How to Stop Being a Victim in Conversations

Jesse is talking to Mary about religion. Mary knows a lot about Darwinism, and Jesse is a born-again Christian. Jesse is talking about God and the Bible, and Mary is doing what she normally does: she draws him out, allowing him to express himself, without giving any indication that she might disagree. After years of avoiding conflict, she has learned to see things from other peoples' points of view. She has learned to understand how they could see things that way. She is tolerant and nonjudgmental. It is in some ways an admirable trait.

But in this case, it is causing her some stress. Jesse is pretty aggressive, and he is actively trying to convert her and Jesse interprets Mary's politeness as "amenable to conversion." Unfortunately for Jesse, Mary just realized that very morning that her passivity is sometimes bad for her stress level. She realized she needs to speak up more and be a little more persuasive in some circumstances, and she realizes this is one of those circumstances.

After the third time Jesse asked Mary to go to church with him next Sunday, and after Mary had already tried politely getting out of it, she finally decided to stop being the victim and start doing some persuading herself.

To stop being the victim, choose a goal. If you don't have something you are trying to accomplish, you become a supportive actor in someone else's play. Choose a goal. Mary decided her goal for this conversation was to try to convert Jesse to Darwinism. "I'm not going to go to church with you, Jesse," she said, "I don't believe in the Bible and I'm not interested. I think the Bible is an interesting and maybe even valuable collection of stories, but I think it's kind of silly to say it is the verbatim transcription of the Creator of the universe."

Jesse looked shocked. He didn't say anything. So Mary continued, "Look, I don't even know if there is a Creator. I'm more scientific than you, Jesse. I'm not saying you're wrong, because, who knows, really? But I'm saying that if I don't know, then I don't see what's wrong with just admitting I don't know. Why would I want to try to believe something I think is silly?"

Jesse saw his opportunity and jumped on it. "Faith is how you find God, Mary. That's how you do it. By believing." Jesse is very aggressive in his communication. He has no problem pushing his point of view on other people. Mary is right to challenge him. People like that are a kind of mental bully. They spread their points of view to far more people than their points of view usually deserve.

Mary didn't stop there. Now being released from her prison of avoiding confrontations, she was actually finding this more invigorating and relaxing than politely listening to what she considers to be rubbish. "I don't buy it," she said. "It sounds like bunk to me, like hucksterism. What's the difference between what you're saying and a con-man saying to me if I only believe in him enough, I can make a lot of money?"

Mary stopped being a victim in this conversation by choosing a goal, not by willing herself to stop being a victim, not by feeling bad she was a victim, not by thinking bad thoughts about Jesse, but by choosing a goal. Rather than allowing Jesse's agenda to dominate, she chose a goal and got busy actively working toward it. This is a good idea to do sometimes because some people are very aggressive in their communication; they don't try to be fair, they try to take advantage, and you need to treat them differently than you would treat a fair person. Otherwise, you will be controlled; you will become a victim. Becoming a victim is stress-producing. The way out is to switch from being an effect to being a cause and how you do that is by choosing a goal and putting yourself full-bore into reaching that goal.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Are You Outraged About High Gas Prices? It May Depend on What You Know

 In an article in the LA Times, columnist Jerry Hirsch points out that although gas prices show every indication of rising higher than they did during the price spike in 2008, people aren't as upset about it now as they were then. Hirsch writes:

Having already seen prices cross the $4 barrier, motorists are less likely to become outraged when they see it happen again, said Michael Sivak, who heads the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. And because the costs of other items have risen — notably food — it stands out less as a household budget buster.

What if people knew that the rise in food prices is largely the result of a rise in oil prices? And what if people knew that the rise in oil prices is being driven by to the urgent need of the leaders of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela to gain enough money to stay in power? They're raising the world price of oil through OPEC so they can rake in enough money to appease their populations. Would that cause outrage?

And perhaps it is somewhat misleading to say people aren't as upset about it as they have been, because people don't know there is anything they can do about it. Most people have no idea that OPEC is the fundamental cause, and even when they do, they don't know the Open Fuel Standard could solve the problem.

