Monday Madness: Support our Troops… ?

I often find myself at the hardware store finding parts for bee boxes and apparati, tubes to cool a condenser with water from the kitchen faucet, and pieces of wood for making a test tube spice rack. I prefer to shop at Orchard Supply Hardware, but seeing as how there isn’t one in Davis, I often find myself at Ace. One day, Ace Hardware decided to put up a sign which got laughs from me every time I passed it. They decided to say: “Support our Troops,” but had the most uncanny way of presenting it, so bad that it deserves to be the next installment of Monday Madness.

It was a pretty innocuous looking sign, par for the course when it comes to the patriotic veneer that many companies put up. But the real laugh came when I noticed what they chose to showcase beneath this sign. When this sign first went, up, it was trying to sell 16 oz bottles of propane.

Let’s see, we have military personnel in Iraq who toppled a government and are currently fighting against insurgents. And people have been calling for everyone to “support” them. I won’t belabor the fact that what this means is entirely ambiguous, although it seems to be used as a euphemism for “support the war -because- our troops are in it.”

Anyhow, everyone’s got their own opinions as to how they got there in the first place, some say oil, others say WMDs, and a few say ‘where is Iraq?’ However, regardless of what specific chain of events took place for this war, I think there is something that most can agree about – we wouldn’t pay so much attention to the politics and governments in the Middle East if it wasn’t for all the OIL underneath. There are many other nations that could use regime changes just as much as Iraq did, but because our supply of sweet, sweet kerogen depends so much on a stable and predictable Middle East, there we are.

What are they doing on top of all our oil?

Propane, such as what was in the portable barbecue and lantern-sized metal bottles, comes from the refining of oil and natural gas. Natural gas is a mixture of gasses such as methane, propane, butane and more, and we divide it into its various constituents. Most of the propane in this country comes from natural gas, and the rest is a byproduct of petroleum refining. About 85% of the total volume of propane is produced domestically, the rest is imported. From where? Canada, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Norway and the UK.

Stepping back, I wondered whether any of the propane in those cans came from the ground underneath that war-torn region? How ironic that one of the substances in question would be sold right beneath a sign that has come to mean “support the orders given to our troops.” I brushed it off as a coincidence, and I didn’t think to take a picture.

Buy inefficient fixtures.Then came version 2. The propane was gone, replaced with an army of incandescent light bulbs. You know, the light bulbs that waste 95% of the energy in electricity as heat? The light bulbs that would save a bundle in energy (which mostly comes from oil, coal, and gas) if everyone switched to compact fluorescent lights? The irony compunds. I couldn’t let this one get away!

Ace sells bike parts. They also sell compact fluorescent replacement lamps. In the coming years, they’ll probably be selling LED-based lighting fixtures, which recently doubled in efficiency – beating out fluorescent lights. Anyway, Ace Hardware could put something for sale beneath this sign that doesn’t contradict the sign itself! Then again, propane and incandescent bulbs make money, because you have to keep buying them over and over and over again.

Get a refillable propane can, and an adapter that lets you use it for your small barbecue, and replace your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones. (Switch to biologically-derived methane when it someday becomes available for barbecues. I have no idea how charcoal compares.) Don’t “use up” your old light bulbs because you waste energy in the process – just replace them and you’ll be reducing the apparent need to secure energy sources with our military.

But then a fantastical idea came to mind when confronted with the madness that capped a conspicuous hardware aisle. Consider this: what if ‘supporting our troops’ meant keeping them employed? What if it meant that we should waste energy and consume non-refillable cans of propane that came from underground, thus creating a demand for the energy-securing services of the military? So long as regime changes are needed in the Middle East, Venezuela, and whoever else has oil, the US military budget would never be appreciably cut! Hah!

Back in reality, we realize that conspiracy theories don’t hold very much water because they posit singular intent behind human behaviors that operate on a macro-level. The store’s policies regarding featured merchandise (what gets featured?) on a rotating display area that was also convenient to display fair-weather patriotism signage seems to be enough to explain this dual-irony – without the need to resort to the craziness above. I haven’t seen any gas stations with “support our troops” signage, but then again I’ve only started looking. If you have seen any, please send me a picture and I will add it in here for all to enjoy!

It could be possible that Ace employees are playing a joke on all of us, but none of them seemed to react in any way when I whipped out my camera to take a picture. Has the irony not occurred to them? I wonder what will get featured next?

The silliest and the stupidest. The purest idiocy distilled from the depths of humanity. Our species has enormous intellectual potential, but somehow a few humans put inefficient fixtures and fossil fuel beneath a sign that is connected to the security of squandered energy sources. Just a little dose of madness to help you feel smarter and enjoy your Monday.

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.