It's A Mad, Mad World
by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Forty years ago, Director Stanley Kramer made one of the great comedies of all time, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, starring a who’s-who of stand-up comedians, pranksters, punsters and comic actors. Sadly, most of the cast members, from Spencer Tracy to Milton Berle, Phil Silvers to Ethel Merman, and Jimmy Durante to Jim Backus, have exited life’s stage.

But in watching the movie recently on home video, I was struck by several things: the movie’s length (almost 3 hours, twice that of an average movie comedy); its dizzying, nonstop array of sight gags and clever wordplay; and, most of all, its uncomfortably right-on-target depiction of how we humans spend so much of our time and energy chasing the wrong things, in this case the supposed “fortune” buried under “the big W” at a nearby park. Alas, in real life each of us tends to blindly chase a big W — whether it’s wealth, wins, wit, work or what-not — that ultimately proves illusory, unsatisfying, fleeting, fake.

Such panting pursuit of personal fortune is nothing new, of course. Unbridled greed is recounted in excruciating detail in accounts as old as the Old Testament and as new as today’s newspapers.

And speaking of newspapers, recent headlines about electric utilities include the following, troubling trio: “NRG Executives Press for Bankruptcy”; “Dynegy Downgraded for 5th Time”; and “Williams Cut to B1; Third Downgrade This Year.” Now, you may never have heard of NRG, Dynegy, or Williams, but all three are large companies that have been major players on the national scene in power production and energy trading. And all three, as the headlines state, are in trouble.

And trouble is, these headlines are not the Alpha to Omega of negative headlines about electric utilities. These are merely one day’s store of stories documenting a sad tale that’s been unfolding over the last couple of years. This tale of woe has included fraud and corruption (Enron), questionable political decisions by California’s legislature (leading Pacific Gas & Electric to file for bankruptcy, and Southern California Edison to the brink of it), and questionable business decisions (all of the utilities listed above).

My headlines summing up the lessons learned? How about “Bigger Isn’t Always Better.” Or, “National Reach Can’t Touch Local Control.” Or even, “A Company’s Balance Sheet Isn’t Balanced When Money’s the Only Bottom Line.”

Your electric utility isn’t large. We’re not national in scope or aspirations. Our goal is not to generate profits for stockholders. As an electric cooperative, we’re fairly small in the world of electric utilities. Also, we’re local, owned by you and all the other member-customers, who control us through an elected board of local people. And, of course, our only goal is to provide you with reliable electric service at the lowest possible cost.

These things may not generate big headlines. But that’s OK with us. There’s only one thing we want to generate: your loyalty, based on our performance. That’s been our bottom line for over 60 years, through wars and political shifts and cultural revolutions and corporate comings and goings. It’s a bottom line we intend to protect, in this Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.


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