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The plague of smart

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There is a nasty little radio spot airing nationally. It promotes “green” appliances and goods generally; swirly bulbs, “efficient” washers… that sort of thing although the specifics are tactically muddied. The ad pitches to a curiously young demographic. We’ve all met “Timmy”. Like Dickens’ Tiny Tim, Timmy is infectiously cute and contrived to pull at your major arteries. Timmy wants to go to the State Fair! Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. Maybe he didn’t know there was such a thing as a State Fair but the announcer, whose relation to Timmy is unexplored, asks him breathlessly, “Do you want to go to the State Fair?” Of course he does! Sorry, you can’t. You see, Timmy, your parents are NOT using green, energy efficient doo-dads but the old busted bulbs and machinery, causing them to spend more on utilities and draining their pockets of the gas and ticket money necessary. If only your folks had bought the new, government approved and promoted doohickeys they would have been able to take you there for candy floss and teacup rides, whatever those are. If they get on board today then you can go to next year’s fair. “But I want to go NOW!” Radio Timmy coaches Timmies across the land in whinery to cajole mums and pops into replacing their eight-for-a-dollar earth-warming heat globes with pigtail bulbs at $8 dollars or more a pop. Needless to say, this public service message was paid for by Your Federal Family which draws its budget from you.

The stated aim is to increase the energy efficiency of our homes and NO ONE is against efficiency, are they? Even if you are only concerned with your own bottom line, and the ad equates the health of your bottom line with the state of tranquility at your table, green is the way to go, right? That is what the ad does not imply but declares emphatically; dragooning your children into their chorus with promises of dunking booths and funnel cakes. Only the assertion is false. Check into the performance and price of the competing items and you find that even the manufacturers only claim that their products will pay for their price differentials over time. How much time is variable but lengthy; for the bulbs it is a few years of heavy use. For the appliances it is even more, often the “savings” are not even promised to materialize until the very end of the machine’s service life while their performance is consistently poor. So on its own terms this little bit of green frummery is not only a fraud but is one that will do the exact OPPOSITE of what is promised. If Little Timmy’s parents don’t have the wherewithal to take him to this year’s State Fair they will be in desperate straits indeed spending a thousand dollars on a washer/dryer and hoping for a savings of $200 over a decade. If Timmy is successful in mau-mauing these purchases not only will he miss the State Fair he may have to make his shoes last another season or have his peanut butter switched to generic. And the only way serious “savings” will materialize is if power, gas and water itself radically increase in cost which is unlikely to increase the family entertainment budget. Other than scads of money, what could induce a person, or in this case a public institution, to disseminate such a vicious and transparent lie aimed at children across the public airwaves at public expense? It is possible only because, presumptively, these ads run in the service of Smart.

What is Smart. Hey, what isn’t? There is smartwater [1], there are smart Cars [2] which are available with smartshift transmissions. Inconistent capitalization is also smart, apparently. On that one, I Agree. But for the most part the assignment of Smart is a simple declaration that is unchallenged. Smartphones are clearly smarter than dumb phones but are the precepts that underly these “green” initiatives and programs as obvioiusly and demonstrably synonymous with Smart? Timmy may feel quite smart, smashing his parents secret hoard of incandescent bulbs; saving money and the polar bears simultaneously but he won’t be going to any State Fairs unless it is in search of work. And when he goes, his clothes will be poorly laundered.

Still, that’s Smart. Green is Smart and the peddlers of Green am Smart. Al Gore is numero one in this department. Long before he was ever saving us dummies from a scorched earth he was saving us from a watery grave. The “high-efficiency” toilet was really the first Smart Product. The great triumph? To lower the average toilet flush from 2.2 gallons to 1.8. This, they certainly do and the Gorelet, as they are now known, has destroyed all its voracious 2.2 gallon competitors. Although it did this through no sort of competition unless it was in the lobbies of Congress and over collusive chats among manufacturers, municipalities and regulators both government and private. So not only MAY you Flush Smarter, you MUST! 2.2 gallon toilets can neither be manufactured or imported. Nor can they legally be installed in new construction. At least we are more efficiently and yet more Smartly moving our bowel contents off to their final reward, yes? No. While the flushes consume less water it takes MORE flushes to do the job as anyone who has lived between the two eras remembers quite well. The ancient, primitve crappers hardly ever needed a re-flushing absent a visit from a freakishly gigantic neighbor while the Gorelet must be played like a billiard table trick shot to get the job done with one handling of the handle. Even if you are some mad, throwback savage you don’t want to waste any precious water, do you? Of course not, so we do not just double flush as a matter of course which would raise our per movement consumption to 3.6. Instead we do nature’s business, loose the flood which sounds like a Dixie cup emptied into a coffee can and closely inspect the process while listening to the tank fill. Why? So we may time the second flush expertly enough to avoid a third spending our not-so-precious time and attention at least once daily. This, friends, is Smart.