It might be more accurate to say people are more used to rising gas prices, and more resigned to its inevitability.

Hirsch says The Washington Post did a recent survey:

Asked whether "recent price increases in gasoline caused any financial hardship for you or others in your household," 63% of the respondents said yes.

But that percentage was higher during the surge in gas prices in 2008. "Back in 2005," writes Hirsch, "when California gas prices were in the low-to-mid-$2 range, both consumers and politicians were more vociferous with their complaints..."

I can imagine the OPEC leaders reading about this and smiling smugly. Americans are like frogs put into a pot of cold water and heated up slowly. If the water is heated gradually enough, the story goes, the frogs won't notice and they won't bother to jump out until the water is so hot they can't jump any more.

The LA Times article ends with a quote by a man who is clearly resigned after filling up his car: "We have gotten to the point of acceptance," he said, "whether we like it or not."

High fives all around at OPEC headquarters.

OPEC leaders desperately need Americans to accept these high gas prices. Their survival depends on it. Gal Luft wrote recently that the population of Saudi Arabia, the country with the most control over OPEC, is growing very quickly. Writes Luft:

Because Saudis pay no income tax, the House of Saud will need more and more money to keep its citizens happy, and avoid the fate of toppled leaders in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Saudi King Abdullah almost doubled his Kingdom's budget, committing billions in subsidies, pensions and pay raises in an effort to keep his subjects from storming the palaces.

This expensive response effectively raised the price of oil needed for the Saudis to balance their budget from under $70 a barrel before 2011 to at least $110 a barrel by 2015.

Like it or not, the bill for keeping the Persian Gulf monarchies in power is now being footed by every American. Every time we fuel our car we send an extra 35 cents per gallon, or roughly $6 per fill up, to the Save the King Foundation. Since oil goes into everything we buy from food to plastics, this adds about $1,500 annually to the expenditures of the average American family.

I think most Americans would feel outrage over this, especially if they knew we could change the whole dynamic with the simple, subsidy-free OFS bill. But people don't know this. They are treated to all kinds of complex explanations about what causes high gas prices. In Hirsch's article, he writes:

In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation to look at whether rising gas prices were the result of antitrust violations by oil companies or refiners. It eventually concluded that the increases were based on supply and market conditions.

That same year, the California Energy Commission launched its own investigation, eventually finding that unplanned refinery outages, unusually high fuel exports and tanker troubles — not misdeeds by the oil industry — were the primary drivers behind a springtime price surge.

As prices soared in 2007, state attorneys general jumped into the fray. Florida's Bill McCollum said his office was looking at more than 200 complaints about price gouging at gas stations. That same year, the House approved a bill that made gasoline price gouging a federal offense.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees! Could it be nobody talks about OPEC because they don't realize we could do something about it? After all, we can't make them produce more oil. Prices are rising and most people feel helpless about changing it.

The elegant solution that can solve this problem is to strip oil of its strategic status.

The Open Fuel Standard does exactly that — cheaply, cleanly, and quickly.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Power Plays

The following is an excerpt from a new book by Robert Rapier entitled Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. Reprinted with permission.

It wasn't as if there have never been economic alternatives to oil. Compressed natural gas and methanol, for instance, have both been cheaper than oil on an energy equivalent basis for many years...

The problem lies in the fact that consumers don't have the option of filling up with methanol, ethanol, or any of the other contenders to replace gasoline...because the transportation infrastructure is incompatible and, more importantly, the cars on the roads are not designed to handle these fuels.

Thus, my third proposal calls for support of the Open Fuel Standard that would require that a growing percentage of vehicles sold in the U.S. must be capable of running on fuels other than gasoline. I am not usually a big fan of mandates, because of the potential for unintended consequences, but in this case the additional cost to produce a vehicle that is flex-fuel capable is reported to be between $100 and $200. This would therefore only add 0.5% to the cost of the average new car.

