Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Texas Disaster

For the last several years there's been a different kind of weather pattern: a terrible "polar vortex" that brings freezing temperatures down into places like Austin, Texas, where it got as low as 0 degrees, and warm toasty weather to Anchorage, Alaska, where it was 20 degrees warmer.

Every year there are articles that ask whether climate change is responsible for this or that particular freeze. And the answer from scientists is maddening to laymen: maybe not this one, but it's responsible for the increased frequency of such events.

The mechanism is pretty obvious: the jetstream, which usually keeps arctic air bottled up at the north pole, has been weakened by the warming atmosphere over the last several years. When a warm front breaks through the weakened jetstream, bringing balmy weather to Alaska, cold polar air is pushed south, often down into the lower 48.

Texas, a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry, decided long ago that they didn't want to be part of the national power grid. So they have their own grid, which is almost completely unregulated. 

To keep prices low the power companies don't have any reserve capacity. They spend nothing on contingencies for extremely hot or extremely cold weather. So when it got down to 20, 10, 5 and 0 degrees last weekend all the natural gas pipelines froze. Power plants that use gas turbines went offline. Cooling water pipes froze, and coal and nuclear plants went offline. Ice formed on blades, so wind turbines went offline.

Now, we have gas turbines in Minnesota, where it was -20 below for days on end at the same Texas was 20 and 30 degrees warmer. They didn't freeze. We have nuclear power plants, and coal-fired power plants, and wind turbines, and they all kept working just fine. 

While Texas was suffering from blizzard-like conditions last Sunday Minnesota had very cold but clear weather. During the worst two days in Texas the solar panels on our house generated 145 kilowatt hours of electricity. Some of which we could have sent to Texas if they hadn't cut themselves off from the rest of the country, preventing people from freezing to death or dying of carbon monoxide poisoned trying to keep warm by running their cars.

See, that's the thing about renewable energy. It's not always windy or sunny everywhere. But it's always windy or sunny somewhere. And if you have an interconnected grid you can trade that power back and forth.

When Texas lost power its governor went on Fox News and blamed the outage on wind turbines, which generate maybe 10% of Texas' power. He didn't mention that the nuclear, coal and natural gas plants that generate the vast majority of power in Texas were also offline, because utilities skipped weatherizing their infrastructure, even though Texas went through a similar disaster in 2011.

When Texas lost power Ted Cruz went to Cancun, because he wanted to be a "good dad." Because, you know, there's nothing a senator can do to help. 

When Texas lost power New York representative and Republican bogeywoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went to Houston, helped out at a food bank and organized an online relief drive that had already raised $4 million by Saturday. But she doesn't have kids who need to go to lie on the beach in Cancun in the middle of a pandemic, so she has all the free time in the world.

Yeah, AOC is just pulling a stunt, showing how Democrats actually care about people and then do something to help. But, geeze, Ted! I mean, Rafael. You could have pulled the same stunt. But you didn't! You went to Cancun, something an actual human being would know makes you look like a total douche bag.

When Texas lost power Joe Biden declared a major disaster, freeing up emergency funds. There was no sniping about Texas voting for the "former guy," or an attempt to extort some concession from its governor, or a rush visit to Houston to throw paper towels at people seeking warmth in a shelter.

Republicans constantly tell us that government is the problem, not the solution. Well, it's very clear that Republican governments are the problem. Republican governments are just shills for giant companies and billionaires, doing whatever the people with all the money want them to do. Or worse, they use the levers of government to line their own pockets. Like that former guy who charged the Secret Service millions of dollars to stay at his own hotels and resorts...

And somehow Republicans maintain power by selling the lie that they're the defenders of freedom. What was the freedom Texas Republicans sold to its citizens? The freedom to get ripped off by big companies:

SAN ANTONIO — As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes over the past week while a winter storm devastated the state’s power grid and froze natural gas production, those who could still summon lights with the flick of a switch felt lucky.

Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.

“My savings is gone,” said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

Monday, February 15, 2021

Are We Ever Going to Learn?

About once a month, like clockwork, an accusation appears that dethrones yet another cultural hero. We found out that Minnesota nice Amy Klobuchar was a mean boss. Al Franken did sexist things on a USO tour. James Gunn made bad jokes a decade ago and got fired. Countless football players slug their girlfriends.