But the Smart just keeps on coming! Sweeping California and other Smart locales is the smartgrid. Central to the smartgrid is the Smart Meter; a computer basically with a powerful digital transmitter. And what does it transmit? Your power consumption down to the smallest erg. And to whom is this information transmitted? Why, to the utility so they may charge you MORE for peak consumption and less off-peak as big industrial users are treated. But Average Joes have found [3]in California that somehow the peak charges accumulate as the off-peak discounts evaporate. This while the download from the lurking meter is detailed enough to tell whomever what appliances you are running, what lights you have on, what rooms you are inhabiting and to what temperature you are heating or cooling them. This is all to your benefit, of course, as the utilities and their quasi-governmental golfing buddies cater their communications with you according to this data sheet, helpfully explaining how you may want to do your laundry at three in the morning or think about a sweater or how lingering in an open refrigerator is uncouth. Imagine how Smart you could become especially as the Smart Meters themselves expose you to radio waves of a frequency and strength similar to residing in a tree house built at the top of a cell phone tower. This is an experiment in Smart, one of many, many more.

An even greater blessing than the Smart Gadgets is the endless rain of Smart Guys (and Gals, of course). One who has shined brightly these last few weeks is a fellow named Jon Corzine. Once Governor of New Jersey and before that a Senator, Corzine is the epitome of Smart. The Governorship came to him strictly on his merits as the only Democrat less provably corrupt than the abysmal Bob Torricelli. This was some Smart Planning. But out of public office Corzine has been just as Smart, guiding MF Financials to outrageous gains! Of course he also led them to outrageous losses, including the dissappearance [4] of some $600 million in quarantined funds belonging to investors. Quarantined from what, you might ask? Among other communicable ailments, these funds were to be quarantined from losses MF might incurr from Greek bond defaults. Now, I know what you are thinking: if Corzine bought Greek debt, how smart could he be? But he did no such thing. Only a fool would! Instead the genius play was for MF to sell insurance AGAINST Greek losses to those dummies who DID buy the bonds! So really Governor Corzine (if we may use his highest title) already separated the precious client funds from the raucous and hazardous dealmaking he had to engage in to turn a dollar, even before they were legally “sequestered”. That neither of these practices has kept the loot from walking out the door cannot fairly be laid at this gentleman’s door. After all, he is smart as a whip. Everyone knows.

But there is one Smart Guy who outsmarts them all, just ask him. That fellow is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, elevated whenever he is spoken of as “the smartest guy in the room” with the implication being that the room is also not so dumb. Is he smarter than Joe Biden? Many claim this is so though they have not directly contested. Like Corzine, Newt is a Renaissance Man. Not merely a public servant he is also a professor of history and he professes with every breath. He is a top-selling author, consultant, public speaker and inspiration to a hungry world. Hungry, that is, for Ideas. Newt is the quintisential Idea Man. Even his political opponents, the devious and hellish Democrats agree that Newt is just full of Ideas and is in any case, Smart. What is meant by Smart is again, a fealty to the sort of smartness above. Newt was against Global Warming back when it was Global Warming, which is not long after it was Global Cooling (and now changed to Change). The carbon exchange which would tax emissions of carbon dioxide, yes, your exhalations [5], was championed if not contrived by old Newt. Likewise the most abrasive elements of Obamacare, which are identical to those in Romneycare, were just fine and dandy to Newt a half-hour ago. He was a supporter of the loosening of lending restrictions and government under-writing [6] of the risks epitomized by the Community Reinvestment Act that has done so much to bid up the prices of our homes and seen their values cruelly dashed. There is scarcely an issue you could name (excepting abortion) that Newt has not been on both sides of and it is on this that the claims of his smarts are largely based. Even when supposedly acting as a rigid ideologue, close observers find this is only a pose. With Newt, there is always a back door with a coin-box. Coin box? ATM slot. No musty old ‘principle’ or claim to ethics would ever keep him from a dollar or a moment of adulation. This is what makes him the presumptive Smartest Guy in the Room while his true intellect would restrict that claim to his visits to the outhouse, if it is a one-holer. No, the Ideas Man is the empty sack he resembles. The very phrase smacks of Prof Harold Hill [7], as if we treasure ideas by the bushel or books by the pound [8]. When questions of consistency and principle come up, as when he loudly jumped on this or that bipartisan bandwagon that now offends Republican primary voters, the Smart Guy shows the common touch, explaining how it was “the dumbest thing I ever did!” Or at least was caught at. We have three such superlatives to date, how can each be the dumbest? Well, Newt’s a Smart Guy. I’m sure he knows what he is talking about. And three is nothing anyhow. If he does get the nomination, a prospect all Americans should dread [9], you can be sure he will accumulate many, many more dumber things; most of which will have been those things he is saying and doing now to nail the Primary that will prove awkward in the general. Now THAT is Smart.

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