The availability of more flex-fuel vehicles would remove one of the major obstacles for new fuels attempting to break into the transportation fuel market. Currently, there is no demand for methanol or mixed alcohols as transportation fuel primarily because the vehicles on the roads are not entirely compatible. If more vehicles were capable of operating on a wide variety of fuels with little added production cost, the market for domestically produced fuels would grow.

Anne Korin and Gal Luft, in their excellent book Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice, compare the situation today with oil to the situation with salt hundreds of years ago. Salt held a monopoly on food preservation, and was thus an important strategic commodity. Countries with salt mines derived wealth from their salt exports, and sometimes wars were fought over access to salt. But eventually salt evolved from a strategic commodity into simply a commodity, because refrigeration broke salt's monopoly on food preservation. That is the goal of the Open Fuel Standard: to break oil's monopoly on the transportation system and convert it from its present status as a strategic commodity into simply a commodity.

Robert Rapier is the Chief Technology Officer for Merica International, a renewable energy company, which is involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations. Rapier's whole career has been devoted to energy issues. He's worked on cellulosic ethanol, butanol production, oil refining, natural gas production, and gas-to-liquids. And he is the author of Power Plays.

Experimenting With Alcohol

The letter below is a response to John Kolak's article, On Using Ethanol Fuels In Unmodified Vehicles. The letter was written by Marc Rauch, the Executive Vice President and Co-Publisher of The Auto Channel, who, by the way, just launched a television station earlier this month (which you can read about here). Anyway, here is Marc's letter:

Hi John -

I just finished reading your article on the Open Fuel Standard website and I wanted to add my personal experiences to your compendium of information.

For a few years, whenever I would rent a car or get a new vehicle from a manufacturer to test drive and review, I would manually fill the tank with a blend of regular gasoline (e10) and e85, if e85 was available to me. Depending upon how much fuel I needed to fill the tank, sometimes the blend would give me only about 30-40% ethanol, and sometimes I might have 60-80% ethanol. I did this with almost every make and model vehicle you can think of, and almost none of them were "flex-fuel" vehicles. I did this specifically to see what, if anything, would happen.

Other than the "check engine" light illuminating in some instances, I never encountered a starting, driving or acceleration problem. Knowing that the "check engine" light illuminated merely because the cars' sensors detected something different, I knew that there was no problem with the vehicle. Often, if the test drive or rental period was long enough, and I had the need to fill the tank again — and only had access to regular gasoline — the check engine light would go off, confirming that there was no problem with the engine.

Of course, because the test or rental period was of rather short duration, I knew that my experiments were not really conclusive since I wasn't able to witness what ill effects, if any, might occur from longer, more sustained usage.

With this in mind, about a year and a half ago I purchased a used 2002 Ford Taurus non-flex-fuel sedan to be able to go all out on my test of e85. Because I've never had a situation in which my tank was completely empty, I've never had the opportunity to fill the Taurus fully with e85. However, I've run the vehicle on virtually all other blend levels. Similar to the short duration tests, I have run the Taurus on straight e10 gasoline to as high as 65-80%. Keep in mind that because even e85 might contain only about 70% ethanol (according to the label on the pump), it's hard to really get a blend that's much higher than 80%.

When I bought the vehicle, my friend David Blume — perhaps the world's leading expert on ethanol production and use — sent me one of the conversion kits that he endorses and sells for use on non-flex fuel fuel-injector vehicles. The purpose was for me to test the device and to maximize my vehicle's ability to handle e85. To date I have not installed the device. I've been waiting to push the car to the point where it screams "I can't take any more ethanol." That point is nowhere in sight. This isn't to say that the device is not necessary, it's to illustrate just how well an un-modified non-flex fuel vehicle can perform with e85.

Long before I purchased the Taurus, David and his associates alerted me to the need to transition into using a lot of e85, rather than going cold-turkey and make the immediate shift. The reason, they explained, is that the ethanol will loosen (and clean) the deposits left by the gasoline and that the gunk could clog the system. Because of this, I did transition to high ethanol blends through the first 3 or 4 fill-ups. I don't know if I would have experienced any problems if I didn't heed the advice, but I have not had any fuel line clogs.

