No Bad Idea Gets Left Behind


It struck me that there is always something very suspicious when the government voluntarily stops doing something. Perhaps you noticed it too: there is now a new push to end “no child gets left behind.”

How can something with such a seemingly wonderful idea captured in a program title fall into disfavor? I hear the woes from my sister in law who has been a teacher all her life in poor schools in Alabama as well as from my lovely wife Susan. So, I guess I do understand that the idea that everyone needs to achieve a certain level of education is, at least on the surface, a noble idea. That is, until you try to make it work in practice.

Having graduated from a college that few would want to, no less try to get through, I can attest to the fact that they told us from the outset that 1/3rd of our class was going to get left behind and that if we didn’t want to be in that third, we had better be prepared to work very hard. I must admit that hearing that during my freshman orientation was far from encouraging given I knew I had nowhere near the preparatory education of my classmates.

But, maybe it is high time to realize that life skills might matter a bit more than text book skills to help us become better citizens and more productive in our society. Most of us will not have to solve math problems like the one shown here with the intuitive solution by one student shown as well to make my point.
Unfortunately, for us in the power business, many of these skills do matter and, the fact is, that the basic skills coming out of high school and even college are declining. What we assumed years ago as problem solving skills are simply not there anymore.

We need some better ideas to attract and train people to join and stay in our industry.

Pushing on a Rope

Pushing Rope

I have spent most of my life boating. When I was 13 living on Long Island, I had a 10-foot home built rowboat that taught me many things. I moved onto sailing a 12-foot sailfish … essentially a surf board with a sail. Lots more things to learn, including what not to do when it flips over.

One of my favorite seamanship warnings was “never put yourself in the position where you would have to push on a rope.” It seems very hard to imagine anyone would deliberately doing that, but I have to admit, there have been times when I approached a dock and didn’t consider the wind or tide I did put myself in a position like that.

So, I did some checking online to see where this wisdom started. Once again, Wikipedia had the answer. It originated with the idea of pushing on a string. If something is connected to you by a string, you can move it toward you by pulling on the string, but you can’t move it away from you by pushing on the string. It is often used in the context of economic policy, specifically the view that “Monetary policy is asymmetric; it being easier to stop an expansion than to end a severe contraction.”

According to Roger G. Sandilans and John Harold Wood, the phrase was introduced by Congressman T. Alan Goldsborough in 1935, supporting Federal Reserve chairman Marriner Eccles in Congressional hearings on the Banking Act of 1935:

Governor Eccles: Under present circumstances, there is very little, if any, that can be done.”

Congressman Goldsborough: You mean you cannot push on a string.”

Governor Eccles: That is a very good way to put it, one cannot push on a string. We are in the depths of a depression and… Beyond creating an easy money situation through reduction of discount rates, there is very little, if anything, that the reserve organization can do to bring about recovery.”

The phrase is, however, often attributed to John Maynard Keynes: “As Keynes pointed out, it’s like pushing on a string…” [3] “This is what Keynes meant by the phrase ‘Pushing on a string.'”


The phrase is also used in regard to asymmetrical influence in other contexts; for example, in 1976 a labor statistician, writing in the New York Times about Carter’s policies, wrote that in today’s economy, reducing unemployment by stimulating employment has become more and more like pushing on a string.

When will we learn from history? I think we all know the adage: if you fail to learn from history you are doomed to repeat it. Here we are.



I hope you have had the chance to see this play. Perhaps you are fully aware that it is “The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It represents an alternative telling of the witches from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” and L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 story “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The musical is told from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz; its plot begins before and continues after Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from Kansas and includes several references to the 1939 film and Baum’s novel. Wicked tells the story of two unlikely friends, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda the Good, who struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, reactions to the Wizard’s corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba’s public fall from grace.

On one level, this is simply a great back-story. However, most people who see the play agree that it is an interesting commentary on what is truly or not truly wicked about a person and their deeds in life. My favorite part of this is the soliloquy by the Wizard in the song Wonderful where he states:

“Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history. A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist. There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”

What brings this to mind is an article in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the shifting sands of taxation as the internet continues its growth, you, and I stop buying things in conventional ways. Taxes are being reduced as a result, so taxing authorities try to find new ways to tax their replacements. We stop buying DVDs, so let’s tax video streaming services like Netflix.

Shouldn’t we first ask the question why taxes are being collected in the first place? If I watch TV on my computer, I see ads that pay for that service just like ads pay for TV being broadcast to a TV set. What difference does it make whether I watch the program using the over-the-air broadcast system or I watch it online. I have to pay for the data when I do that online.

So, who is being evil here? I think the taxing authorities should first be explaining why we should be paying the taxes in the first place and for what purpose and then work through the new supply chain to see who would be willing to fund the rightful costs in exchange for their imaging or good will. We have the Public Broadcasting Network already built on that model.

Taxing the economy is just like the play Wicked. It is a matter of perspective only after you take a very close look at both sides of the issues. It seems we are excessively prone to continue taxes just because those depending upon them feel they need them. I am not convinced.

Sitting on the Premises


A recent Sunday school lesson started with a play on words shown as the title of this blog. Everyone in the class laughed immediately. No one needed any explanations. Besides being a twist on the title of a familiar song, “Standing on the Promises”, it was just so profoundly accurate and descriptive of life today.

That prompted me to check out who wrote the song.   It was composed by Russell Kelso Carter, a star athlete, excellent student, successful teacher and coach, an ordained Methodist minister, and a doctor of medicine! He was also a musician and songwriter. In 1886, he co-authored a hymn book with John Sweney that included Carter’s most famous hymn, “Standing on the Promises”.

At age 30, Carter’s heart was failing and physicians of the day could do no more for him. Carter turned to God for help and healing and it was then that he began to stand upon his understandings of the biblical promises of healing. He was determined to believe no matter what his physical condition, nor how he felt. Over the course of the next several months, his strength returned and his heart was completely healed! Carter lived another healthy 49 years.

The hymn Carter had written several years before his healing miracle had now became more than words and music to him. He stopped “sitting on the premises” and the act of “standing on the promises” became an integral part of his life. So, even for the guy who wrote the song, sitting on the premises was an easy trap to fall into and certainly not enough. Interesting and inspiring.

Perhaps this then is also a lesson for all of us today in the energy industry. Perhaps we have been too comfortable and complacent just sitting on the sidelines accepting the status quo and business the way it used to be. Maybe this is a call to stand for what we believe in and act in ways that produce positive outcomes. Something to ponder.

Eat Your Spinach!


It is funny to me how differently people think about things. When President Bush complained that he didn’t like broccoli, it set off a series of lawsuits. Now, the movie Jurassic World seems clearly to be setting records at the box office while movie critics complain that it is a terrible movie … kind of like complaining that people do not eat their spinach. After all, it is good for them.

Take a look at this rant: Jurassic World is a Huge Mega Hit

I remember Popeye the Sailor who did eat his spinach. He can have the maiden Olive Oil for all I care. Not my type. And, frankly, I like spinach, broccoli, and get this … Brussel sprouts … which my children always called with distain, Brussel bumps! Yes, I really do like them. But, I am in a rare group who do.

If we are going to measure success by what customers buy, perhaps we do have to lower our academic and philosophically elitist standards. We are not wrong … we are perhaps just a bit naïve. That my friends is why I used James Carville’s one-liner from Bill Clinton’s campaign: It’s the economy stupid!

That is why I wrote the book about how measuring temperature is going to turn the energy world upside down … in ways very similar to the reasons why Jurassic World is so popular … people want this type of information. They don’t want to work hard to understand things. It’s the Thermostat Stupid.

If you want a digital copy just let me know.