Halfway There!

Photo by author

The crocus have bloomed in our lawn and garden slopes. The first signs of spring, these most hopeful of flowers often will bloom through the snow as they let us know that warmer temperatures are coming. We look for the first signs of spring and cherish them.

I just received my first dose of the coronavirus vaccine today. Like the crocus, the increased spread of the vaccines offers hope that the world may emerge from the doldrums of winter into the bright sunlight of summer. Perhaps we can look forward to those things we once took for granted, like enjoying a meal at a restaurant, or singing in our various choirs without fear of contagion.

Being the science nerd that I am, I am glad that I received a dose of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. There is no better example of technology to demonstrate how far we have come to understanding the genome and how to influence the biology of life. To think that we can now introduce fat particles in a vaccine that are designed to penetrate cell walls. There they will deliver their dosage of mRNA that causes the immune system to recognize, and attack, invaders that have the distinctive type of latching mechanism of COVID. No longer do we need to rely upon killed versions of the whole virus (although the Johnson and Johnson vaccine does rely upon a killed virus other than the COVID to produce immunity). Most of the arguments against vaccines, like they rely upon cells from aborted fetuses, or contain aluminum or mercury, are rendered moot by the nature of the mRNA vaccines. They contain no items that were ever alive, and thus avoid most of the qualms that the anti-vaccination crowd should have.

But never doubt the ability of those who do not understand the underlying science to sow doubt even with this brand-new mode of vaccine delivery. No, since the scary boogeyman of DNA is invoked, those who must protest medical advances to justify their own superiority have declared that these new vaccines will hijack your DNA, and cause unspeakable mutations that will show up in later years to enable the goal of population reduction to be achieved. Whose goal? Why, Bill Gates of course. It is he who has taken the place of George Soros in many regards as the face of evil for those who refuse any scientific advance. Bill has mandated the insertion of microchips into the vaccine, so that the vaccination status of all may be determined by a simple scan, and your access to travel, recreation, and money can be held hostage to your vaccination status. I’ve even seen discussion about ingesting a horse de-wormer (Ivermectin) as a treatment regimen rather than subject people to the vaccine.

Since I was trained as a chemical engineer, and have studied biochemistry and other related fields, I have much less fear of products developed through adherence to the scientific method. I wish there were a way I could convey the knowledge I have gained to those who are insistent upon believing the pure BS that is spread through on-line media. But I should not be surprised. Those who believed in the past president as being a great businessman have proven to be remarkably recalcitrant in abandoning their adherence to worshiping the great one. You need look no further than to see the adulation given to the golden statue of their chosen leader this past weekend at CPAC. Those who have been taken in by a scam artist, are loathe to admit their own folly. It has been said the mankind goes mad in herds, but come to their senses one by one. We who believe we are the rational ones, will never go and win an argument with those who are still in the throes of their delusions.

Anyway, I’ve now had the first dose of the vaccine. I anticipate that when I receive the second dose in about four weeks, that my immune system will already recognize the new dose as an interloper that must be attacked, and I expect to feel like crap for a day or so. That is one small price to pay compared to the price that can be exacted from full-fledged infection with the virus. I’ve been following the progress of a friend who was severely infected, with pneumonia from the virus. Just the stories of his near brush with death, and the tenacity he’s had to use to battle back, let me know that I don’t wish to share his experience.

In some ways this pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the world. Imagine if this airborne virus had the lethality of Ebola? I think that’s what some deniers are maintaining, that if people aren’t dropping dead on the streets, then this is not a disease worth fearing. I really am hoping that those in charge of political power decide it is worthwhile to pay for insurance policies for the future. What does that look like? It looks like scientists from multiple nations working at facilities across the globe, ready to sound the warning when they detect a disease of concern. It looks like adequate stocks of protective equipment kept on hand. It looks like an analysis of supply chains, and investment to harden those supply chains, so that we are not subject to interruption of those supply chains for vital supplies when the world shuts down for the next pandemic. Because one thing we know. As long as mankind keeps impinging upon virgin territory, we will come into contact with new and more deadly diseases in the future. May we have the wisdom to actually learn from this episode, instead of adopting amnesia as a coping mechanism.

I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore

West Virginia Capital Building

In January 2011, the State of Kansas embarked upon an experiment, where they deliberately slashed tax rates without a plan to replace the revenue. The revenue would be replaced, and indeed it would grow, due to the influx of investment and residents responding to the reduced tax rates. Alas, this plan ran afoul as reality intruded, and in order to maintain a balanced budget, the state had to cut spending for education and other expenses. Finally, the state legislature had to wrest control back from the governor, and raise tax rates back to their previous level in order to keep schools from imploding, and get the state’s bond rating back to an acceptable category. Governor Brownback ended up resigning his office, only to land on his feet when the President nominated him to be the US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom. Governor Brownback was so toxic that it took two congressional sessions for his nomination to be approved, and it was only approved when Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie to place him in this newly-created office.