In the nearly 18 months, I have driven the vehicle a little less than 25,000 miles  —  enough time and enough miles to make a more enlightened evaluation. I can report that the results are what they were in the short-term evaluations: my car runs fine, as good  —  I think  —  as any 10 year-old car should run. And I have noticed no difference in how the vehicle runs regardless of how much ethanol I use.

At an early stage I did have an interesting experience with Meineke. After watching one of their TV commercials about bringing your car in for a free test if the engine light goes on, I brought the Taurus in for the free check-up. After the test was completed the service manager told me that my O2 sensor had gone out and that it needed replacing (for a cost of about $200). I knew the light was on because I was using e85, I just wanted to see if the test system could discern the reason.

I declined the O2 replacement and told the service manager why I thought the engine light was illuminated. He reacted as if I was speaking Martian; not comprehending what I was saying about using ethanol in a gasoline-optimized engine. He argued a bit with me and warned that if I didn't get the O2 sensor replaced that I was driving an illegal vehicle. For the heck of it, I went through a couple of fill-up cycles where I only used e10 gasoline. As expected, the light went off. I brought the vehicle back into the same shop and told them that I had been experiencing an intermittent check-engine light, although the light wasn't on at that moment. They put the test through what I assume was the same computer test and told me that the vehicle was okay (with no mention of an O2 sensor problem).

Incidentally, I have to tell you that I have never experienced the huge mpg reduction that is typically cited by both ethanol critics and advocates. In my experience I lose only 5-10%. Considering that the e85 costs less 15-30% less than regular gasoline I still get a respectable net savings. Earlier today, May 12, 2012, when I drove past one of the Shell stations that I use to get my e85, I noticed that e85 was selling for just under one dollar less than premium gasoline. That represents nearly 25% savings per gallon.

In closing, I will admit that there is one major drawback to using ethanol, but fortunately it's not my problem, it's the oil companies' problem: They make less money!

Thanks for your time. I hope that this case study helps your efforts.

Sincerely yours,

Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

Watch a video on this same subject: E85 Does Not Harm Non-Flex-Fuel Engines. This ten-minute video shows you a test done on a non-flex-fuel car that burned mostly E85 for over a hundred thousand miles. Not only did it not harm the car, it actually harmed it much less than burning gasoline would have.

I think these two articles by Robert Zubrin are relevant as well. He discovered that cars are already designed for flex fuel cars, including having the software installed in the onboard computer, but the software is disabled. Check it out:

A Fuel-Efficiency Wager
Methanol Wins

The following paper from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also interesting: It's about using "intermediate blends" of ethanol. Apparently normal fuel injector computers handle up to half ethanol before the car starts running poorly (if it is going to run poorly at all). What happens is that the injector automatically adds more fuel if the fuel is partly alcohol, and most cars can do up to 50% E85 with no problems. Every little bit makes a difference. Anyway, here's the link to the PDF file: Effects of Intermediate Ethanol Blends

Stress Control

Getting criticized by your supervisor; finding out that someone you love has lied to you; receiving some bad news — these things cause stress. And stress has negative consequences, as you well know. But these are only stressful events. The source of stress that wreaks the greatest havoc on your health and sanity is ongoing stressful circumstances.

Like what? Like when a stepchild moves in with you, permanently disrupting the privacy you had with your spouse; or when your younger brother marries someone who verbally abuses your favorite niece. These are the kinds of stresses you have to live with. They don’t just come up and rock your world for a little while and then go away. They stay. And, like living in a house with a fire alarm going all day long, it starts to wear you down.

But there is something you can do about it. When you have an ongoing stressful circumstance in your life, you can modify your level of responsibility. Either take more responsibility or less. Start by asking yourself, “Am I trying to control something I can’t or shouldn’t control?” or “Is there something I should take responsibility for that I have been leaving out of my control?”

