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Committee concerned with state property

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063022 trent ashbyThe resiliency of our electric grid is critical to the safety and well-being of all Texans the summer.

By Rep. Trent Ashby

District 57

It’s hot. With triple-digit temperatures already across the state, Texas has had an unseasonably warm start to our summer season.

As the mercury climbs, many of us are counting on our air conditioners to provide us with some welcome relief from the heat. With demand for energy at an all-time high, the resiliency of our electric grid is critical to the safety and well-being of all Texans.

As you may recall, in response to Winter Storm Uri, the Legislature last session took decisive action by passing a number of reforms to our state's power grid that increased efficiency, bolstered resiliency, and established a more transparent governing structure to enhance our preparedness for increased energy usage.

As such, for this week's column, I thought it would be appropriate to cover the committee that will monitor the implementation of these reforms — the House Committee of State Affairs.

With that, we'll dive back into our examination of House interim charges with State Affairs.

The House Committee on State Affairs is one of the larger committees and covers a wide range of issues relating to the operation of public lands and state buildings, the regulation of the electric and telecommunications industries, pipelines, and cybersecurity to name a few.

The committee oversees many essential organizations and state agencies, including the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Information Resources, the Office of the Governor, the Texas Ethics Commission, and the Texas Facilities Commission.

The Committee will spend a significant amount of time this interim monitoring the implementation of policies related to our state's power grid. More specifically, the Speaker charged the committee to examine SB 2, which overhauls the governance structure of the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to improve legislative oversight and increase accountability by requiring members to live in the State of Texas.

The Speaker has also asked the committee to examine SB 3, which was perhaps the most significant piece of legislation affecting our power grid. SB 3 consolidates several bills and enacts a range of reforms to the power industry.

Some highlights include the establishment of a statewide alert system to enhance communication between state agencies; the establishment of the Texas Energy Reliability Council to ensure the industry meets high-priority human needs; and a requirement for energy facilities to weatherize and make the preparations necessary to maintain electric service during extreme weather conditions.

The Committee on State Affairs is also tasked with examining efforts of industry weatherization and reviewing the status of projects to reduce transmission congestion within the state’s electric grid.

Importantly, the House Committee on State Affairs is keeping a close eye on these reforms, having already conducted a hearing to receive testimony from state entities and power generators, which will continue throughout the interim.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at (936) 634-2762. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my Official Facebook Page, where I will be posting regular updates on what's happening in your State Capitol and sharing information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

Trent Ashby represents District 57, soon to be District 9, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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The art of political misdirection

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
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While the country is caught up in its response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, there have been shenanigans afoot.
The Biden administration has approved a plan that has given 145,000 people relief from student loan debt, which some estimates have placed as amounting to more than $8 billion.

The program also only, as of now, affects public service workers — you know, people who work for the government. However, there is a distinct possibility, based on the news reports from several outlets, such as CNN, Forbes, The Hill, etc., that state that the government is considering expanding that number to 550,000 borrowers.

Moreover, there is discussions going on that will provide debt relief to all federal borrowers to tune of $10,000 for those making less than $150,000 per year.

There are several prongs to follow on this.

To start with, this was tax dollars, borrowed by people with one purpose, and that being to finance an education. So in legal loan terms, the government provided the funds from the coffers that are filled by your paying income tax. The degree was obtained, and so the money must now be paid back.

In a perfect world, though, the government should not have been able to provide those funds, since there isn’t a mechanism anywhere in the Constitution that provides for the government to be able to give out money as loans for education.

There also isn’t any mechanism in the Constitution that provide for a Department of Education (or Energy, or EPA, but that is starting down a rabbit hole) either, yet for some reason it was found meet and good to do so.

We all know that governments can gin up any number of ways to do something, yet somehow, they not only fail at it, but never let it go, either.

Secondly, there is the element of personal responsibility that is being ignored here, and because the government is not holding certain borrowers to the contract, people tax dollars have been used for someone’s personal gain, and because it comes from taxes, it was done with the threat of force against the taxpayers.

All of the people who lived up to their responsibilities and repaid their student loans, by the way, will get nothing.

I’m not the national nanny, so I won’t spend time admonishing people who took advantage of the program, since I believe it should not have been offered in the first place. I will admonish the government for yet again putting personal needs ahead of actually running the country, and failing miserably.

Immigration, Social Security, energy, Prohibition, health insurance and more have come crashing down because our elected leaders pander instead of govern. If you look closely, the pattern is strikingly similar, in that anything the government decides to overtake will be well-intentioned, but dismally executed and then crash.

Countless amnesties for illegal immigrants, rampant fraud in social programs, veterans left forgotten once their usefulness to the country ebbed — all point to the problem, yet society still believes government is the only way things can get done, and done with equity.

Hasn’t happened yet, and this is yet another example of that.

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The fallacy of limited perception

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
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There’s a lot of misperception out and around the country — probably the world — about the state of things and how we deal with that.