Never one to learn from the experiences of others, the West Virginia legislature this year is treading much of the same path that Kansas did a decade ago. Flush with cash from COVID legislation, the governor of West Virginia has proposed slashing the state income tax in half this year, with a view at eliminating it altogether in the future. He is proposing to replace the revenues with a combination of sales tax increases, and expansion of items that will be covered by sales tax. He also is proposing increases in certain sin taxes. But his plans are bereft on guidance on how the basic needs of the state will be met when eventually 41% of the taxes funding the state budget are eliminated.

At the same time, the state legislature is proceeding to add another layer of bureaucracy in the state judicial system, by instituting an appeals court system. Considering that the workload for the Supreme Court of the state has declined precipitously over the past decade, the addition of the new court layer is aimed at pleasing the corporate clientele of the legislature, as they enable another opportunity to delay and perhaps overturn verdicts from lower courts. And at the suggestion of the Governor, two new cabinet posts have been created, and given the natural tendency of bureaucracies to grow over time, state government appears to be growing instead of shrinking.

Now, looking ahead a few years, one can envision a future where it becomes obvious that the revenues lost from the income tax rate reduction have not been replaced from the consumption tax increases. Since there is no more coverage of state expenses from federal appropriations, the state will have to look for opportunities to cut. Indeed, the targets have already been floated for a significant portion of the cuts. It’s in higher education, where the flagship universities of Marshall and WVU offer the chance to reduce expenditures and force the increased expenses upon the students in the form of higher tuition and fees. Oh, by the way, the program that the state has to off-set tuition, the Promise Scholarship? That is also in the gunsights of those who would plow ahead and reduce the income tax rates to zero.

What would be the potential gain for making these cuts in tax rates? Why, the increased revenues coming in from the flood of business investment, and the in-migration of residents who react solely to tax rates as a way of making a decision about where to live.

Look, this state has a well-deserved reputation for refusing to value education. We are the lowest in the nation regarding post-secondary graduation rates. We have difficulty in providing potential employers with an educated work force already. To put the screws further on the universities of this state is self-defeating. Instead of cutting education further, we need to enable students to attend community college, and to improve the offerings of community colleges to better match up with the needs of employers. The last thing we need to do is cut aid to the institutions that offer us hope of moving ahead in the world.

By the way, most people do not make decisions about where to live solely based upon tax rates. Maybe in the case of New York, and California, where income and property taxes are significantly higher than in West Virginia, tax rates are a factor, but in a state with competitive total taxation, the little bit of tax reduction we can offer will not be a significant driver of behavior. A better determinant will be whether broadband access is adequate (it’s not in much of the state), and whether the local roads are adequate (they are horrible once you get off of the interstates and Appalachian corridors). And also, the issue of schools and support for the same comes into play. Needless to say, this legislature is also toying with the idea of cutting funding to local schools in the future by proving vouchers for homeschooling or private schools (in person or virtual). Just what we need, an opportunity for the next generation of this state to be able to marinate in their petri dish of ignorance and intolerance rather than be exposed to the real world through the public school system.

Speaking of the reputation of this state, our legislators seem bound and determined to uphold our perception of being a bunch of yahoos who don’t belong in civil society. After all, it is not every state legislature that has a newly elected member film himself entering the Capital during the January 6 riot. It certainly is not the case where several members of the legislature wear masks made of mesh on the floor of their chamber so as to comply with the letter of the regulations concerning face covering. It is not every state that has multiple bills being offered to pull back on sex education in the schools, and eliminate any chance for providing protection to those who do not choose to use the missionary position to procreate. Yes, the national media does not tire of holding up examples of West Virginia politicians in order to feed the stereotypes to the national audience, and we keep giving them ammunition. This past election has resulted in Republican supermajorities in both houses of the WV legislature. The members certainly seem to be having fun as they dance upon the shredded remnants of decency and hopes that this state can ever float the ship of state off of the shoals we foundered upon many years ago.

Weather – We Like It Or Not

In January 1982, I worked at a chemical plant in Memphis when we suffered through a spell of bitterly cold weather like Texas went through last week. Chemical plants are like other similar facilities, such as oil refineries and power plants. Memphis is not in the deep South, but our plant was not designed for an extended period of extremely cold weather.

So I can understand why Texas has suffered as much as they have in their current cold snap. And the longer temperatures remain so much below freezing, the worse the damage will get. When we suffered our freeze in Memphis, our first priority was to shut down in a safe way and prevent leakage of hazardous materials. Once that was safely completed, all we could do was settle in for the inevitable thaw that would come.

