right outside their camper door. My friend is not a photographer so we had no concept of what this place would look like. In my mind's eye I pictured low, barren rocky hills and maybe some grassland valleys. The reality was much different, and better.

From a distance outside of Lawton (which I had never visited) one could see the silhouettes of large mountains rising perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the prairie, and from this vantage they appeared quite rocky and barren. But as we drew hit State Highway 49 westward and drew closer, I could tell that looks from a distance were deceiving. The mountains were covered with oak and pine, the valleys of trees, flowers and grasses, and there were large lakes (Lawtonka and Elmer Thomas) on either side of the eastern entrance to the Reserve. We learned, in fact, that there are thirteen lakes - all man-made - in the 60,000 acre conservation park! The place is a vast oasis, a spiritual feast for the eyes and spirit.

Naturally the first thing we decided to do was to drive to the top of Mount Scott on a well-built asphalt road that winds around its 2,464 ft. frame at a continual but not excessively steep grade. For those accustomed to driving ascensions of larger mountains as we are, however, the tight and ever-present turns and gradient was a bit disorienting in that there was never a respite from the climb, save a few scenic turnouts which are themselves not level. But it was merely a matter of expectations; once you decide that "it is what it is," you find that you like it. At the summit is a large parking area and there were many vehicles coming and going. There are viewing areas and many rock ledges on which to climb, and there were many clambering about, including a good number of young children, which was wonderful to behold. I heartily approve of parents taking their kids to the great outdoors. We did our own explorations of the summit, me with my digital camera with its 10x optical zoom, my wife with her powerful binoculars. Such vistas on every side. It was a wonderful place to begin our explorations of the Reserve.

But what quickly caught my attention to the northeast of our mountainto
p was the appearance of many wind-turbine generators, visibly in motion though the day's winds, at least in our position, were very light indeed! How far distant this wind farm was I could not tell but I have since learned that there are 129 turbines in the Blue Canyon Wind Power Project producing 225 megawatts of electricity, and that it is just one of five big wind farms in western Oklahoma. I was aware of the one near Weatherford, Okla., as it is visible off of I-40. I had no idea that wind farms in the Sooner state account for 687 megawatts of electrical production (enough to provide power to nearly 200,000 homes, or over 20 percent of the residents of Oklahoma)!

Also visible from the summit were small herds of buffalo and Texas Longhorn cattle, both thriving. The Wichita Mountains buffalo herd is considered the "seed stock" from which other public and private herds occasionally replenish themselves through the Reserve's annual auction. (The buffalo are very prolific and the herd must be thinned each year in order to maintain ecological balance so as not to outstrip the food supply!)

What a sight for eyes longing to see both the past and the future! Buffalo and Longhorns, once on their way to extinction, reclaiming their rightful place in America's future, and a giant wind farm quietly, effectively and cleanly producing power for Oklahoma, today and tomorrow.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am both a big believer in petroleum and in clean, renewable energy, and what my wife and I observed on our trip validates my confidence that America's best days are not behind us but ahead of us if the nay-sayers and ignorant will educate themselves about the real problems and conditions that confront us.

Point of fact: it was very heart-warming to see that drilling and pumping activity in Oklahoma is active, much stronger than I've seen it in years. Again, the advantage of driving the backroads is that you see the actual work being done. Drilling is not near the level it was in that brief period of the early '80s of our last big oil boom (before OPEC dramatically increased supply, killed prices and eliminated the incentive to drill, followed later by congressional and executive disincentives and an environmental strangle-lock of regulations designed to eliminate many older oil wells from existence). But there is drilling. I worry that there is still the refining bottleneck that comes from the closure of several old refineries and the fact that not a single new refinery has been constructed in the U.S. in over 30 years. Add to that fact the dozens of government mandated fuel blends requires refineries to re-tool several times a year to produce different types of fuel (botique blends) for different areas of the country - Caution! Some guesswork is required! - that creates downtime and artificially creates an inefficient environment for the production of fuel.

