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Arizona Prop 127 and the Dentist

Amending the Arizona Constitution to Require Electricity Providers to Generate at Least 50% of their Annual Sales of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources.

Despite my cynicism 640-02771702and shaky belief in our experiment in American democracy, I still take my responsibility of voting seriously. I truly don’t believe my voice is heard or that my vote amounts to a hill of beans, but I’m programmed to believe that if I don’t participate, I haven’t earned the right to enjoy the occasional benefits of freedom bestowed upon all of us. I guess it’s similar to the old exchange where I’m asked, “Do you believe in free will?”

My response … “Of course, what choice do I have?”

With this said, I diligently do my homework on the ballot issues upon which I’m allowed to vote. In an effort to learn how I felt about the matter of Prop 127, I have contacted representatives of organizations espousing both sides of the matter. I have found it difficult to get straight answers from either side, especially the “Vote No” people.

One information resource available to me is called “NextDoor.com”, a pseudo-social network composed of neighbors – thousands of them – in the area of Scottsdale in which I live. One neighbor began a thread on the site encouraging neighbors to oppose the proposition. I muddled through the dozens of responses, some caustic and snarky, some myopic, some humorous and some more thought provoking than others. Here are a couple of the take-aways from my efforts.

  • Many people drink the cool-aid. The “Vote No” contingent is largely fed by the big utility companies, APS in particular. Their motives seem to be one-percent altruism (possibly misguided) and ninety-nine-percent profit motive. I don’t believe for an instant that profit is necessarily bad, but when it comes by selling your soul to the Devil or peddling your daughter on the streets to the highest bidders, the profit-motive may run into a few moral barriers.

APS may not be taking the moral high road on this matter. They make no claims as foolish as to suggest renewable energy in of itself is bad. They just say your monthly electric bill will increase. Those supporting Prop 127 make the argument that utility bills will go down. In both cases, there seems to be some sleight-of-hand being employed to make the cases. Bills probably wouldn’t go up as much as APS claims and they probably wouldn’t go down as much as NRDC claims.

Either way, the discussion of utility rate hikes seems to have an air of red herring. If APS insists on presenting blatantly false, fear mongering arguments about cost increases, this seems to beg the question “Why is APS so vehemently opposed to Prop 127?” I can guarantee you that the president of APS doesn’t go to bed each night with a prayer about keeping my personal utility bills as low as possible. He may pray that his income continues to grow without bound. I’ve got a whole file of cancelled checks that pretty much proves he doesn’t give a damn about my personal budget.

As an experienced engineer, I will assume that APS opposes Prop 127 for two principal reasons, taxes and control. I suspect that investing in significant new infrastructure in the form of solar and/or wind generation equipment is a “capital expense” and that those expenditures must be depreciated over an extended time period. If they could be immediately “expensed”, the Corporation Commission would no doubt do what it normally does and allow them to roll the costs into the utility rates immediately. If the costs are to be depreciated over time, APS would have to wait to fleece the consumers longer. I’m sure the picture is a bit more complicated than presented here, but you get the gist of it.

It should strike you as contemptable that APS can spend millions promoting and peddling the anti-127 rhetoric and immediately force you to pay for it via such “expenses” being rolled into your monthly utility bill, but they fight investing in a cleaner environment because that can’t take those dollars out of your pocket by the handful; they still get them, they have to grab them a few dollars at a time.

The other issue is “control”. A constitutional requirement for a certain energy mix takes a little bit of the choice from them. Heaven forbid they don’t retain complete, unbridled control of their world.

So some people drink the cool-aid like it’s free. They listen to what APS says and take it as the gospel. After all, it must be true because many of those who support Prop 127 are tree-huggers or liberals or environmentalists or even Democrats. Some have even gone over the edge and drive a Prius. My God! What further proof do you need that APS is standing on the right side the fence? Drink up. It beats the hell out of thinking it through.

  • Many, if not most people, don’t look at the big picture even if it’s held right in front of their faces. I’m stunned at the number of people who look at the issue solely from the standpoint of the amount they believe their utility bills will increase. Let’s take the improbable worst case scenario as presented by APS and assume your monthly bill will increase $100 per month. There is more, much, much more to the picture. If you’re content with viewing a grossly over-simplified picture, here’s a quick way to not only save the $100 per month, but actually cut your bill out altogether – don’t pay your bill. There you go; how much better can you do than that? But they’ll cut off my electricity you say. Well of course they will, but that’ll be a month or two down the road. We can deal with that problem when it comes along.

