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Solar Sense

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Sun-powered energy is hot stuff

By Bob Harris

I LIKE TO THINK of myself as an environmentally friendly guy, but I'm really a massive hypocrite. Just to write these things, I use an enormous amount of electricity.

Between my computer and my Internet hookup and the radio on all day and the cable TV and the little vibrating thing I like to wear on my, uh, shoulders, I probably use almost as much electricity as the Florida justice system.

So I worry about where the energy comes from. Nuclear power? Too bad about those 100,000 years of toxic leftovers. Oil? Maybe, if they'd stop forging tanker hulls out of the captains' leftover beer cans. And don't even talk to me about coal. One of my grandfathers was a coal miner. He had lungs like a Brillo pad. When his hair went gray, he didn't buy Grecian Formula, he just coughed on his comb.

Which is why I continue to advocate the development of more sustainable sources of power: wind turbines, biomass and geothermal generators, hydroelectric plants, and a national initiative to recapture the petroleum content of Cher.

Most of all, I'm rooting for solar power. Properly developed, solar power will be clean, cheap, and inexhaustible. In other words, pretty much what Clinton expected from his intern program.

(Sorry. Sometimes the punch lines just write themselves. That's the only Lewinsky joke I'll ever do, I promise.)

Unfortunately, so far you see solar power used only in really desolate, hopeless locations almost no one visits, like a remote pay phone, a billboard in the desert, or Magic Johnson's late-night talk show.

(Speaking of which, have you seen the opening monologue? What is this, the Discovery Channel? I don't think there's enough oxygen in the room. Stop the experiment. The man could die. Fun's fun, but please, get the guy some 02 and a mask, stat.)

Anyway, through little fault of the major energy companies, solar power is finally becoming viable as a large-scale source of power. And as a demonstration to the people of Los Angeles, the big ferris wheel down at the Santa Monica pier is getting hooked up.

Finally, the future we read about as kids is about to arrive.

Solar ferris wheels! Solar public buses and trains! And in Florida, the Sunshine State, the ultimate liberal conundrum: solar electric chairs!

Talk about good news and bad news ...

DOES THE FIRST Amendment protect calculated lies? Apparently so. The state of Oregon is an extremely pleasant place. You don't hear much about it, largely because lots of people who go there simply never leave. The scenery is gorgeous, the cities are clean, and most of the really scary people have already moved to Idaho.

There's another reason why some Oregon visitors, many from as far away as Florida or New England, never leave: legalized doctor-assisted suicide.

This figures: The only place you can legally kill yourself is the last place you'd ever want to.

Anyway, the neighboring state of Washington also recently considered a referendum legalizing assisted suicide. In a state with thousands of Microsoft employees, when it comes to pressing the cosmic Escape key, they probably can't help but go after market share.

However, some Washingtonians think physician- assisted suicide is a bad idea--apparently, such things are best left to amateurs--so they published a scary handbill claiming that if the measure passed, "your eye doctor could kill you."

Well, heck, your eye doctor can kill you right now. So can a proctologist, for that matter. Me, I'm taking the eye doctor.

What they meant was: Your eye doctor could kill you legally.

Still, that's not what the bill was really about, so the pro-legal-suicide folks filed a complaint under a Washington law that says lying in political campaigns is a crime.

Of course, if anyone paid much attention to a law against political lying, they'd probably have to just put locks on the legislature door and be done with it.

Anyhow, the law about lying went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which threw it out--ruling that the First Amendment even applies to a calculated lie.

Which means: Next year, when Spokane Republicans accuse Clinton of sleeping with a lemur, and Seattle Democrats respond that Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott are alien space robots controlled by the tobacco lobby, it'll all be part of the big fun stew we call democracy. Which would be really depressing. But still nothing to move to Oregon over.

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From the July 9-15, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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