Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oil and Water...and Politics

The classic adage that oil and water don’t mix took on new meaning the other day when I read a WSJ article on front-load washing machines. The subject was especially relative because last year I purchased a new washer and dryer, mostly because of age. I was surprised when I looked at the market that it was almost impossible to find a top-load washer, like the Maytag that had served me so well.

The reason? America has become too dependent on foreign oil.

Energy efficiency in the washing machine industry began in the early 1990’s and rapidly gained momentum so that by 2007 it was almost impossible to find a top-loader. Also, it was almost impossible to find a washing machine that worked as well as a top-loader. Oh, and what you found as a front-loader cost almost twice as much. But you were supposed to make that up in savings from less electricity and water usage.

Of course, water saving was supposed to be the reason for low-flow toilets, a fact blurred by the multiple flushes needed to get rid of stubborn residue.

Water saving wasn’t behind the moratorium on incandescent light bulbs, but the unintended consequences are strikingly similar. Compact fluorescent lamps are not only irritatingly slow to glow, rendering you ugly in the mirror (and presumably to anyone who sees you); they are toxic to dispose of when they finally burn out. Gone are the days when you could throw a bulb into trash with your only worry being that someone might cut themselves. Now disposal requires a drive to the hazardous waste dump and often stockpiling in some room until there are enough bulbs to justify the trip. And what a calamity if one breaks in a room! As a dentist for half a century I know the drill if there is a mercury spill in the office. That’s why we took carpet out of the dental operatory.

What I’m setting up here is that maybe we were better off before Congress began meddling in our everyday lives. Technology advances are bad enough in their own right without mucking around with the regulations required to use new devices. My mother-in-law used to say that for every labor-saving devise introduced there was an increase in labor. For instance before there were washing machines, people washed once a week, and hung the wash out to dry on a clothesline. After the introduction of washers and dryers, children stopped changing clothes (from school clothes to play clothes), wearing the same sets for a week, and changed clothes every day. Washing had to increase in frequency.

Don’t even get me started on cell phones and work expectations of 24/7!

Today’s news indicated that the California legislature is considering changing the age when a child can ride in the front seat of an automobile. Presently, although encouraged to sit in back, children over the age of six can sit in front if properly restrained by a seat belt. They are considering changing the age to 13. I reflected that it may be that the first time a child could sit in front was when they get their license to drive.

Back to my washer story. I finally settled on a washer and dryer that cost more than double what they replaced, and I have been relatively happy with how well they clean. This, in spite of the fact that Consumer Reports in 2007 could find no washer they could call a “Best Buy”. Off-setting the higher cost was a rebate program offered in California that was designed to be an incentive to move to more energy-efficient appliances. After three re-submissions of the paperwork, I have yet to get the final $50 of three rebates.

And these are the bureaucrats who are trying to balance our $26 billion budget shortfall. I think we’d have a better chance of getting oil and water to mix.

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