But when the thaw came, that is when the true damage was revealed. All of the water and steam piping that froze, often burst. The sound of dripping water showed how much repair was needed before we could start up again. In our case, large diameter cooling water pipes had frozen solid and burst, which delayed our restart for weeks. This was certainly a contributing factor in the decision by Du Pont to close the process a year later.

For facilities in Texas, often it’s the smallest components that cause the biggest issues. Pressure sensors have very small diameter piping that leads to a gauge and signal transmitter. That little bit of piping is often what freezes, leading to a loss of the sensor. Faced with the option of running their process blind, operators shut down their facility. Then the loss of heat from combustion or chemical reaction leads to more freezing. It’s a vicious cycle.

There are other factors that exacerbated the situation in Texas. By isolating themselves from the national power grid, they were able to claim that their utilities were not engaged in interstate commerce. That freed them from Federal regulation, and enabled them to rely solely upon intrastate regulation. For Texas, that is a prime motivating factor, and one reason why the situation has been so dire during this time. The few corners of the state that are tied into the national grids (El Paso and Beaumont) appear to have come through this crisis with minimal damage, since they were able to import electricity from outside of the borders of Texas. But everywhere else has been held hostage to the native stubbornness of the state.

To many on the outside looking in, it is inconceivable that Texans would willingly put themselves through a disaster just to continue to be free of external regulation. But that would not be a true assessment of the state of Texas. I first visited Texas nearly 50 years ago, and was struck by the attitude I encountered there. If any place in the US could be an independent country, Texas was that place. In the intervening decades, it seems this feeling has only strengthened. What Texas will find out is that there are real benefits to be had in integrating with the rest of the country. What I fear is this most recent incident will only serve to ossify the attitudes of true Texans, and perhaps send the secessionist movement into overdrive. It seems as though the tendency in Texas, and through much of the country, is that it is much better to go it alone. As if someone could wall themselves off from the rest of the world and still maintain a standard of living better than anyone else.

This was the motivating factor leading to the building of “the wall”. If we could just put up a barrier and prevent the others from diluting our genes, we would solve many of the problems of the nation. Funny thing, though. In Texas the concept of private property rights proved ascendant to the need to build a barrier. In many of the border lands adjacent to the Rio Grande, families that had owned the land for generations objected to their property being broken in two by a barrier wall. Civil litigation has held up construction for years, and there’s no end in sight.

So the tragedy unfolding in Texas is both of natural and human making. The cold they’ve been subjected to is certainly something that would cause much suffering by itself. But it was due to the nature of the power business in Texas, where no one enforced requirements to maintain back-up capacity, or winterize their facilities, that made a natural disaster an order of magnitude worse. Keep the situation in Texas in mind as Republicans keep insisting on a steady drumbeat of deregulation. Maybe regulations are more expensive. Maybe we pay a little more each month to ensure continuity of service. I know that it is a bitter struggle each time a utility in our state tries to recover funds spent on upgrading infrastructure. But as Texas has shown, you can pay me now, or pay me later. For Texas, later has arrived.

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

I’m not a normal American. I know that. I always have. Ever since I was in the first grade, and I stated my strong preference that it was a big bang that created the universe, not a steady state universe. Maybe I thought explosions were cooler, but that’s what I thought. In first grade!

I thought I could be a great athlete as a kid, but didn’t have the fast-twitch muscles needed to be good at any sport. No, I found plays and musical theatre as an outlet for my energy. That, and choral singing. The latter I still do at age 66, which is one way in which the pandemic has robbed me of a creative outlet.

I fancied myself as a potential novelist, but when I tried it, my dialogue came out like stilted lettuce. I found my real skill early on, when I competed in Informative Public Address in high school forensics. One time, when visiting my high school, I realized that a trophy in a trophy case was partially due to my efforts. It made me realize that I hadn’t wasted my time back then.

I really diverged from being normal when I went to college. Majoring in Chemical Engineering, I toured all of the hard sciences and math courses. I had to add in one choral group each year in order to maintain my own sanity by sustaining a creative outlet. Looking back, it was amazing that I didn’t end up in legal trouble in those days, due to a certain prohibited substance that is only now gaining legitimacy in many states.

When I got a job after college, I moved away from Nebraska and moved to Memphis. A bit of a cultural shock, I found a niche and not only grew at work, but also continued with musical theatre. The one show I was in at the premiere theatre in Memphis where I did a month with 7 shows a week (matinee on Sunday) and still maintained my work showed me I did not want to do this sort of thing for a living. Not that I had the talent for it, but there are plenty of opportunities for us abnormal people to find creative outlets if you let yourself open to those opportunities.

The opportunity came for me to transfer to a sister plant in West Virginia. Despite all of the stereotypes about hillbilly culture, the capitol city of Charleston offered very good cultural fare. I continued to seek out opportunities for musical theatre, and was rewarded with a leading role (for a male) in what is really a tour de force for the female lead (Sweet Charity). I met my wife during those days at a cast party. She was in the orchestra, and at that time I played as a table in Evita (along with many other chorus roles). After we got married, I had one last opportunity with the local theatre group, and can say that I was in a show with Jennifer Garner when she was in high school.

