Sunday, September 7, 2008


August 14, 2008

Sheesh. I take two weeks off to go lap-topless in Seattle (paperless, TV- and radio-less too; take note, Mr. Gates), and what’s first up on the news when I return? Why, it’s Barack Obama, asking us fellow Americans not what your country can do for you. After eight-plus years of official avoidance of self-sacrifice for the national good, he must have felt it necessary to draw us back to it gently, with baby steps. So to begin, what you can do for your country is: Keep your car’s tires inflated and get a tune-up.
The opposition jump-started off that one. It took the Republican National Committee just a day or two to order up a bunch of tire-gauge sticks imprinted with "Barack Obama’s Energy Plan" and dish them out to reporters and supporters, many of whom promptly off-loaded them to e-Bay (going price: $7.49-$10).
Obama’s admonition, however, was not unfounded. Experts like the AAA and NASCAR have been saying for years that properly inflated tires and a well-tuned engine could improve your gas mileage by 3% and 4% each. If all the driving public began doing just those two things today, demand for petroleum could be reduced by as much as new offshore drilling might produce 20 years from now. John McCain himself eventually had to admit the same, causing Obama to muse snidely that he was now having debates with himself.
The flap, thus flipped, was a flop, and the pundits got great mileage out of it, making car-puns. That was actually the best part of the whole thing — or worst, depending on where you rank the pun as a form of humor.
I mean, they had a blowout. The cable guys especially, regardless of their balance or alignment, wouldn’t tire of it; they got all pumped up and kept the pressure on for at least two-sevenths of a news cycle. Government leaks, gas-bag politicians, and a flat economy all took a back seat, until John Edwards checked his side-view mirror and found Rielle Hunter was closer than she appeared. That jacked them up over something new — a story with legs.
Aw, go ahead: Think up some really smelly puns yourself; this paper welcomes letters to the editor.
Obama’s call to fight gas-price inflation with tire inflation does sound laughable at first hearing, but it’s far less so than McCain’s call for that "gas-tax holiday," which is just a silly way of asking what your country can do for you.
If you’ll allow me one last pun, I’d like to see Obama’s idea gain traction. As we’re all now coming to see, achieving energy sustainability and environmental improvement will be the result not only of enlightened public policy (presently running on empty) but of countless individual decisions by everyone who uses energy — that is, everyone. And since federal action on energy has sputtered and stalled for years, the decisions of individuals, businesses, and state and local governments become all the more important. The pinch of fuel prices on the pocketbook is raising consciousness faster than altruism ever could, and people are now scrambling for personal ways to conserve and preserve. Obama’s suggestion is hardly self-sacrifice — let’s hope he gets well beyond the baby steps pretty darn soon — but at least it’s asking what you can do for your country, as well as for yourself.
As far as driving is concerned, I find myself making new resolutions every time I hit fifty bucks on the pump. After getting over my laughing-jag at the Obama speech and the Republican backfire, I took out my old unimprinted tire gauge and portable pump, plumped up my tires, and added the task to my Day-Timer’s tickler.
Prior to that, I’d lowered my highway speed to 60 mph (55, the supposedly optimum speed federally imposed after the 1973 oil embargo and rescinded without forethought over a decade ago, somehow seems just a bit too slow). Coupled with a tune-up, this has brought the gas mileage on my classic 1984 Honda Accord up to a Prius-challenging 40 mpg. It also has a remarkable calming effect on my driving, except when tailgated by a towering truck or a senseless speeder.
I’ve given up drive-thru windows too, after suffering hallucinations of gas-pump meters racing blindingly like the National Debt Clock while I sat there idling. Good local governments would close all drive-thru’s permanently.
And speaking of idling, I’ve started treating stop-lights at empty intersections like stop-signs; if I see no pedestrians, cars, or police, I’ll proceed through them. Good local governments could substantially cut fuel consumption in their districts by turning traffic lights at low-volume crossings to flashing red. I’m sure I’ll get a moving violation sooner or later from some cop idling her patrol car in the bushes. No matter; I’ll go to court and plead innocent by reason of sanity.
Barack, I’m with you all the way on this one. I’d rather be a starter than an alternator.

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