By viewing the Prop 127 question as nothing more or less than an increase or decrease in your monthly electric bill, that’s precisely what you’re doing. You’re ignoring myriad other costs that you will have to pay, just not necessarily immediately. These costs are very real and the bill will be coming due. You can try not paying the bill, but you’d be better off letting APS turn off your power. If worse comes to worse, you can at least buy batteries and a flashlight. Escape from the other expenses that so many people ignore isn’t nearly so simple.

Fact: Health care costs increase with increased burning of fossil fuels. Fact: Even if you don’t personally end up with asthma or heart disease of any one of the countless other maladies, you’re still paying the bill. When some American citizen who can’t afford health insurance ends up in the hospital, guess who’s paying the bill. You are.  Fact: reducing fossil fuel consumption results in a cleaner environment. When air and water is polluted, everyone suffers as the economy suffers. The cost of clean-up has to be borne by someone. Take a look in the mirror if you’d like to see who gets that bill.

There are countless other expenses that legitimately need to be taken into account when looking at Prop 127. Life would surely be grand if it was about nothing more than your utility bill, but it’s not. Some of the expenses may have differing time horizons, but they WILL be paid. If you consider yourself fortunate in that maybe, just maybe, the bills won’t come due in your short lifetime, I’m sure your children and grandchildren will think highly of you for having the wisdom, vision and love to care about their future quality of life.

  • The power of rationalization is the irresistible force. Many of the anti-127 voices put forth the “argument” that Prop 127 won’t solve the problems of pollution, global climate change, etc. They’re absolutely correct. In truth, the overall impact may be miniscule in comparison to the overall challenge at hand.

However, it can’t be argued that one small, short step in the direction of a goal isn’t in fact far better than no step at all. If we do nothing at all, nothing will be done. In fact, it strikes me as sort like my view on casting my vote. I don’t really believe my voice is of any consequence, but if I don’t vote, I have no voice at all.

Prop 127 is much like going to the dentist. I have a legitimate phobia with dentists and all their tools of torture. Sometimes I feel like the choice of seeking dental care should only come when the pain is so excruciating as to overwhelm my fears. But with a little common sense, I come to the realization that line of reasoning is childish and foolish. If I keep putting it off, the pain would become intolerable and the cost of mitigation would become huge. How long do we want to suffer before we act? How much suffering can we endure tomorrow for a few fleeting moments of pleasure today?

Hey, it worked for Emperor Nero. Do you ever wonder what tune he was playing when Rome finally caught fire? Thanks to NextDoor.com, I’m voting Yes on Prop 127.

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Trump’s Trolley Kills Five

trumpyWell, America … you have murdered the trolley workers. Their blood is now on your hands. Let me be clear; a minority of Americans can rest peacefully, albeit, fearfully. They at least tried to pull the lever. They just couldn’t get enough help from their fellow Americans who “voted their consciences” or didn’t vote at all.

Ok, I get the feeling your face is dressed in confusion. “What the hell trolley is he talking about? Who died?” Let me back up and explain.

The “trolley problem” is a well-known thought experiment in the field of ethics. You remember ethics? They used to be common in the halls of government in this country.  In the trolley problem, you are confronted with a serious dilemma.

A trolley car is out of control and careening down the tracks where five workers don’t see or hear it coming. If nothing is done, the five workers will assuredly die. You see this and happen to be standing by a large lever. If you quickly pull the lever, the trolley will be directed onto another track where you see one worker who will unquestionably be killed. Do you pull the lever to save five lives at the expense of one life?

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A Death in the Family

graveNo one’s getting out alive. One of the few constants in the universe is that there is an ultimate end to everything. If we’re to believe all of the philosophical euphemisms surrounding death, we shouldn’t fear it. It comes to all things. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is inescapable. All things are ultimately buried, even if only metaphorically.

When the end comes, whether it be expected or a sudden and shocking event, the process of grieving begins.  People deal with their grief in different ways, some constructive, others not so much. In her landmark book, “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of what she called the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although she directed her words to those who were dying, the five stages also apply to those forced to grieve the loss of a loved one.