Children came along, and the time to take to rehearse and perform theatre went away. But it was replaced by singing in church choirs, and in a select choral group. It was through doing these abnormal things that I had opportunities to sing in churches in Scotland and Yorkshire, and perform multiple times at Piccolo Spoleto festivals in Charleston, SC. Later as our children grew and performed in vocal ensembles, we accompanied them to Europe and Hawaii. All of these opportunities came about because we were not normal, and never could accept being merely passive consumers of mass culture.

So, since we are both a bit iconoclastic, we’ve been a good match. We both are liberals in this most conservative state in the nation. Fortunately we’ve found an Episcopal church that believes in social programs, and we lend our support to those.

But we’ve become aware of just how out of the mainstream we’ve become. We don’t do Amazon. We don’t shop at WalMart. We don’t watch reality TV. We don’t stream. New forms of social media are created, flower, and die before we even become aware of them.

We try to keep our cars for 15 years. We’ve never owned a SUV. Commercialism is lost on us, though we’ve plenty of disposable income. If the economy had to depend upon consumers like us, there are entire industries that would become a tiny fragment of their current size.

What’s really important, is that we believe it is of utmost importance to use creative talents to entertain others, rather than always have the cultural exchange be solely one way. We find it difficult to live in a society where so much of your “worth” depends upon how much of your net worth you are willing to flaunt. And we especially find it difficult to live in a world where the definitions of Christianity are perverted into displays like the prayers offered by the QAnon shaman on the floor of the halls of Congress.

We know that we will never be pacesetters in the world. But by being consistent to ourselves, and continuing to create through instrumental music, choral music, quilting, and writing, we may serve as examples for those who also wish to tread a path less traveled. A secret here – often the path that is used less has softer grass growing underfoot. It makes it a more pleasant journey as compared to the thoroughfare trodden by the masses.

Fossil Fuels? What a Quaint Notion

Fossil fuels are responsible for the huge advances in living standards over the past several hundred years. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the economy has depended upon concentrated sources of energy which is converted into useful work. Coal was the first source of energy meeting this need. Once extracted, and moved to its point of use, a lump of coal when burned expanded man’s capabilities through the turning of turbines and through the production of steam, which could move large machinery.

Then we discovered liquid petroleum. That was an even better source, and quite literally, it seemed to jump out of the ground once we poked a straw into its hidey-hole. Now you could use liquid hydrocarbons to fuel the transportation revolution that unfolded in the 20th century. Humanity grew used to its availability and deemed it as a birthright to maintain access to inexpensive forms of liquid hydrocarbons.

But then the 1970’s happened, and the producers of liquid hydrocarbons realized they controlled the production of a substance the industrialized world was addicted to. Quite logically, they withheld their product, saw the reaction from the rest of the world as of an addict writhing in the agony of withdrawal, and then resumed selling, but at a higher price. Thus the US began a period where the foreign and military policy of this nation was directed to protect the producing nations and protecting the transportation lanes. The military cost for this was never factored into the price of oil, which stayed high but never reflected the full cost for the fuel.

Just when the US grew accustomed to the external costs associated with securing petroleum supplies, technology threw the US a lifeline. See, the true reserves of hydrocarbons greatly exceeded the stated volumes, but much of those extra reserves were locked up in sedimentary rock, instead of pooling in geologic formations. And those oil and gas bearing sedimentary rocks could be found in many areas of the country. Technology gave the tool to unlock these hydrocarbon reserves in the form of fracking.

So the great fracking revolution was unleashed. Since about 2007, fracking has resulted in significant increases in production. So much so, that for several years, we’ve been able to forego much of the imported petroleum we once depended upon. The new solution of fracking was going to replace our old sources of energy, and we could rely upon a new generation of American wildcatters going out and perpetuating the stereotype of macho men dealing with steel and oil.

There is just one problem with fracking, though. The input costs to get the energy out are a more significant portion of the energy produced when compared to standard oil wells. See, in energy production there is the little matter of energy return on investment (EROI). Similar to a financial ROI calculation, this ratio shows the energy return for any form of technology. And fracking has a lot of inputs that a standard drilling rig doesn’t have. The inputs for fracking are sand, water, and chemicals, and a large amount of excess water produced from fracking has to be disposed of. Anyone who has lived in or visited an area with active fracking can attest to the volume of trucks going to and fro dealing with the water from the wells. Plus, another secret with fracking is that the amount of oil and gas produced declines much faster with a fracked well as compared to a standard well. Declines of as much as 60% from year to year are noted in fracked wells, whereas a standard well may decline only at a 5% per year rate. Thus to maintain or improve production requires ever more drilling, and this vicious cycle perpetuates through the lifespan of the producing field.

