by Matt Krauss
State Senator Dick McCormack was a member of the Vermont Senate during my service in that chamber. His voting record differed from mine in many instances. However frequently his voting explanations could be followed and appreciated even if the facts could easily lead to other more reasonable and understandable conclusions. Unfortunately, his explanation of Senate bill S-5 fails to meet his prior years standards.
The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee (SNR+E) efforts this session so far have centered on S-5 sometimes called the “Affordable Heat Act”. Senator McCormack serves on this committee and has been intimately involved with this bill. So eyebrows were raised when he described the committees work as “a Rube Goldberg” contraption. Rube Goldberg is generally meant as a means to accomplish very simple tasks by complex methods; tasks that could obviously be done in a much simpler fashion. There are three tests for a Rube Goldberg contraption. It must be complex, it must work and it must provide happiness and joy to the creator and those who see it.
No one who has delved into S-5 doubts the complex and convoluted methods used. The record for a Rube Goldberg contraption seems to be 244 steps in order to water a plant (See – Brief History of the Universe). However, as a former member of the Vermont House of Representatives, my money is on the House to craft a more complex version of the Affordable Heat Act, and the record number of steps may yet be in jeopardy.
But Senator McCormack unfairly compared S-5 to Rube Goldberg’s efforts in two ways. Mr. Goldbergs’ complex contraptions were easily understood by everyone who looked at them and could in fact be recreated proving that they actually worked. He never created them, but apparently others did. However, no one really seems to understand how S-5 works, including some members of the SNR+E committee. Fewer folks trust it will ever function and accomplish what it wants to achieve. Here’s an example of a Rube Goldberg creation which actually works called The Page Turner.
Mr. Goldberg derived a great deal of pleasure from both crafting his inventions and the seeing the enjoyment that others experienced admiring his works. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t appear to me that S-5 is meeting this same level of enjoyment from either it’s creators or the bill’s intended recipients.
Senator McCormack and other legislators may end up owing a public apology to Mr. Goldberg for attempting to trade on his good name and his complex functioning creations by equating their efforts with his successful ones. Mr. Goldberg, if he were still alive, might take offense claiming they were trying to appropriate his work.
Mr. Goldberg was quite an accomplished individual. He was educated as an engineer. And at various times in his life was a sculptor, an author, and an inventor. He created a character called Boob McNutt. Wikipedia describes the character in part as, “….a clumsy, buffoonish fellow who was quite friendly and attempted to be helpful in his incompetent way. He was entrusted with tasks like caring for priceless works of art and the Elixir of Immortality, tasks in which he inevitably failed, usually in a destructive manner.” I wonder if Vermonters can relate to this character and if they might know a few folks who are busy taking a functioning system, complicating the hell out of it and knowingly leading it to its ultimate destruction.
Vermonters want and deserve a less complicated solution than a Rube Goldberg one. And that actually works without costing excessive amounts of money that cannot be afforded during these difficult financial times. Or disrupting and upending their lives and their businesses. And finally a solution that brings in small measure a bit of joy, happiness and perhaps a little laughter to all concerned. That’s a high bar but one worthy of legislative efforts. Oh, and I think I may know someone who might offer some good ideas to achieve that goal, Governor Phil Scott. It might be worth asking for his input at this point.