The Running it up the Flag Pole Deception

As Wikipedia indicates, let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes is a catchphrase that became popular in the US in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  It means “to present an idea tentatively and see whether it receives a favorable reaction.” It originally meant what it said, but it is now considered a cliché. It is sometimes used seriously, but more often it is used humorously, with the intention that it be recognized as both hackneyed and outdated. A non-joking equivalent would be “to send up a trial balloon.”  If it gains the desired reaction, perhaps it might become a reality, but any observant person today will recognize that it is a deception.

In most cases, it is being used to buy some time … to appear innovative and helpful, while trying to decide whether you are really for it or against it.  The reason I am blogging about this is because the latest buzz over future EVs has pushed way beyond anything realistic … it is all hype and positioning.  Judge for yourself.  Watch the new Audi ideas for the EV of the future:

Don’t get me wrong … I love this car idea and can’t wait till the time it becomes available … but … and this is a big but, I have an 8 year old Tesla Model S that has self-driving features, but they are still far from truly operational.  I was picking up one of our clients at the airport in it and commented that sometime in the future I might be able to just send my car to pick her up.  That would be a very cool feature.

Yes, there are cities now experimenting with autonomous taxis, and I believe that is a smart idea for “short hops” kind of like an electric bus we see at airports that just makes a repeated loop.  On one level, these small steps toward autonomy make perfect business sense.  But it is a huge leap to fully autonomous vehicles.  I like the idea of 18 wheelers transporting goods between warehouses, and especially within shipping ports.  These are all in play right now, and I don’t find them misleading.

What I object to is the corporate grandstanding to out-position their competitors.  Aspirational ideas are wonderful, but these promises of future vehicles are flat out misleading.

Do you remember when Tesla introduced the new roadster and started taking orders?  That was back in 2017.  There still is NO sure date when those orders will be filled.  Was Elon just running this idea up the flag pole?  No, not at all.  He will produce this car … if he can stay out of jail due to all his shenanigans.  I still love my Model S and plan to keep it until it dies … which according to the latest battery life estimates will make it past my lifetime.

What bothers me the most is knowing the reality of all this.  Very few of these new EV concepts will ever see the light of day.  Most of the startups will fail … there are too many trying to get market share of a relatively small market.  Most people don’t really want an EV as their primary transportation and most people can’t afford an EV to just run around town.  Yes, there are a lot of people with a lot of money … take a look at the housing boom and property values along the coast.  But MOST of these people will not put up with the realities of having an EV as their only car to drive at these locations.  And, they certainly will not try to drive to that location and put up with the charge time.

I salute Elon for his innovation and vision.  He needs to check his eyeglass prescription.


Primrose Paths

It is funny how phrases from my youth are resurfacing now to help me see just how wrong everything is these days.  It is hard not to shake your head and make comments like Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise: “Beam me up Scotty … there is no sign of intelligent life!”

Shakespeare used the phrase “primrose path” several times because his audience would have been very familiar with that analog, drummed into them during most Sunday sermons of that day.  Jesus is quoted as saying that if you want to go to heaven, you must take the steep, narrow, thorny uphill climb.

The preacher would declare the road to hell is wide, pleasant and easy, and downhill all the way. The central idea comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew 7:13.  “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go there.”

Shakespeare seems to have liked that idea very much since he uses it several times and creates the metaphor of a flowery road to bring it into focus. He does that three times in his plays and two of them become a primrose path or way. On the surface, the primrose path is simply a flowery path or road. In the plays, it’s a metaphor with a reference to the road to hell.

It is fascinating to me to see so many parallels today indicating we are so willing to avoid the narrow paths that lead to a better world.  I know it is politically incorrect to question whether we should be doing things in the first place, but we need to.  We seem way too prone to pick the “shiny penny” idea that on the surface seems to be “the easy way out of our dilemma.”  The full consideration of all paths is just not politically expedient in today’s soundbite culture.

Most recently, I saw a fabulous documentary on Netflix about milk production called The Milk System which divulged the myths we have all come to believe about milk being an essential part of our diet both here and around the world.  If you watch it, you will be quite angry at how we have been led down that primrose path by people who have a profit motive as opposed to doing the right thing for their fellow man.

Cowspiracy covers the environmental damage associated with the diary and beef industry. I encourage you to watch both movies and listen carefully to the interviews with milk producers and scientists around the world.  They all expose that we should not be raising cows for milk production in the first place.

So, given we are going down the primrose path of milk production, we now see billions of dollars going to figure out ways to eliminate the cows.  Take a look at this article from The Washington Post.  The right path is to simply produce calcium supplements and eliminate the idea of milk in our diets!

Size Matters 2.0

A recent blog about the fact that size matters points out the scale issues being called for as the world moves to reduce carbon emissions.  That is clearly one dimension to the problem.  But, there is a more pressing question right now.  Read this article to understand the background for this blog. 