The chart below shows expected EROI for various forms of energy. Note the steep drop off once you get below an EROI of about 10. In particular note the figure attributed to biofuels. Since corn-generated ethanol is the main source of biofuels, it is evident that it takes about as much energy to produce it as it releases. The original reason for the corn conversion to ethanol  was to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. But when all of the inputs are considered, it is obvious that ethanol from corn is strictly a political beast that has developed a constituency far beyond its original intent. That is a subject for a separate post.

Looking at this chart, one would think that fracked oil and gas offers a significant increase in the available hydrocarbon supply. It does, but not as much as standard reservoir wells. And the steep depletion rates for these wells masks another issue with fracking. The cost of hydrocarbons needed to produce a positive ROI is higher than the current price. In other words, fracking does not make economic sense while the cost of oil is near $50/barrel. At $80/barrel, you can show a positive cash flow, but not at the price we’ve seen for many years. So we now are in the situation where the technology we’ve used to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, is shown to be an endless dollar pit.

So now, as almost all problems go, this has become a political issue. One party in the US wants the fossil fuel party to continue, noting that our lifestyle is dependent upon an ever-increasing supply of hydrocarbons. And one side has looked into the future, seeing that the only way to keep the fossil fuel party going is to increase the cost of that fuel beyond the ability of the population to handle. So we should deliberately speed up conversion of the economy towards renewable sources of energy, in order to avoid falling off of the energy cliff.

You might bring in concerns about global warming into this discussion, but in my opinion, that is icing on the cake. It is a straight-forward economic calculation that will dictate our migration away from fossil fuels. By the way, one final thought on the EROI charts – if you are using a fossil fuel to convert it into electricity, you run into thermodynamic losses. Even in an extremely modern power plant, 40% of the fuel goes into waste heat, which greatly reduces the EROI of the fuel source. So wind and solar, even though they show up as lower on the chart than fracking, they have the advantage of having converted input energy directly to electricity, thus avoiding the thermodynamic losses.

We in the US are at the mercy of our political class understanding these issues and making decisions that are better in the long run. Given the track records of the parties, skepticism is warranted.

Visions for the Nation

I find it more than ironic that one party in the political spectrum has so closely aligned itself with a proven loser now holed up at a resort in South Florida, that it cannot shed its skin even when the loser has left office. We see the examples of state Republican parties castigating its members for inadequate fidelity to said loser, censuring the apostates in Arizona, in Oregon denouncing the betrayal of the 10 Republicans in the House who voted for impeachment, in Wyoming where rallies are planned decrying Liz Cheney’s act of independence, and supporting the QAnon-supporting elected member of Congress (Marjorie Taylor Greene) in Georgia. At the same time, they are vociferously calling for unity in their desire to not call the ex-President to account for his actions in inciting the crowd to storm the Capitol on January 6.

Though the party in control in Washington has changed, the tone of the discussion has not. Fox News and those on the extreme right of the political discussion now claim that any utterance from a Democrat is evil, socialistic, and reprehensible. Thus the sincere efforts to reach a bipartisan solution seem doomed before they start. If the proposal for additional relief due to the pandemic is shoehorned into a reconciliation bill, then maybe at least the Biden administration will be ahead of the Obama administration. It took a long time before Obama ever gave up on trying to include Republicans into signing on to legislation. Even 14 months after his inauguration, Obama tried to gather Republican support in favor of his Affordable Care Act legislation. If President Biden learns within the first month that it is not possible to seek agreement on a bipartisan basis, then he will be more than a year ahead of his predecessor in recognizing political reality, and dealing with the actual landscape instead of the idealized vista one could hope for.

In the long term, it is not Trump that is the problem. He is the nucleating center around which the precipitate of the party came crashing out of solution. But it is the toxic solution that is the problem, rather than the current center of attention. In the short term, even if Senator McConnell wants Trump neutralized, the belated second impeachment trial is unlikely to serve as an adequate repudiation. Maybe the two sides will at least agree to a censure, which will have as much impact as being repeatedly poked with soft cushions. But don’t look for any resolution to come from the trial in the Senate, because the upcoming failure to convict will only have the effect of validating Trump’s actions in the months after his defeat in the election.

The real question is how to detoxify the solution that resulted in Trump’s elevation to the Presidency. That solution has grown more concentrated as continued exposure to lies has convinced many more to identify with the conspiracies that drip with ease from the mouths of those whose only goal is to manipulate. I almost feel sorry for the followers of Q who had to face severe disappointment when the storm was not released on the day of Biden’s inauguration. To have such a strong belief ripped apart before their eyes as the A-list stars lent their voices to the inauguration, that dissolution of their belief system physically hurt many who had burrowed deeply down the Q rabbit hole. It is no wonder that there is a small remnant who have latched onto the Sovereign Citizen movement, and still expect Donald Trump to be inaugurated in early March as the successor of the true Republic of the United States. This is instead of the corporation we became as we signed our control over to the banks of London and the Rotschilds. (I’d better watch it or I’ll give myself a cheek hernia.)