For instance, a good friend of mine, who does live in Liberal Land, said he recently had to pay $6.09 per gallon of gas, but he was OK with that, since his perspective on the matter was that the rest of the world was getting just as hammered at the pump as he was.

In coming to that conclusion, he of course was of the perception that it was the oil companies that were responsible for gouging us customers, which is why we have such high gas prices.

The problem with this perception is two-fold: it’s been well-established that oil companies are suffering losses themselves in trying to keep prices down, and the reason things are spiraling out of control is the government has laid its hand on things, which never ends well.

By denying exploration, shutting down new leases and killing the Keystone Pipeline, it put a crimp in the supply of oil, and everyone knows that low supply plus high demand means high prices.

The excuses are further hampered by the fact that at one point, the problem with gas prices was Putin’s fault. Now it’s oil companies, which prompted our Fearless Leader to head to Saudi Arabia to beg for more oil.

I’ve dealt with that in the past; we have the means to be energy independent, and keep our prices low, but the efforts are being strangled. One of the administration’s talking heads even had the audacity to demand oil companies increase production, even threatening repercussions, while at the same time hampering their efforts.

Yet, the perception is that it’s the oil companies at fault here.

Same thing with COVID vaccinations. It’s been recently reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci has yet again tested positive for the disease, and of course, he’s feen fully vaccinated and boosted ad nauseum.

Many out there are still trumpeting the efficacy of vaccinations still, as well as masking (the federal government is thinking of reinstituting the flight mask mandate), because their perception is that vaccinations are effective.

Yet another friend is still claiming that his state legislators will have blood on their hands if the same event that happened in Uvalde happened in his state — meaning that his perception is that the only way to stop gun violence is to remove guns.

It’s also been proven the shooter in Uvalde was able to acquire his weapons illegally; he was a felon and could not purchase a firearm.
The perception of many is that banning things will solve the problem, like banning guns will stop violence, and banning pipelines and oil exploration will solve climate change, and that ineffective vaccinations will stop the proliferation of COVID.

This perception is absent facts, and that’s only part of the problem. We as a society are gradually becoming Orwellized; we’re told the like, over and over again, and steadfastly believe and relate it even in the face of contradictory facts.

The government, which tripped over its first bid at an office of disinformation rebuttal, is coming at the problem from a different angle, claiming that it will fight abuse and disinformation via a task force led by Vice President Kamala Harris.

This is from people who are claiming that $6 a gallon gas, empty store shelves and 8 percent inflation is good for the economy.
What happened to the people who were free-thinking? What happened to people who could stand on their own, living their lives without the training wheels and helmets of government?

Freedom of thought still exist, for the time being, and it, like every other human action, needs exercise in order to function at peak efficiency. In other words, leave the Kool-Aid for others, and make a decision about your life based on as many facts as you can get.

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More focused than ever at 60!

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062622 tom purcel

By Tom Purcell

“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”

Those are the clever words of British humorist Terry Pratchett, who couldn’t have explained the aging process more succinctly.
I know his words are true because I turned 60 this week.

It’s a heck of a thing to have burned through six decades already. If I’d known 60 years would go by so fast, I would have taken worse care of myself.

Time is a humbling thing.

I know now my greatest accomplishment — aside from an uncanny ability to catch grapes in my mouth no matter how far or high my friends throw them — was becoming a bouncer at the legendary Rathskeller pub at Penn State.

When I was half this age, I was certain I knew everything. I was cocky and brash and incredibly wrong.
Now, I realize I know very little, but the things I do know, I know well.

I know that fame is a waste of time — and excess wealth, too — as they bring with them more problems than either are worth.

You don’t who your friends really are until your money is gone. And if you ever do anything stupid as a famous person, social media will broadcast it all over the world.
Several studies have been done on the subject of happiness. Having just enough money to save a little for a rainy day and go out with the love of your life a few times a month is all the money you really need.

It’s friends and loved ones that bring us real wealth.

It’s the laughter we can only enjoy with our closest friends — people we know we can count on no matter how difficult our lot becomes.

It’s the love we enjoy from our closest family members, friends, and lifelong spouses and partners — the people we attend weddings, holiday events and special occasions with — all of our most memorable experiences.

And it’s not just people.

Why I waited until the age of 59 to get another dog — last having one as a child so many years ago — is possibly the most bone-headed decision I ever made.

Somebody said God removed the wings from pets like my best buddy Thurber, so that nobody would know they are angels.

This guy makes me laugh out loud every single day — something I didn’t realize I was failing to do until he entered my life.

When we are young, we dream of big houses, and we hope to impress total strangers.

As we grow older and wiser, we realize none of that matters. We realize that time is going by way too fast and that every single moment is precious.

I was sick as a dog with a nasty flu weeks ago and, brought to my knees, I went through a paradigm shift.

I decided I never want to waste another healthy moment.

I started eating healthier than ever. I exercise daily. I go for walks with Thurber.