Why in this country at least are we considering such large EVs on the roads along so many and much smaller vehicles?  Have we forgotten the most fundamental law of physics that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.  This is the central issue when playing pool or billiards.  We all have seen those swinging balls where the number of balls that react is exactly the same as the number you swing.

The latest version of the Hummer EV weighs in at about 9,000 pounds.  It is only a matter of time before it hits the typical car weighing about one third of that.  It is going to send that smaller car flying!

Why, in this age of environmental sensitivities are we offering ideas that are simply wrong headed?  Oh … I forgot, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you are Hummer, the answer is an all-electric Hummer.  We are willing to ban all internal combustion engines (ICEs), but we are not willing to ban cars that have no place on the road?

Your reaction to this will certainly avoid some middle ground position.  After all, we are not really willing to have a full debate here.  Free market types will simply say that this involves the freedom of choice, and I agree.  Then why are we reducing the freedom of choice with the ICE?  Another position might be that we should tax “overweight” EVs to reflect their societal costs.  Then why aren’t we willing to tax the future sale of ICEs and let customers decide?

You can’t have it both ways.  We are either going to let a free market work, or we are going to attempt to control markets with regulations.

There is no question that size matters.  To me, the biggest question we are trusting others to answer is the size of government.  That is at the root of all of this mess.


Size Matters

We hear this phrase a lot in all sorts of contexts, but I want to introduce one you possibly missed.  We all know that scientific research has long been funded by all of us through the Federal budget.  That includes the obvious “D” agencies such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Energy (DOE), along with a host of national energy agencies such as NREL, LBL, etc.  The typical individual program sizes has been authorized in the millions, except of course the DOD where large budgets prevail for obvious reasons.

The energy industry has now sensed the opportunity to equivalence the energy questions in the same light as an existential threat to the planet, so why not increase the “punch bowls” out of which all the energy consultants suck from millions to billions.  You do remember the Inflation Reduction Act authorized hundreds of billions in the energy research areas, as if that was somehow going to reduce inflation.  The logic eludes me because all it in fact has done is to increase the costs of the supposedly renewable portfolios by pushing demand up for critically short constituent materials like rare earth elements and thereby drastically increase supply costs.

The good news in this country is that we, as a nation, have drastically reduced our environmental footprint and historically driven down prices for renewable sources.  Why hasn’t anyone looked at the certain results when you pour money into markets that do not scale economically any longer and drive up the devastation and human suffering in parts of the world that supply our EV and PV options?

Increases in budgets that move from millions to billions do the obvious.  Spending one HUNDRED times more than in the past always results ins shortages.  We will immediately see the need for drastically more people in these agencies and lots of luck finding qualified candidates.  So, couple this with the idea that testing is no longer fair and the DEI priorities you have a powder keg of organizational challenges.  It took decades of hard work to build the consulting and research capabilities … decades.  Now the idealistic politicians believe you can increase spending by two factors of ten and have productive environments and the quality controls to be sure of results.

Size matters.  There is such a thing as sustainable growth.  Every business school trains their execs that you can “strip out the gears” of any organization with growth.  All of the biggest failures in business are caused by unstainable growth.  Anyone who tries to attain more than 20-30% per year of growth knows you strip gears.

How many years does it take to grow a $10 million organization to a billion?  It takes at least 14 years to do that.  That means it would be the year 2037 to grow a business like that.  Have you heard anyone talk about whether they can do something like this?  And if not, why not?

Follow the money.  Ask better questions.


Freedom of Speech?

We Americans cherish this right and will defend it to our death.  But, I am wondering whether we should rethink this freedom.  Are we free to speak hatefully?  Are we free to let people mock each other?  Isn’t this a form of bullying?  Where is that age-old idea of grace and acceptance?

If you check out the detail here in this part of our Constitution you will see that the freedom of speech and expression is not absolute.  There are common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech that relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, hate speech, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, privacy, dignity, public security, and perjury.

The central idea here is that we are free to speak our mind, but not free to harm others with this freedom.  After all, where is civility and deference?  And how can we listen when we are trying to hurt another person?

Deference is an interesting word.  It means evidencing humility and respect.  Yep, that is certainly at the root of it all, and is conspicuously missing from today’s dialogues for sure.  The key idea expressed in the Old Testament that sums up our relationships is to walk humbly and seek mercy.  (Micah 6:8)

The key principle to me is that we have the freedom TO speak, but should be warned that this freedom comes with the responsibility to do no harm.  We all must realize the power of words to hurt people and permanently damage relationships.  There are consequences to hateful speech that deteriorate society and discourage others from redeeming efforts with their own lives.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, says it all as it takes a closer look at antisemitism.  Plus recent actions by Disney emphasize the same principles.

We are free to speak but not free to be hurtful.