Saturday, June 23, 2007

On hypermiling in moderation:

A few months ago, I came across an article in Mother Jones about people who use all sorts of techniques to increase the mileage (and thereby decrease the emissions) of their cars. They’re known as "hypermilers," and the best of them get 50 miles to the gallon in a conventional vehicle and 100 mpg in a hybrid! We were frustrated with the less- than-stellar mileage our new car was getting, so we began employing some of their techniques. We can’t endorse all of them, however, since some are downright dangerous or even impossible in some vehicles.

Moderate Hypermiling Techniques

• Accelerate slowly
• Maintain your speed once you reach it by pressing very lightly on the gas
• Avoid extraneous breaking
• Anticipate lights (Red light ahead? Shift into neutral early enough to roll to a stop.)
• Don’t accelerate to move up when you know you won’t be able to go far; idle up or wait for traffic to start moving before accelerating
• Shift into neutral and Coast downhill (Preserve momentum where possible by avoiding breaking.)
• Don’t run your air conditioning (Sometimes I run it just to cool the car off after it’s been sitting in the sun, or periodically but not continuously.)
• Keep your windows rolled up (Of course, it’s not moderate to do both in summer.)
• Don’t keep a roof rack on when not in use
• In highway driving, do not exceed 60 mph
• Park at the highest point in a parking lot, facing out so you can roll (in neutral) to start; turn your car on only when you run out of momentum
• Avoid traffic (You can turn your car off in stand-still traffic.)

Extreme and Dangerous Hypermiling Techniques

• Overinflating your tires (This compromises your ability to break)
• Driving in the draft of a tractor trailer truck (The driver can’t see you; you may not have time to stop.)
• Turning off engine while coasting (Some cars can’t be controlled under these circumstances.)

We don’t get 50 miles to the gallon, but our mileage has improved significantly. In his Mazda Protégé, my husband got 30 more miles than usual from a tank of gas just by coasting! Our Honda CR-V currently gets 22.5 rather than 18.5 in solid city driving. I’m finding too, that the longer I do it, the better my results. I think you begin to notice the opportunities to coast more, develop a feel for slow, steady acceleration and gain confidence over time. I am much more likely to coast while tracing regular routes than while going somewhere new. There is one .5+ mile stretch near my house that I can travel without touching the accelerator as long as I start with a little momentum. It is also easier to anticipate lights when you know their patterns.

It’s kind of fun too! Hypermiling makes driving an automatic almost as much fun as driving stick.

I hope readers will try some of these techniques. Almost everybody is coming around to the conclusion that we need to burn less fossil fuel (Even George Bush!—sort of). Hybrid cars are expensive. Riding a bike isn’t feasible for everyone. Moderate Hypermiling is something anyone can do to burn and emit less and love the planet more.


Monday, June 4, 2007

On losing the first primary and the last democrats:

That’s democrats with a small “d.” (A brilliant college professor of mine named James Morone used the size of the d to distinguish between citizens of a democracy and members of one of the two major parties in our political system.)

There was an article in the Globe yesterday morning (“Despite Challenges, N.H. Primary Thrives,” by Lisa Wangsness and James W. Pindell, The Boston Globe, June 3, 2007) about the encroachment of other states on New Hampshire’s status as first primary state. So far candidates are still paying attention to NH but they are spending less time than they used to and holding fewer small events. One long-time NH resident was lamenting the loss of intimacy in the campaign this season.

There’s been a lot of talk about how changing the order and density of the early primaries and caucuses will lead to earlier selection of the nominee and big money’s playing an even greater role in that selection. These are certainly real concerns, but there’s a threat that we’ll lose something even greater.

Reading the article yesterday, I was struck by the idea that NH in a presidential election year is one of the last places where old-fashioned democracy can be found. In this day and age when, for most of us, politicians are reduced to sound bites and scandals, NH is a place where they still kiss babies and learn voters’ first names. It’s where the talking heads sit down in someone’s living room and ask ordinary people what they think.

The whole reason other states want to move their primaries up is to try to gain back some of that attention and importance; to ensure that their votes will mean something. Unfortunately, we will probably accomplish the opposite by indulging them.

Instead of undermining the special status that makes real democracy possible in NH for a few months every four years, we need to discover ways to replicate that level of civic engagement elsewhere-- every day of every year.

The link to the Globe article can be found below.

Friday, June 1, 2007

On bullying, Hollywood style:

I hesitate to admit that I’ve watched American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance but if you’re going to comment on social phenomena, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of society. If the number of votes for Taylor Hicks last season-- more votes than any president has received-- is any indication, American Idol has captured a lot of hearts. (I’ve also got a small child, which tends to limit one’s evening activities.)

I can appreciate good singing and dancing. I enjoy watching an amateur’s journey to accomplishment. I think, watching these competitions, we all get excited about the possibility of making that kind of unlikely transformation from our own ordinary selves to someone celebrated by the masses. That’s why the shows draw so many votes.

On the whole, these are feel good shows, so why is it necessary for them to sanction schoolyard bullying in the name of entertainment?

The same possibility that makes the shows fun to watch, brings everyone and his brother out to audition. Sure, some of them have self-esteem that’s greater than their talent. I think that‘s a positive thing. Why do the ultra-rich, ultra-successful judges need to ridicule people they consider pitiful? If it is so obvious when someone has such an egregious lack of talent, why does it need to be mentioned at all? And why are viewers so entranced by the spectacle? It reminds me of the worst of the behavior I witnessed on the playground as a child. It wasn’t fun to watch then and it’s no better now.

I wish I could shrug them off as just a few more stupid TV shows, but what America tunes in to tells a lot about what our values are. For me this talent/humiliation show phenomenon is just another indicator of how uncivil our society has become. Yes, the impulse to raise ourselves up by putting others down has always existed, in just about everybody in some measure, but have we always approved it with 60+ million votes (and millions of advertising dollars)?

I’ve heard parents discussing American Idol as one of the few “safe” choices for family viewing. With weeks of ruthless audition episodes kicking it off each season, is it really safe for anybody?