In a way, it will be better if Donald Trump attempts the formation of a new MAGA party, aimed at perpetuating his hold on a segment of the population. We could become the new Argentina where we reminisce 60 years from now on how good things were under the Perons, and reach for each new generation’s version of a Peronist.  But realistically that would result in even more politicians like  Marjorie Greene being elected, thus legitimizing the totally ludicrous belief system she espouses.

No, right now it is instructive to see those elites in the political right stir up the emotions of their true believers. According to them, we are only weeks away from rounding up all dissenters on the right, forcibly removing their guns, and sending them off in boxcars to the nearest FEMA camp.

In this day of images substituting for content, one image stands out. On one side, the title says Young Democrat, and under it is an image of Amanda Gorman. On the other side, it says Young Republican, and beneath it is the image of Kyle Rittenhouse. Nowhere else can you find a more succinct description of the dichotomy we see here today. One side believes only in the power of their weaponry, and its ability to sow destruction, and the other side believes in the power of their words, and the ability of language to bring about unity around an ideal.

Slimey Bids Adieu?

The swamp around DC

Slimey turned towards me, eyes pleading. “What should I do?” he exclaimed.

Slimey, as you may know, is a 9′ tall reptile with typical claws and sharp teeth as you might expect from a creature of the swamp around DC. Yet somehow he is capable of blending in with others, and indeed, had served in lobbying firms dealing with this past administration, now in exile.

I let him in through my door and he ducked his head as he entered. “Slimey, I wasn’t expecting you. Last time I saw you, you were working for QAnon. What happened with that?”

Slimey carefully maneuvered his tail around so as to not knock over anything found on low surfaces in the room. “Q? The market for that kinda petered out after the election. I could see the writing on the wall. So I had a good offer, one that I really would like to accept. I’ve been offered a position with the Secret Service!”

“Why, that’s great,” I said. “I figure you would snap up an opportunity like that quickly” You know, it’s amazing how many times my words around Slimey focused on one of his overwhelming physical characteristics.

“It is great. It would involve working security for an ex-President. But it is contingent on something.”  Slimey swung his ponderous head from side to side, seemingly indicating his conflict concerning this offer.

“What’s the contingency?” I asked.

Slimey set his bulk down upon a sofa before replying. “It’s contingent upon my being willing to relocate to the town of Ossining, NY. And it is contingent upon the New York court system acting first so that there will be someone to guard there.”

Slowly I realized the central part of Slimey’s dilemma. “You’ve been offered the job to guard President Trump in Sing-Sing.”

Slimey looked up at me. I could see a tear forming in one of his eyes. I thought about crocodile tears, but quickly put that thought away before it escaped my mouth. “Yeah, that’s it. I could be one of the guards who would keep him safe while he’s in prison. You just don’t know what that would be like. I’d have to be kept there myself in order to prevent someone from taking him out.”

I thought for a minute, then I said “I’ll bet there’s some times when you wished you never left the swamp.”

“You don’t know the half of it. The problem is I’ve gotten addicted to having this stuff called money around. I can exchange it for things I never knew existed when I was down there. But the more I keep trying to get it, the worse it is for me. I mean, I have my standards. I just don’t know if trying to keep the ex-President from being shived is worth it. I mean, if the word got out, nobody respectable will want to talk to me.”

Part of learning how to relate to all kinds was knowing when it was best to just listen, and not offer any guidance. So I sat down myself, and just made a little noise of affirmation.

Slimey thought for a long moment, which seemed like a really long time when you are dealing with something as large as he is. You hope that the reptile portion of his brain wouldn’t grow active and take over, and slash out with his deadly claws and massive tail. Even if I didn’t lie in a pool of blood with my entrails scattered, he could make a real mess of the upholstery if he tried.

Finally, he stirred, and gathered his limbs to stand. “I know what I have to do. I have to go back to the swamp. I just can’t deal with this human world any more.”

I realized that our time together was near an end. Not just this meeting, but probably any meeting in the future. Once Slimey had re-acclimated himself into the murky waters, I couldn’t see any chance of him re-emerging and trying another round at taking part in human society. And I certainly had learned my lesson, and would steer clear of the Tidal Basin so as to avoid any accidental contact. I counted myself fortunate that I had managed my relationship with Slimey and still had all of my organs intact.

Slimey went towards the door. “Friend, I don’t know if I’ll see you again. Thanks for listening to me and helping me decide what to do.”

I held the door open as he once again ducked his head on the way out. I said to him “I’ll miss you.” And then he was gone.