I wish that the same people who decry oil production could spend some time actually visiting the "oil patch" and see how modern drilling and conservation techniques preserve the land and water resources. My wife and I have a running joke as we pass by drilling sites and pumps, such as "Oh, look at those poor cattle who are risking their lives grazing as they do!" or "See how those evil oil companies have created that pristine pond (or lake) to fool us into thinking that they are not killing the environment with their toxins! How diabolical can you get!"

Truth: Once upon a time the oil and gas industry wasn't nearly as careful as it is today and often left a mess behind. But I know dozens of men and women in the industry today and not a one wants to be a bad actor in that way, let alone poison the Earth. They appreciate clean air and water as much as the next person, but they know that you can protect the environment while getting at the energy resources we still depend upon to maintain our way of life.

That's why I for one am not surprised at a billionaire oilman like T. Boone Pickens suddenly taking to heart the issue of wind and solar generation. His current public relations campaign seems to puzzle many Americans, particularly those on the coasts, because they suspect that he has some nefarious motive. Even the normally reliable conservative Michelle Malkin had a fearful posting about Pickens' newfound love of clean energy. Relax, Michelle! T. Boone is already rich, he's just decided that foreign oil is Public Enemy No.1 for America and in typical T. Boone fashion, he's doing something about it.

(By the way, he's right. We are spending $700 billion a year, by Pickens' estimation, on foreign oil, and to people in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela who would love nothing better than to see America bled dry and conquered by ideologies that would definitely change life as we know it. Why should we be funding both sides of the so-called War on Terror?)

Pickens actually has money invested in wind farm projects. He is putting his money where his mouth is. He is merely trying to educate the American people so that they do not allow Congress or our unelected bureaucracy to stop his effort to make us less dependent on foreign oil. If he makes a dollar or two in the process, why should we care? Better T. Boone than Hugo Chavez, I say!

And make no mistake about it. America's Left, while assuming the guise of environmentalists, have now taken to denouncing wind farms as dangerous to birds, and there are reports that enviromentalists are opposing new solar generating farms by declaring that we should "study" the impact on desert areas before we allow such operations to be built. Bottom line: if government doesn't control the new technologies, they want nothing to do with them. The goal is collectivism and "intelligentsia" control of our lives.

My suggestion: if you still have an open mind and want the facts, take your vacation in Texas or Oklahoma this summer. Spend a few dollars on gasoline and drive (not fly, that's far too energy intensive) through the wind farms, the oil fields, and the beautiful natural beauty of America, like the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, and ponder all these things in your mind and hearts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

After an extended undeclared sabbatical, the Oklahomilist rejoins the ether-chat today with a renewed sense of purpose and a personal commitment to himself to be a bit more punctual in his postings. Whether there is any viewship left after so many months is an open question that I feel is less important than my need to say some things that need saying.

It was an unavoidable break, but sorely needed. I've had a chance not only to recharge the mental and spiritual batteries, but to move the Home Office to a more pastoral locale. It is a place of fewer distractions and annoyances, more conducive to deep thoughts and bonhomie; where God's Presence is not so obscured by the works of humanity. About the only thing I miss is Cox high speed internet and a couple of restaurants that were particular favorites. That is not to say there are no close friends who are missed. There are, but they remain friends who are always welcome to come visit, especially now that we are no longer living amidst mountains of cardboard boxes and plastic totes.

In the interim I've had time to do some reading, and perhaps we'll even talk about the books a bit. Mrs. Oklahomilist and I have had a few days to travel about Oklahoma, staying off the pikes and interstates as much as possible to see the "blue highways" where the real Sooner state can be observed in its natural environs. I've kept up with developments in politics, economics and society to a degree sufficient to confirm my worst fears. (I'd love to be more optimistic, but it would be too easy to drift into dissembling strictly for the sake of optimism.)

So with the air-conditioner pumping cold air over the desk, the cat napping in the window sill, the cry of a locomotive engine off in the distance, and with confidence that my computer is finally operating within nominal parameters after a thorough post-move debugging, I welcome you to Oklahomily, The Blog and invite you to stop in as often as you may care to do so.