Roger L. Simon

Ethanol and the whole damn thing

Jake Weisberg (writing in Slate) seems almost relieved that Bush’s energy ideas from the SOTU sound muddled. Of course I don’t know whether to trust Weisberg. I have always known him to be a political opinion writer, not a scientist or even a science writer, but he apparently has sources he trusts who tell him ethanol is a useless technology. Christine Stebbins (writing for Reuters) comes to another conclusion – at least her sources do. (And, unlike Weisberg, she names those sources)

“People look and see what’s happening with worldwide oil supplies and it is a cause for concern. People realize the era of cheap oil is over,” said Bob Dinneen, chief executive of The Renewable Fuel Association.

“Clearly, ethanol is something we are doing now that we can do more of that will provide at least a part of the solution for the future. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if oil was $25 a barrel,” Dinneen said.

I must say, though, that I sympathize with Weisberg. Every time conventional liberals think they’ve finally got George up against the wall, he raises them one. What would Weisberg have written if a President Gore had made the exact same proposal? (“Gore is a man of genius for having the courage to resurrect much maligned ethanol.”) Bush is the king of political rope-a-dope. It’s amazing his enemies still keep walking into his ploys. Do they actually buy their own palaver that he is stupid? Weisberg brings back that canard with some nonsense about how Bush is being inconsistent by wanting lower energy prices. The President’s just too stupid to understand these contradictions so easily comprhended by his high IQ opponents. This all reminds me of an experience I had playing poker years ago in Gardena, California. I was sitting next to the proverbial little-old-lady from-Pasadena in tennis shoes, etc. “I’ll check if you’ll check,” she told me with a flat nasal accent. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll check.” “Raise,” she said, pushing a couple of hundred in chips into the pot. When I looked at her, taken back, she continued, “Never trust anybody.” At that point, I folded. Weisberg should too. (Unless he wants Bush to come back for a third term!)

Coming back to the question of ethanol – who knows? But what I do like is that the argument for alternative energy sources is being pushed. Of course, there will be many naysayers with a variety of explanations, but I am old enough to remember quite well the reactions to JFK when he proposed putting a man on the moon, in those days seemingly a much greater undertaking than weaning ourselves from some of our oil gluttony. I say go for it.

UPDATE: It’s interesting to compare Joe Katzman’s post on the subject (filled with actual science links) with Weisberg’s political maunderings. I spent the day at a conference ((see below) debating the new media/old media thing. These debates may be getting a little old in and of themselves, but if the Katzman post at Winds of Change and Weisberg article at Slate are exemplars of the two forms, I’m on the new media team – and not just because I work for PJ.