I turn in at a decent hour, so I wake refreshed at 5:40 every morning ready to dive into the new day.

All I want to do now is write well, read great literature and learn how to love better, give back more, laugh harder and spend every moment with people I love as though it were the last moment I had to live.

Maybe it’s time to alter Pratchett’s clever quote:

“Inside every old person is a wiser person trying to make great things happen with whatever God-given time he has left!”

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Is it real or is it LaMDA AI, and does it really matter?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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In the 1984 movie Terminator, Skynet (artificial neural network-based conscious group mind and artificial general superintelligence system) becomes self-aware on August 29, 1997, at 2:30 a.m. EDT. It launches nuclear missiles at Russia, to try and provoke a counterattack when humans try to disconnect it.

In June of 2022, A Google Research Fellow, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, said in an article in The Economist, that Google LaMDA chatbot (Language Model for Dialog Applications), had shown a degree of understanding of social relationships. Days later, he expanded on that in a Washington Times interview by stating that LaMDA had achieved sentience, prompting Google to place him on leave and to denounce the idea with great enthusiasm. Scary stuff like sentient AI (Artificial Intelligence)  is probably not something a company wants to be publicly attached to. Looking at this debate takes us into the fraught concepts of defining sentience and the meaning of being human.

Two disclaimers before I go on. I’m limited in going into great depth because I need to keep this column relatively short. If you have read about this stuff in depth, I know I’m skimming just the surface. Secondly, even though I’m immersed in tech everyday – IT and Web properties is my job for Polk County Publishing Company – I believe technology has destroyed our society and culture. My contention is that any technological advancement since 1972 (the year Litton introduced microwave ovens aimed at consumers – got to have microwave ovens) has harmed society and humans more than it has benefited us.

What makes us uniquely human? We are animals, but there are other animals. We are vertebrates, but there are other vertebrates. We have a brain, but other animals have brains. Most people would say that what makes us uniquely human is that we are conscious, that we can experience what happens to us. And that we are sentient, having the capacity to have experiences, to experience pain and joy, to be harmed or benefited.

And that which makes us human, consciousness, in the thinking of lots of folks, is what prevents AI from becoming sentient. How could a collection of electronic components, regardless of complexity, ever develop sentience? Consciousness, after all, is beyond the brain (whether made of tissue or electronic circuits). Many, in fact, equate it with the soul. Religious arguments are beyond the scope of this column, though. But is sentience just a uniquely human trait? The consensus for many years is that it is not.

All vertebrates are to one degree or another, sentient. A cow clearly experiences pleasure and pain. If you hurt it, it vocalizes its pain. It tries to get away from its attacker. It learns to fear those who have mistreated it. A cow experiences pleasure, cares for its offspring. Entire herds will respond to someone playing a musical instrument in their pasture by clustering around the musician and listening as long as the person is performing.

No, the cow’s level of sentience is probably not the same as a human adult, but neither is a human baby’s. A state of mind is any kind of experience, like feeling pleasure or pain. It is not defined by its complexity. 

So, what are the implications? Well, where animals are concerned, it means that there are ethical implications to killing sentient beings for food, especially when we don’t need animal protein to live. (Bias alert. I’ve been Vegan for decades and am still alive and healthy for my 71 years.) Where AI and its potential to become conscious are concerned, we need to take a closer look.

How does consciousness arise in humans? We don’t know, exactly. But we are getting closer to figuring it out. Have you been put under general anesthetic for surgery? Then you know it is different than just going to sleep. When you wake up from sleep, there is still a sense that time has passed. Maybe you remember dreams, or being cold, etc. With an anesthetic, though, there is nothing. You could have been under for a year, and it would still seem like time hadn’t passed at all. You are human, and then an object. And when the anesthetic is withdrawn, you are human again.

Anesthetic works by reducing communication between parts of the brain to a very low level. Apparently, and this is a simple version of the explanation, when communication between parts of the brain decline to a certain level, consciousness collapses. The conclusion could be that consciousness is a result of the complexity of the brain and can’t exit without the brain.

If this theory is correct, and consciousness is a result of complexity, then could a “computer” running an AI reach a level of complexity that the AI becomes self-aware?  I think that makes sense. So, why is that prospect scary? Because I’m pretty sure that a self-aware entity made of flesh and bone does not have the same interests as those made of wires and silicone. I, for example, can understand how a self-aware cow reacts to pain and pleasure because I’m made of the same stuff and know how my body and mind react to experience. But what does an entity made of wire and silicone know of my strengths or weaknesses?

AI would not have to be malicious to destroy all of humanity. It would just have to not understand (or care) what could kill us.

The metaphorical demon, though, has escaped Pandora’s Box and we will, without caring about the eventual ethical dilemmas or danger to our race, continue the sprint to develop general AI. Thus, in the end it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or AI. Whether or not LaMDA is self-aware isn’t the question. The question is whether we survive whatever AI finally becomes conscious.

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