Time Is Tight!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

There is an illness stalking the inhabitants of this nation. No, it is not the illness caused by the corona virus, although that is still running rampant among our population. Instead, it is the illness of selfishness and ignorance that is causing so many who consider themselves Republicans to refuse to distance themselves from this President. Indeed, there is a hard-core constituency who still refuses to believe in the recent election, and cling to their fever dream of having Donald Trump remain in power as President.

The illness has taken hold over decades. It goes back to the belief that Senator McCarthy was correct, and members of the deep state (he never enunciated that phrase) were undermining the US by covertly inserting communistic beliefs into this nation’s consciousness. The stereotype was so engrained that a character in a 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove, was a parody of the supporters of McCarthy and the John Birch society. General Jack D. Ripper spoke the beliefs that we were being undermined by fluoridation (amongst other things). So the belief system resulting in this illness began before 1960. It has taken this long for it to gain power in the nation.

I sincerely hope that the brazen display of those infected with this disease that took place on January 6, 2021, shows the rest of the nation the folly they would inflict upon us all. We needed something to burst the bubble of infection, and allow the pus of this disease to be excised from the body politic. Seeing the so-called patriots who believed they were defending the virtues of this nation, seeing them swinging the US flag and its attached pole against the skulls of those outmanned officers should disabuse anyone who is not fully infected with this disease from ever believing in the purity of their cause.

Now there is a great hue and cry among the fevered victims of this disease about having their constitutional rights violated by the banning of their chief from social media. They claim a tyranny of the left is being waged against those who espouse “conservative” views. If only they stuck to true conservative values. No, those who are missing their on-line forums were the ones that would institute true tyranny, and their leader was showing them how it is done. January 6, 2021 serves as an exemplary case study in how their leader used his voice to inflame a crowd already dripping with sweat from induced fever, into taking action on his behalf. And of course, he would be with them. Except, of course, he wasn’t. He was acting as his own executive producer, and watched the reality show he produced unfold on TV. His only regret was that the forces he unleashed did not achieve their objectives of capturing and executing those he had decried as enemies.

Now we are cleaning up the aftermath of the Capitol invasion of January 6. Chief among these aisle clean-ups is the action to impeach and remove this President. Know that this effort will never result in the removal of this President, because the majority leader of the Senate will not allow it to happen while he retains his powers. It still is a worthy action to take, although I am myself of the opinion that impeachment in the House should take place before the end of the presidential term, but the trial in the Senate would be better if we allow a couple of months for passions to die down before it proceeds. Then the full results of the invasion will be known, and some of those who were infected victims of the cult disease might have broken their fever, and realized the folly of their ways. The facts won’t change.

Indeed, one of the most severe symptoms of the disease afflicting so many in this nation is the inability to discern fact from fiction. They insist their fictional accounts of events is real. They believe that the doctored videos offered as conclusive proof by the President’s Keystone Cop lawyers showed a vast conspiracy aimed at silencing their views forever. It will take a long time for these fevered victims of the cult to realize the error of their ways. If we are fortunate, the cult victims will regain their senses by ones and twos, and realize how close they came to unraveling the fabric of this nation. If we are not fortunate, then we will have future fever outbreaks across this country, and the death toll of these outbreaks may exceed the toll of January 6 by orders of magnitude.

Be prepared for the fever to not subside with the change in administrations. The disease is deeply entrenched in the soul of this nation, and will resist control as violently as the corona virus is resisting our so-far futile efforts to contain it.

Exponential Decay Curve In Politics – Post January 6, 2021

Way back in March 2017, when this blog was barely a month old, I penned a post titled Experimental Decay Curve In Politics. That post was intended to show that the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s tweets was likely to follow an exponential decay curve. In May of 2019, I wrote an update of that post that showed the frequency of retweets of his posts, seemed as if it were following an exponential decay curve. In order to keep the same impact from his account, he had to post more tweets to counteract the lessened effectiveness of any individual tweet.

Even though I had tried to update my original post with new data, it is the older post that keeps getting read across the globe. Many of my “hits” on this blog go back to the first post. Well, as of January 8 2021, it will no longer be possible to measure the “effectiveness” of Trump’s tweets, since he has been banned from the platform. In some ways this is the logical conclusion of this administration, with its pledge to bypass the media and speak directly to his followers through his social media platform. After much deliberation, and perhaps the threat of removal of the safeguards of Section 230, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all banned posts from Donald Trump as long as he remains in power. It has become clear that since the election, where he was effectively repudiated, his own posts had increasingly become reflections of the violent fringe of the internet rather than any sort of meaningful posting.