It might help to write it out. Write the questions and then jot down some ideas — where are you taking too much or too little control of some aspect of your life?

Be specific. You are responsible for your child in general, for example, but specifically, do you control what he wears or what he eats or when he goes to bed? You must decide. What exactly do you control and what is either out of your control or none of your business? You must decide.

If something is out of your control (or is none of your business and you’ve been trying to make it your business), you will relieve yourself of a lot of stress by letting go of it. Drop that one. Recognize it’s out of your control and busy yourself with things that are in your control. You may be in the habit of trying to control that thing, so you’ll have to remind yourself again and again for a couple weeks: “Oh yeah, I’m not trying to control that anymore.” Write it on a card and carry it with you. Post notes to yourself on your bathroom mirror. Do whatever you have to do to remember you no longer have to waste your energy trying to control that thing.

Now, if you find something you should and can control and haven’t been, roll up your sleeves and get to work on solving the problem. Use the problem-solving method from page 266. Deliberately take steps to repair the troubling circumstances. That’ll relieve your stress better than anything else. It may be difficult at first; it may actually cause you extra stress to face the situation and try to deal with it, but in the long term, your stress level will go down.

Take responsibility for what you are responsible for, and stop taking responsibility for what is not your responsibility. It’s that simple. Control what you can control, and let the rest go. It will relieve a great deal of your stress. Control stress by stressing control.

This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.

What the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 Has to Teach Us About the Food Versus Fuel Issue

The famous Whiskey Rebellion occurred in 1791. Farmers were rebelling against a tax on their whiskey making — a tax they perceived as unfair and that harmed their businesses.

Back then, farmers "out West" (western Pennsylvania) had solved a problem in an ingenious way, and they didn't want it taken away from them. The problem they had was surplus corn. What can a farmer do with surplus corn? They could try to ship it back east to sell it, but it's bulky and expensive to ship. And it can rot, it gets eaten by bugs and mice, etc. Their solution was to turn it into whiskey (ethanol). So most farmers had a still. They transformed their excess corn into whiskey, which was valuable and condensed (easy to ship). It didn't go bad. Mice couldn't destroy it.

They turned their surplus corn into something wanted and valuable.

Flash forward to the 20th century. American farmers were continually suffering from massive surpluses which flooded the world market with cheap grain. There was so much surplus, grain prices around the world dropped out the bottom. Many farmers went bankrupt. They were so successful at increasing their crop yields that they were putting themselves out of business!

So what did they do? They tried to find other markets for their excess grain. One of the things they came up with was high-fructose corn syrup.

And another market they found was fuel. They began doing what their predecessors were doing back in the Whiskey Rebellion days — they turned their excess grain into ethanol.

But (music changes to a sinister tone) their success began to eat into the gasoline market. Because ethanol burns cleaner and has a higher octane rating, many states mandated its use as a small percentage of all gasoline sold. And as ethanol became better known, people wanted to use it more and more. So the oil industry went on a propaganda rampage against ethanol. And when food prices rose sharply in 2008, they exploited that fact by implicating the ethanol industry in raising food prices.

In fact, ethanol had almost no influence on the steep rise of food prices. In an ironic twist, the biggest culprit was oil prices! Turns out, the price of a barrel of oil has a large influence on the price of food because fertilizers and pesticides are petroleum products, farm equipment runs on petroleum, packaging often relies on petroleum (plastic is made from petroleum), and shipping the food relies on petroleum.

But the oil industry has been on a campaign to convince people ethanol production raises food prices. Another irony is that the ethanol industry was created because food prices were too low!

Pundits were crying out a warning that because of ethanol, food would get too expensive. People in poor countries would starve because of our greedy need for fuel, etc. But this is so far from the mark, it would be laughable if so many people hadn't fallen for it.

For someone who doesn't know anything about how it all works, it makes sense that higher food prices would lead to hunger. But in fact, in many ways, just the opposite is true. Most of the criticism about food-versus-fuel is centered on corn, so let's look at that.

