Smart Windows and Teddy Roosevelt

I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR, where I heard part of an interview done by Joe Palca, a guy on the Science desk there. He was talking with a scientist about a “smart glass” technology she and her staff have been working on for a while. Its application would be in “smart windows,” which would control the amount of sunlight and heat coming through into a building and theoretically reduce the amount of energy required to heat or cool the inside.

As usual, in addition to the express topic of the conversation, I heard something else. Here’s the transcript from the clip I’m talking about.

MILLIRON: In terms of demonstration products, I think it would be reasonable to see something even in the next three years or so.

PALCA: And when I talked to her last week, she said there was progress but still a ways to go.

MILLIRON: We’re discussing with very large scale glass manufacturers what really needs to happen to make it viable for broad deployment in architectural glass.

PALCA: The point here is that getting a good idea out of the lab and into the show room requires patience, hard work, and yeah, maybe even a bit of luck. When Milliron talked to Richard, she spelled out for him the hurdles that lie ahead: finding the right materials, scaling up the manufacturing process, making glass that’s free from defects.

What did I hear in that? An expert in science say that she’s “discussing with very large scale glass manufacturers what really needs to happen to make the [smart windows] viable for broad deployment…” An expert in one field quite freely and quite reasonably admitting without shame that she isn’t an expert in everything. There is someone who knows something she doesn’t know. Her expertise in nanotechnology doesn’t impact her ability to recognize that she doesn’t know the ins and outs of manufacturing. And as a result, someday soon—though maybe not in the three years Milliron hopes—the day will come when smart windows are introduced into the marketplace. If all goes well, they will provide a service to homeowners (more efficient and lower energy bills), a profit to those large scale glass manufacturers and a host of wholesalers and retailers and installers down the line (supporting the capitalistic drive), and a patent and more money for research for Dr. Milliron. A bunch of experts on different sides of things who know what they know and what they don’t, and are strong enough in character to go to those on the other sides to get their input in how to best produce a solution that is a win-win for all concerned. Wow. How refreshing.

Our government was, in theory, designed to operate like Dr. Milliron. People, from different states, with different topographies, different cultural challenges, different sizes, different populations, different livelihoods, were to come together and talk about solutions that allowed EVERY represented citizen to come away from the discussion satisfied that the needs of their states had been acknowledged, and the needs of every constituent considered.

But it doesn’t operate that way today. The agenda is increasingly clear—our representatives, specifically in the House, but not limited to them because state and local governments who operate with the same agenda are popping up all over, are after only one thing: “solutions” that benefit them and only them right now. If you’re not in the groups they’d describe as “we,” your needs, your privileges of citizenship, and your right to equal consideration under the law irrespective of any number of irrelevant demographic characteristics is dismissed. Your ideas, no matter how well thought out or defended are not only ignored, but attacked with arguments only a full-blown psychotic would make, believing that nobody’s on to them.

I recently re-read a speech given by former President Teddy Roosevelt in Paris one hundred years ago. It’s the same one that the well-known quote called “The Man in the Arena” was excerpted from. I was impressed with a personal anecdote he shared later in the speech:

A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each one was determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on a round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it in the fire; and then the cowboy started to put on the brand.

I said to him, “It So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be.

He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.”

In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!”

To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.”

I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get whatever is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.”

He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.”

And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me then you will steal from me.”

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong IN your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong AGAINST your interest.”

I have only one thing to say to those who pretend they are public servants in today’s legislatures:

I am not fooled. If you will steal FOR me, then you will steal FROM me. And you have. So go get whatever is owing to you; we don’t need you any longer. You are an empty bag taking up space that could be better filled by someone like Dr. Milliron.

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