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Global Climate Change and the Future of the Domesticated Turkey

pollutionThere’s an old wives’ tale that turkeys are so stupid that when it rains, they’ll look up in fascination with their mouths open and drown. Much to the dismay of old wives everywhere, this is false. The turkey has been given a bad rap in the folk tale channel. The truth is the domesticated turkey isn’t the brightest bird in the barnyard, but it’s not that stupid. You’ve never seen one watching Fox News have you? Case closed.

Unlike the turkey, other animals have been awarded a falsely elevated status where it comes to intelligence. It’s unfair, but once rumor turns into avalanche, there’s just no stopping it. There is no question in my mind that the single animal with the most overrated brain is your common, run-of-the-mill, garden variety homo sapien. Mankind has spent much of its history trying to exterminate itself. If it hasn’t been through warfare, it has been through soiling its own nest. A common house cat has the innate smarts to use kitty-litter and bury its waste. Mankind’s not that smart. The fact is the species isn’t bright enough to save itself.

Looking for evidence for my claim that humans are grossly overrated in the intelligence department? This one seems to be incontrovertible – there are still people who don’t believe we have a serious problem with global climate change. As a scientist, I find this beyond stunning. It amounts to an indictment of the human mental machinery that is without defense. The mere fact that there remains one person on the planet who hasn’t spent the past quarter century living in a cave in Borneo that doesn’t have at least some grasp of the problem proves, “Mankind is too dumb to save himself from his own self-induced calamity.”

The scientific evidence keeps piling up and up and up. But even if someone’s not “scientifically inclined”, how sharp does he have to be to conclude that if a half dozen kids spend an afternoon in a swimming pool, there’s a good chance there’s an element of “pollution” in the mix? With the obvious in every corner, there are those who still cite the claims of their preachers and Foxite talking heads to deny the phenomena exists.

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Obama and the Great British Petroleum Scandal

Damn Harry Truman! Harry was President when I was born. And here I am a mere 5’8” in height. Truman could have done something, maybe sent in the government to insist the hospital staff do something to accelerate bone growth. My basketball career was done before it ever got started thanks to Harry T. What is government for if not to help citizens like me? Hey, Harry – I thought you said the buck stops with you.

By the mid-fifties, I was playing hockey on the frozen ponds of Michigan. Hockey sticks weren’t cheap and I ended up breaking my share. Where the hell was Ike when this was going on? Those diabolical Canadians were obviously selling cheap “Northland” hockey sticks to the kids in the U.S. to keep them from becoming a hockey power. The proof can be seen in the results of the recent Winter Olympics where Canada beat the Americans by a goal. The whole time this was going on Ike was visibly absent. He could have stepped in, but he didn’t. And there you have it – we lost the gold.

In the sixties, I was at the lake when a freak storm blew over a tree which knocked over a power pole which sent a big electric transformer crashing through the roof of our neighbor’s house. There was only one way off the island with its five houses and the fire that burned in one of them blocked access to the bridge. We were trapped. No one came to the rescue for over three hours. Where was Lyndon Johnson as this was going on? Why didn’t he have an emergency backup plan ready to go? Wasn’t his job to anticipate such problems and deal with them when and if necessary? He fell down on the job. That’s probably why he didn’t run for another term. The incompetent bastard!

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Climate Change and the Theater of the Absurd

A recent column by Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times dealt with the topic of skepticism about the validity of the science of global climate change. Admittedly, there are many populist groups such as the Tea Party whose members also tend to doubt the theories. But that isn’t “news”. It’s not news when a group of people with conflicting interests who are unschooled on the science of global climate change express doubts about things they don’t want to be true.

What makes Kaufman’s story interesting is that she discussed the skepticism over global climate change theories held by – of all people – TV weather forecasters. Referring to a study performed by researchers from George Mason University and the University of Texas, she says, “. . . that only about half the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was ‘caused mostly by human activities.’” So some weathercasters have doubts. Oh boy!

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Arizona Nearly Blown Off the Map (If you believe the media)

Without a free and vibrant press, you wouldn’t be reading this. A free press is essential to the maintenance of freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility. Unfortunately, the press doesn’t always act responsibly. You can expect small minded provincialism from little newspapers nestled in isolated mountain towns; they try their best with the limited talent pool they can dig out of the caves. But I can’t help but expect better from the major market media.

Recently, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona, a station generally known for fair and balanced reporting, ran a story about the “emergency shutdown” of the Palo Verde nuclear generating station forty miles west of Phoenix. They ran the story and ran the story and ran the story.

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