Most of the corn America exports isn't purchased by poor countries. They don't have the money to buy it, no matter how cheap it is. Japan often purchases more U.S. corn than any other country. And when U.S. grain is cheap enough that poorer countries can buy it, the grain is so cheap, it puts local farmers from the poorer country out of business. This isn't good for local economies and can worsen their poverty.

This is a bigger deal than we might think. The vast majority of people in developing nations don't live in cities. They live in the countryside, and most of them are small farmers. Agricultural products are a large part of their country's economy. So when grain prices drop too low, rather than helping poor people, it can and does make them even poorer. Alexandra Spieldoch of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said, "Research shows that domestic food productivity is more effective in stabilizing developing-country food security than the reliance on inexpensive food imports. A fair price for the farmer's production will also help stabilize demand for wage labor in the local economy."

Jeffrey and Adrian Goettemoeller, experts in environmental remediation and sustainable agriculture, said, "Keeping grain prices quite low might seem like a good way to fight poverty, but the opposite result can come about when economies based largely on agriculture are damaged. Ironically, then, a reduction in U.S. exports resulting from increased corn ethanol production might help alleviate poverty-driven hunger in some places when coupled with efforts to enhance food production within developing countries."

Many people fear that fuel competition will cause food shortage or raise food prices. This fear was deliberately cultivated by the oil industry because it rightly sees ethanol as a competitor. But not only is ethanol from corn unlikely to raise food prices, but even if it does, it may very well be good news for developing countries.

Beyond that, fuel competition is not ethanol-specific. Cars could be capable of burning methanol too, and methanol can be made from renewable resources like forest thinnings and agricultural waste as well as natural gas and coal. It can even be made directly from CO2 captured from power plant and factory emissions.

And fuel competition is not limited to even these. Anything goes except cars that can burn nothing but gasoline. It will give us a wide choice of alternatives, which can then compete with each other for our transportation dollars, lowering the price for consumers and boosting the American economy.

Let's make it happen. The best place to start is an open fuel standard.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Super Grass

A new hybrid grass has been recently developed that is not an invasive species, is not genetically modified, can be grown on marginal lands (land not suitable for regular agriculture) and yields more biomass per acre than any crop ever cultivated. It is called Giant King Grass and it grows 15-18 feet tall.

This is a fast-growing, low-cost feedstock that can be used to create ethanol and butanol, as well as what are known as “bioplastics” — a renewable replacement for petroleum-based plastics.

Read more: 

New Butanol Production

Several big companies, including Gevo and Butamax, have found a way to convert ethanol production facilities into butanol plants. Butanol is an alcohol with an energy density (that is, BTUs per gallon) closer to gasoline, and it’s made in a similar way, using fermentation, and it can be made from the same feedstocks, including corn and switchgrass.

The technology is already developed and there is a ready market — oil companies are willing to blend it with gasoline in higher percentages than ethanol, it doesn’t evaporate as easily, so it can be more easily transported via pipelines, and it doesn’t have a tendency to take up water, as ethanol does. It is a promising renewable fuel.

Read more about it: Corn Ethanol Makers Weigh Switch to Butanol.

We Don't Have a Free Market in Transportation Fuel

Petroleum does not exist in a free market. Some oil production operations produce oil for much cheaper than others, so they could sell theirs on the market at a price lower than anyone else, and thus gain a larger market share.

But they don't. They all sell barrels of oil for the same exorbitant price. Why?

Because they can sell everything they have at top dollar.

Why? Because OPEC keeps oil artificially scarce. They keep it scarce enough that all the oil that becomes available on the world market is snatched up. There is no competition. It's an unprecedented seller's market.

OPEC's price-fixing, economy-devastating scheme (and its destructive effects) can be bypassed with the simple introduction of fuel competition. Cars would become a platform upon which different fuels would compete against petroleum in a free market.

And then what would happen? Prices for fuel would drop, and the economy — no longer dragged down by crushing, encumbering, onerous fuel prices — would boom. Let's make it happen now. First step: Add a conversion kit to your car.