This time it's Joss Whedon, creator of several television shows that featured strong female leads:

Earlier this week, former “Buffy” and “Angel” co-star Charisma Carpenter released a statement claiming that Whedon had mistreated and eventually fired her from “Angel” after she gave birth in the early 2000s. She writes that Whedon “has created hostile and toxic work environments since his early career. I know because I experienced it firsthand. Repeatedly.” She says that Whedon called her “fat” in the early months of her pregnancy, despite her relatively low body weight, and that he scorned the importance of this major life event, even going as far to ask her if she was “going to keep it.” Carpenter reports now living with a chronic physical condition that she says was initially brought on by working with Whedon.
 The author of the Washington Post piece linked above is outraged by these revelations. She wrote:
Through my late teens and early 20s, I owned a T-shirt that read in big, chunky letters, “Joss Whedon Is My Master Now.” It was one of the first pieces of clothing I ever owned that signified not only my aesthetic tastes but also what I considered my intellectual identity. Above all else, it announced my affection for the man who had created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” At the time, Whedon’s innovative cult franchise defined feminism and feminine clout for legions of young fans. It tackled everything from the intricacies of female power to the meaning of death itself, all the while pumping out metatextual one-liners. And Whedon — more than the stars of his shows or the characters they embodied — was the face of all that heart-wrenching, revelatory brilliance.
Whedon would probably characterize his interactions with Carpenter as typical workplace banter, meant in jest. At best it was thoughtless and careless. At worst at sabotaged a woman's self respect. But on a scale of 1 to 10 on the list of bad things bosses have done to employees, this ranks about a 2. If your ego is really that fragile you have no business working in Hollywood, or even the local McDonalds. That's life in the real world.

I'm not defending Whedon here. His comments were bad and stupid, and he shouldn't have made them.

What I'm interested in here is the reaction of the writer of the Post piece. She feels outraged and betrayed. She feels like a fool for buying that "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now" T-shirt.

And she should feel like a fool. This is the problem with elevating creators of art that we like to some higher plane. They're all just ordinary people. They will always disappoint you.

Why buy a T-shirt with Whedon's name on it? Isn't it the idea of Buffy the Vampire Slayer she admired, not the bald guy who invented her?
Joss Whedon is just a guy. He's not a brilliant mastermind, or guru, or keeper of the secrets of the universe. He just took a cultural meme -- damsel in distress -- and flipped it. Every time we heap inordinate praise on individuals who have done something we admire we are just setting ourselves up for disappointment. Because these people are just regular guys. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They still use the bathroom. They are impatient, they are petty, they are selfish, and they are very often single-minded in their pursuit of their art, career or performance on the field.

It's fine to celebrate the great TV series, the insightful novels, the legislative accomplishments, the beautiful songs, the fabulous plays on the field. 
But we make a colossal mistake when we lionize the people who do these things. In almost every single case these creators and performers did not make these accomplishments all by themselves. They had the help of writers, editors, art directors, a large staff, coaches, team mates, and parents. They did not build it all by themselves.

When we place people on pedestals we set them up for a fall. They start thinking they're really hot stuff and they're somehow better than other people. They start thinking they know more than they actually do, that they have the right to take whatever they want, from whoever they want, whenever they want. They mistakenly think they're experts in every field, not just what they're good at (I'm talking about you, Elon Musk.)

By elevating these people above the rest of us we give them license to act with impunity. In a very palpable way Joss Whedon's admirer's encouraged the very behavior that they now condemn.

I mean, seriously: Whedon goes to Comicon and sees hundreds of cute young women in "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now" T-shirts. You don't think that's going to affect the man's behavior?

In the same vein, what are these people thinking when they call Donald Trump "god emperor?" When Trump came down with Covid he wound up in the hospital for three days, yet somehow his followers thought he had a "god-like" constitution? I mean -- as Republicans constantly tell us -- most people who get Covid can hardly tell they've been sick, yet Trump required an extensive course of specialized medication and hospitalization. Trump is just another weak, fat, sickly old man.

We as a people have to stop idolizing individuals as somehow superhuman. They're all just people, even when they've created something we love. 
Yes, celebrate the wonderful creations. But never forget that the guys who created them are just putzes like you and me. We feed their egos at our own peril.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Dedicated To Right Wing Bloggers and Commenters Everywhere

This is who you are. Domestic terrorists. Authoritarian cultists. Psychotic criminals.

Your petty, adolescent games are finished. You can try to hide. You can even try to make up your own reality but it won't work. I've warned you for years this would be the result and you laughed and didn't listen. 

We will dominate you in every election going forward. You will have zero say in anything that happens in terms of the direction of this country.

You are completely fucked. And you know what that means?

Our country will finally be moving forward to greatness. 

Monday, February 01, 2021