Thursday, April 03, 2008

Not Exactly Good News

Lit buildings, light poles,etc. keep stars from shining brightly.

Remember Earth Hour the other night? I can't help but think that it was mostly last minute, barely observed, and localized in its effects. I wrote that night that my street looked no darker during that hour, and the stars seemed no brighter. Turns out I was right. From the Tucson Citizen today:

Though Tucson Electric Power Co.'s average hourly megawatt demand dropped during Earth Hour, spokesman Joseph Barrios was unable to credit the decrease to the event.
Saturday's average hourly megawatt demand for TEP's 375,000 customers dropped from 1,404 an hour earlier to 1,371 during the 8-9 p.m. event - Earth Hour - and then fell to 1,313 from 9-10 p.m., Barrios said.

That followed a similar pattern seen a week earlier on March 22, when average hourly megawatt demand was 1,362 from 7-8 p.m., 1,331 from 8-9 p.m. and 1,285 from 9-10 p.m., he said.

Okay, power consumption didn't drop any more than usual. What about the light pollution? Were the stars any more visible? Nope:

The darkness of the sky, which makes for best conditions for astronomers and skygazers, was measured before, during and after Earth Hour, said Doug Isbell, spokesman for the Tucson-based National Optical Astronomy Observatory that runs Kitt Peak National Observatory and other astronomy facilities.

"We had digital photography on Kitt Peak, looked at the Kitt Peak webcam data and took sky quality meter measurements on Kitt Peak," he said. "None of them showed major effects we can comfortably say came from Earth Hour."

Organizers hope we'll all do better next year. We'll see. We may be tilting at well-lit windmills.

Other news of the day had a more personal component.

You see, a couple of my friends here in Tucson are disabled and have mental health issues. Because of this, each of them has a conservator, called a "payee," managing the proceeds from their Social Security checks. It's the payee's job to bank the money on the client's behalf, pay the bills, and give the client a smallish check as an allowance for groceries and incidentals, so that he or she doesn't spend the money unwisely, and end up unable to pay the rent, etc.

It sounds fine in principle, albeit a little humiliating for those labeled by the government as too irresponsible to be trusted with their own money. But that's not the big problem.

The problem is that some of these payees are disorganized at best, and predatory thieves at worst. More than once, one of my friends has had to fight with the payee over the phone to get overdue bills paid. My other friend has had to take advantage of a food bank because the payee didn't come up with rent and grocery money. This is all stuff I hear secondhand, of course, but I'm certain these things have happened. And if it's happened to both of my friends who have payees, then who else is getting ripped off? For weeks I've been trying to work up the nerve to approach one of the local papers to suggest they do some digging into embezzlement and mismanagement in the payee system.

Well, today I discovered that at at least one reporter is on the case. And about 600 people are in bigger trouble due to payee malfeasance, at least in the short term, than at least one of my friends:

Up to 600 elderly and disabled Tucsonans found their Social Security checks in limbo Tuesday after the company managing their funds abruptly shut its doors.

While the Social Security Administration is investigating SCOPE Payee Services, 524 N. Sixth Ave., its owners, Robert L. and Gary A. Skaggs, are nowhere to be found.

I checked in with one of my friends tonight. The good news is that her payee is not SCOPE. The bad news is that the comments thread makes it pretty clear that her payee also has a bad reputation, and the Social Security Administration has a history of ignoring the complaints about local payees.

Shame on them.

I only hope that the Arizona Daily Star reporter sticks with the story long enough to embarrass the SSA into taking action to improve things. The last thing my friends need is for some non-profit to "manage" their money by keeping it for themselves.



Paul said...

During the 'Earth Hour,' we shout out the lights, and went for a walk. It appeared to me that only about one quarter of the houses in my neighbourhood were totally dark, and who knows how many of them were going to be dark anyway? Many appeared totally dark, until one discerned the telltale blue glow of a television from one of the windows. Many were still lit up like a carnival ride. While the number of residences that observed Earth Hour appeared to be small, the number of businesses that did appeared to be zero. And the town street lights were all ablaze. So, overall darkening of the night sky due to Earth Hour in my town=nil. I was not surprised, but I was somewhat disappointed.

Paul said...

OK, we shut out the lights. We don't have voice activated clapper-like devices on them.

Becky said...

Hmm. I'd never heard of a payee service before. I knew that some people needed that type of help, but I always thought it was a friend or family member appointed by the court. Someone of trust. Interesting...and sad.