]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]     THE ELECTRIC WINDMILL     [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                         by Tom Bethell
            (extract from the book by the same name,
               $17.95, Regnery-Gateway, 1988.)

     Curious about the appearance of overnight wigwams and other 
quaint structures, I parked my car near the [Washington] Mall. A 
whirling windmill was also to be seen on the grassy sward, not too far 
from the Lincoln memorial. Were the Indians in town, putting on one of 
their periodic Media Events? Worth a look at least. On closer inspec-
tion it seemed to be a fair of some kind. Semi-naked youths were 
strolling about and lounging in the grass. Not the Indians, but the 
hippies back with us, it seemed. 
     Someone handed me a press release. I had stumbled upon the Appro-
priate Community Technology Fair, called ACT '79, a "celebration of 
old-fashioned American ingenuity." Reading further, I learned that the 
Fair, "a self-reliant, environmentally clean and democratically 
governed instant community, will simulate the sights, sounds and other 
sensations of real community." This was the Small-Is-Beautiful Crowd. 
Slanting solar collectors were dotted about. I kept a wary eye open 
for Amory Lovins or Barry Commoner, and was ready to dash for cover if 
either should appear on the scene. The spirit of E.F. Schumacher 
hovered uneasily over the sward.
     I followed a footpath between tents, inside which seminars were 
in progress. I stood in the back of one and listened for a few 
minutes. All of the instructors at the other end of the tent worked 
for one or another government agency. They were sitting in a row 
behind a table and talking happily away about viable options, one or 
two of them intermittently taking meditative little puffs on their 
pipes. Coordinators, moderators, biodegradable resources, renewable 
coalitions, recycled neighborhoods, community-run revitalization pro-
jects. Puff, puff, puff. It beat staying indoors all day, imprisoned 
in the Federal Triangle.
     I blundered into the WomanSpace tent. Importance of coalition-
building, resource recovery noted; poverty and the Third World Woman; 
post-patriarchal responses to the world predicament considered.
     I strolled out into the sunshine, which was energizing a solar 
collector, which provided power for a record player. Lovely. Hippies 
and layabouts lolled on grass listening to rock music, at last inde-
pendent of the ripoff oil companies. But if perchance you stand in 
front of the solar collector, the music runs d-o-w-n-h-i--l--l, and 
then grunts to a halt, and they look up at you and moan, "C'mon, man. 
Give us break."
     Did these people ever do a day's work in their lives? Ten years 
ago daddy's credit card paid for everything. Now they imagine the sun 
is going to put in the effort on their behalf. They preach self-
reliance, but they practice little.
     I made my way past herb growers, people sitting like children in 
magic circles, tepee dwellers, woman's community bakery, bio-gas 
model project, "Why-Flush" water quality. Heard the word "retrofit" 
used a dozen times. Eventually reached the Administrative Tent. Asked 
for "the boss" and several people immediately looked up and turned to 
stare at this relic of the old order.
     No bosses here, I was told. In the wrong place, man. This was 
democratic. No bosses in Lovinsland. But someone called Bob Zdenck 
appeared eventually and told me how the fair was put together.
     "First we wrote a proposal for funding from the National Science 
Foundation, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Housing 
and Urban Development, Department of Labor, Department of Energy, 
Department of Commerce, and the Community Services Administration," he 
said. "In September, 1978, we got a $19,000 planning grant from the 
Department of Energy. We hired Michael Duberstein in October to begin 
planning and logistics. Then we hired two outreach workers and an 
administrative assistant. 
     "The next was we got a $17,000 grant from ACTION [a new-ish Fede-
ral agency that includes the Peace Corps]. We held a very important 
meeting with Bill Holmberg from the Office of Consumer Affairs, 
Department of Energy, and he agreed to help us with a lot of in-house 
cost. Then we got numerous other grants: 415,000 from the Economic 
Development Administration, $15,000 from the National Endowment for 
the Humanities, $15,000 from the National Center of Appropriate Tech-
nology, $5,000 from the Small Business Administration, $2,500 from 
HUD, and a lot of in-house from the National Park Service. We have a 
core staff of five people. But the Department of Energy is paying for 
others. The Baltimore County CETA Consortium made the building 
facades. And we had public service announcements on television in ten 
     I asked Bob where Michael Duberstein was to be found. "Showing 
Senator Tsongas round the fair," he said. Tsongas! So! He too was 
implicated. I thought he might have taken up residence in Tanzania by 
now, the better to act as Julius Nyerere's public relations man. 
Didn't know he was involved in this solar malarkey. Next thing you 
knew, Ralph Nader himself would come loping down a path with a file 
folder under his arm, wearing his conscientious frown.
     I decided to take a look at the windmill, a large three-bladed 
propeller on top of a tall tower. The propeller was churning around 
merrily, although there was little or no wind at ground level. On the 
way I stopped at the "bio-gas" demonstration and was informed that the 
people here received a Community Services Administration grant of 
$150,00. (It was beginning to look as though Bob Zdenck had 
underestimated the taxpayers' unwitting contribution.) At the foot 
of the windmill a rather well-bred Vermonter was explaining 
everything about the contraption. The windmill cost about $4,000 to 
buy and install, he said. It would save about half your electricity 
bill -- IF you lived in a windy spot. Using his figures, I concluded 
it would take at least 20 years to pay off the investment -- IF it 
never broke down. The prospect of shimmying up the mast to repair 
worn-out bearings was not at all enticing...
     Plainly I was contemplating a rich man's toy. Federal tax credits 
make it less so, however, at the same time encouraging the diversion 
of capital into economic channels of dubious merit. The Vermonter 
waxed enthusiastic about Wisconsin's progressive congressman, Henry 
Reuss, who had installed a windmill in his back yard. I believe he 
also pushed through the tax credits.
     I asked the gentleman from Vermont why the blades were whirring 
around so smoothly in such still air. "It's not working off the wind," 
he said. "It's plugged into the power outlet." It wasn't demonstrat-
ing the production of electricity. Electricity was demonstrating it.
     Somehow, at that moment, the sun went in. And the rock music 
stopped. But the windmill went on turning, and the Federal money, I 
am sure, still pours down on these artful dodgers of the 1970s, the 
residue of the counterculture, who have discovered that Big Daddy in 
Washington has the credit card now, and is ready to put it at their 
disposal until they decide what they want to do when they grow up.

[Tom Bethell is the Washington correspondent of the AMERICAN SPECTATOR
and often writes for the NATIONAL REVIEW. He was one of the early 
writers to spot the weakling behind Reagan's gung-ho rhetoric.]

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