In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: What those smart meters really do

This one-world-government-United-Nations conspiracy stuff caught me asleep at the (light) switch. When those sneaky varmints from Florida Power & Light attached a smart meter on the northeast corner of my house a couple of years ago, I didn’t raise a peep.

Foolish me. Naively, I thought life would be better without live FPL meter readers traipsing through my backyard, sending my dogs into an insane barking frenzy and making me wish I hadn’t left those 12 empty incriminating beer bottles on the patio table. So I went along with the plan to replace the meter guy with a radio transmitter.

Two weeks ago, I discovered that world government lackeys at FPL were no doubt relaying my deepest personal secrets about peak electric usage back to U.N. headquarters in New York. Of course, the U.N. can take this information and calculate the optimal time — just as I’m dozing off after my third beer — to send in the blue-helmeted storm troopers. Which won’t make my dogs happy.

I only know this because a sprawling retirement community northwest of Orlando erupted into a conspiracy theory furor a couple of weeks ago over the local electric utility’s plans to install — gulp — smart meters. The CEO of Sumter Electric Cooperative held a community meeting at the Villages, the state’s most famous Tea Party bastion, to explain the money-saving benefits and power efficiencies that come with radio-equipped meters. The Tea Party, ever on guard against lefty conspiracies, was having none of it.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that local Tea Party activist Aileen Milton went after the utility exec. “I don’t want this in my house. I do not want the United Nations in my house," Milton said. “You may not have ill intentions, but not if it’s in the hands of the U.N.”

The Sumter exec, a bit flummoxed, referenced his own right-wing bona fides. “Politically and socially, I am probably as conservative as anybody in this audience. I am a member of the NRA. I believe in lower taxes, limited government,” he said. But he would say that, wouldn’t he?

FPL installed millions of smart meters down in the southern half of Florida without much of a ruckus. But outside of South Florida, folks are more attuned to conspiracy theories and the ever-looming prospect of One World Government. Last month, the Lakeland City Commission bowed to local concerns about snooping government intrusions and voted to allow Lakeland Electric customers to opt out of smart meters. Of course, opting out will cost $16.25 a month to offset the cost of a human reader. But that’s a small price to pay to fend off an international conspiracy.

In 2011, world conspiracy theorists pulled off a major coup in Pinellas County, persuading a 4-3 majority on the county commission to stop the fluoridation of the county’s drinking water. A dozen dentists and pediatricians had testified that fluoridation had improved the county’s dental health, but the commissioners were swayed by Tea Party activists worried about sneaky government operatives messing with our drinking water.

General Jack D. Ripper, of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, would have been thrilled that someone, after so many years, had heeded his words. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), in his mad preamble to nuclear war, said, “You know when fluoridation began?...1946, 1946. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works. I first became aware of it, during the physical act of love.... Yes, a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed.”

It’s unclear if lovemaking perked up in Pinellas County after fluoride was removed from the water. Pinellas voters, however, were not of the same mind as General Ripper or the Tea Party. Two commissioners who voted for the ban were booted out of office in November, the first Republican incumbents to lose there in 30 years. Both acknowledged that they were undone by their fluoride vote. “The voters clearly said they want fluoride in the water. And I will never vote against fluoride again as long as I live,” ousted Commissioner Neil Brickfield told the Tampa Bay Times.

In December, the new county commission voted to resume fluoridation, conspiracy be damned.

No matter. The ultra-right has other conspiracy worries. Like gun confiscation.

Over the weekend, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, told Fox News that he no longer supported background checks for all gun sales. Closing the background check loopholes had been the one meager gun control issue with a chance to make it through Congress. But LaPierre warned Sunday that expanded background checks would lead to a gun registry which, in turn, would lead to President Obama “taking away your guns.” Obama, apparently, has been planning this gun grab all along.

(This coincided with a burst of even more obscure conspiracy theories about that photograph of President Obama with a shotgun, supposedly taken while he was skeet shooting at Camp David. The angle of the barrel, apparently, was all wrong. Obviously, White House secret operatives had Photoshopped the shotgun onto a picture of the President pointing the way to U.N. headquarters for an FPL meter reader.)

Folks in the Villages know better. Obama won’t need a gun registry. Not if smart meters are allowed to collect information about how many assault weapons, Stinger missiles and rocket-launched grenades law-abiding citizens have stashed in our cupboards. The president can just get the info from the UN.

Gun confiscation isn’t even the worst threat posed by these damn gadgets. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that since FPL installed that damn smart meter, things around the house haven’t been, well, all that lusty. I’ve noticed a “profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness.”

It could be old age, of course. But I’m feeling the same about smart meters as Jack D. Ripper felt about fluoride. “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

Besides, I’m sure my dogs would prefer dealing with an FPL meter reader than some damn U.N. invasion.

Unless the U.N. infiltrators come with doggie treats. That could change everything.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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