Letters for Thursday, November 13, 2008

• Our cooperative

• Flu vaccine: Hope or hype?

• Literacy makes better communities

Our cooperative

There’s a lot to be concerned about at Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, but recent letters to the editor (“Why the higher rates?” Letters, Nov. 11) (“Kauai Island Utility Cooperative?” Letters, Nov. 12) misunderstand our co-op’s rates as they relate to the price of oil . The simple explanation, which the co-op has offered us many times, is that the rates the co-op charges us reflect the price of oil several months in the past, when the fuel for that period was purchased.  Our highest rates on record opened a lot of people’s eyes around here, appearing in our August-September billing. Those rates related to the all-time-high price of oil on the world market at $147/barrel that occurred in early July.

As a renewable energy advocate and co-op member working to engage our co-op over the past four years, I have a reasonably informed view of how they operate. There is simply no reason to suggest malfeasance at KIUC. It is not productive to fall into this cycle of accusations, as we have done in the past. What is of concern, however, is the prevailing attitude put fourth by KIUC that we must continue to depend on oil-based fuels in order for our utility to meet it’s mandate of providing “reliable power.” As the past year has shown us, there is very little that is “reliable” about oil based fuels, and during these tough times, neither residents nor businesses can afford to give out a “blank check” at the end of every month to cover whatever cost our unreliable fuel source might burden us with.

Will adopting a more aggressive, transformational strategy for our utility be easy? No. Will it bring rates down? Probably not, in fact, it will likely bring rates up on the short term. Is it necessary? If we want to reduce our exposure to ever-increasing oil prices and price volatility, then absolutely. It is time to face this problem head on. It is time for real, two-way communication between KIUC and its members about the strategy we will choose for determining our utility’s future. It is time to accept this challenge, and to wade into possible solutions, even though the path might not be completely clear.

The other option is just to hope that oil prices hold while we make decades long incremental changes to our energy generating infrastructure. As a member of our cooperative, however, that’s not a gamble I want to make.

• Ben Sullivan, Kapa‘a

Flu vaccine: Hope or hype?

As the flu season comes upon us, we are beginning to hear marketing ads again, encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine. Now we are being told that we should be giving our kids the flu shot, too. In some states, the flu vaccine has even become mandatory for pre-schoolers, taking away their parents’ right to make this choice for themselves.

In 2004, the Advisory Committee on Immunizatin Practices recommended annual flu shots for all children 6- to 23-months-old. In 2006, they increased the age recommendation to 59 months. But has anyone even bothered to question just how effective the flu vaccine is in this young population?

A new study, which came out in the October 2008 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, pointed out that earlier studies which may have shown positive results of vaccine were of “diagnostic uncertainty” since they included other upper respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia, in their data. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims that about 35,000 people die from the flu each year. However, when these other conditions are accounted for, the real number of flu deaths per year comes to only 1,000 and most of those are the elderly in poor health.

In this new study, researchers looked at only clinically confirmed cases of the flu (influenza) in children 6 to 59 months old, using inpatient and outpatient statistics from three different counties in the U.S. They concluded: “We could not demonstrate vaccine effectiveness in preventing influenza.”

Now that we have these new facts, it would seem that most adults may want to reconsider whether they want to have their children vaccinated.

So, if the worst thing is that it just doesn’t work, what’s the harm in trying the vaccine? One reason is that the vaccine contains toxins such as aluminum, phenol and thimerosal, a form of mercury which has been banned for safety reasons in every other country in the world. Last year, the Hawaii State Health Department was unable to inform the public as to which batches of the flu vaccine contained thimerosal. These are not substances which parents would want to have casually injected into their children’s bloodstreams.

Most adults are intelligent enough to make their own decisions about these issues. They just need to be given the accurate facts. What is of concern here is the fact that the benefits of giving this vaccine to our children is suspect and may not be worth the potential risks.

Hopefully, other studies like this one will begin to appear in the media so that parents will not have to rely on flawed information, or marketing campaigns with their own agendas, to decide whether to give their children the flu vaccine. But don’t hold your breath. Just like you may not have heard about this study on the 6:00 o’clock news, other similar reports that don’t agree with the drug companies that provide the advertising for these shows probably won’t either.

• Bob Swiryn, Kapa‘a

Literacy makes better communities

I am writing to express my concern for the widespread state of illiteracy among adults on Kaua‘i.

I am especially concerned about the effect this illiteracy has on our keiki. They are less likely to pursue literacy when their personal experience is that literacy does not matter. Some of our island kids look to the adults in their lives and see that ignoring printed media such as signs, labels, books, magazines, or newspapers usually has no negative consequences. Some adults and children behave in ways that belittle literacy and people who are literate.

This kind of derision only worsens the problem by making illiteracy seem socially acceptable. Because of this, these Kauaians are inadequately prepared for jobs, further education, driving on our roads, or safely enjoying Kaua‘i’s natural splendor.

There are so many highly visible ways this widespread inadequacy is manifested in our communities. There is a marked inability to be able to understand or interpret simple phrases, numbers and widely used symbols in English or in most of the other languages used on Kaua‘i.

Evidence of this pervasive problem can be witnessed on a daily basis. One example would be the drivers who ignore such simple messages as speed limit signs, stop signs and traffic signals.

Another place you can find evidence of the problem is at the county recycling center in Kapa‘a. The sign clearly states that only plastic containers labeled 1 and 2 can be recycled, and that the containers should be clean, lids must be removed and no plastic film is allowed.

I have seen hundreds of containers with the lids still on, dozens of containers made from plastics labeled 4 and 5, and a remarkable number of containers with some of the product still inside the capped bottle. There were also large, wadded-up rolls of the heavy plastic and plastic wrappings from cases of bottled water. In the section for corrugated cardboard there were filthy boxes, boxboard containers (like breakfast cereals come in) and even old and still partially filled paint cans.

Somehow shouting “What’s the matter? Can’t you read?” just doesn’t seem to be effective. Respond publicly by your actions in the community. Let our public conduct serve as an example.

• Chick Todd, Lihu‘e

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