So there will not be another post discussing the further decay of the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s tweets. It is obvious that the ones that he had been posting were adequate to inflame the fires of passion of his most ardent supporters, and provided the fuel that energized the crowd that overwhelmed the outmatched security forces at the Capitol. I for one am hoping that the interim time till Joe Biden’s inauguration passes without further violence, either aimed at domestic enemies, or directed at foreign adversaries in misguided attempts to justify his own sense of power. Then I do hope that the much-maligned justice system in this nation does hold Donald Trump accountable for his actions of this week, and by extension, for his actions since he was inaugurated on that dark day in 2017.

Here again is the text of my original post.

Today’s topic concerns exponential decay curves. This is what happens when “something” declines over time. A classic exponential decay curve is shown here:

Exponential decay curves are often found in nature. The classic one that is taught in classrooms concerns radioactive decay. For a given radioactive isotope of an element, the half-life of the isotope determines the shape of its decay curve. A half-life is defined as the amount of time for 1/2 of the radioactive decay for an isotope to have occurred. This can vary among isotopes from fractions of a second, up to 4 billion years in the case of Uranium 238. Half-lives are very important when calculating the potential radiation exposure to a radioactive isotope. Isotopes like Cobalt 60 are powerful radiation sources that are used industrially to examine welds and metals for defects. They provide plentiful gamma rays since the half life of this isotope is only 5.3 years. That is why there is concern about the use of this isotope in a dirty bomb, since the radiation from an explosive dispersal of Cobalt 60 would cause significant exposure to high powered gamma radiation.

Exponential decay curves may be found in other natural and also artificial systems. A new example of an artificial system that appears to be following an exponential decay curve is the Presidential tweet. The response to a Presidential tweet appears to be following a typical decay curve function. It is too early to get an accurate measurement of the half-life of tweet effectiveness, but a preliminary estimate is that the half-life of the response to a Presidential tweet is about two months.

Since this system of Presidential tweets is an artificial system (one not normally found in nature), it is uncertain as to what the response of the originator of the Presidential tweets will be to an ongoing decrease in tweet effectiveness. Most observers believe that the originator will greatly increase both the frequency and objects of tweets so as to continue to receive a total response to the tweets that approximates the effect of the first tweets.

However, it is nearly certain that since the effectiveness of any individual tweet will continue to decline, eventually the response to all Presidential tweeting may approach zero. There is a school of thought though, that maintains the belief that we may begin to see an inverse function develop for the tweet response. That is, instead of receiving a positive response to tweets, each subsequent tweet may result in a negative response. It is possible that the magnitude of the negative response may increase with additional tweets, so that Newton’s third law may be given a test in the political arena. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Observers of politics will be watching this process with rapt attention.

A Final Temper Tantrum?

Donald’s sad, very very sad. What a sad day Donny had.

This was a verse I used to sing to my children when they were pouting or crying for what I perceived to be inappropriate reasons. It seems appropriate now to sing it to our pouter-in-chief as he concludes his tantrum against the foundations of democracy. How is it that he could deceive as many people as he has into believing it was impossible for him to lose, because he had all of the visible energy of his fraction of the electorate. How could he lose when he got more votes than all of the previous successful candidates?

Easy. The energy that was stored in those who voted for his opposition was potential energy, waiting for the opportunity to be released through the ballot. And thus, an even greater number of citizens voted for Joe Biden, and the primary reason why they supported him was because he was not Donald Trump.

We’ve run our little experiment on what it would be like to withdraw into our own borders, and not interact with anyone else. What have we learned? We’ve learned that the vacuum that develops from our withdrawal gets filled. The Chinese in particular have stretched their legs and made inroads across the globe, especially in what used to be considered the non-aligned world. But in Europe, a recognition has grown that the US is not to be depended upon, since it is capable of electing such an imbecile as has graced the White House for the last four years. The enduring image from this administration will be Trump sitting at a table, arms crossed in the body language of rejection and defiance, while Angela Merkel leaned across the table as if lecturing the wayward boy while the rest of the western leaders stood by in support of Merkel.

Photograph: Jesco Denzel/AFP/Getty Image

But now we see the last stages of the four year long temper tantrum, and the desperation in Donald’s demeanor is coming out in droves. “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”  Begging, pleading, threatening. All of the behaviors we have expected from this excuse for a President coming to the fore in a single perfect phone call. Well, after the final card is played on January 6 with the official declaration of the Electoral College vote, and no miracle is forthcoming to overturn the will of the people of the US, then Donny can go off and sulk in the corner. Just so he doesn’t do further damage to the fabric and substance of this nation on his way out.

I hope this is the last post I have to write denouncing this abysmal President, but I fear he is capable of much mischief not only while he is still officially in power, but in the political wilderness he will descend into after January 20. There are still tens of millions who believe he is the rightful winner of the election, and who will not recognize the legitimacy of the Biden administration. There are still tens of millions who believe that the ultimate evil has been unleashed upon this nation, and we can expect another batch of child abductions and dismemberments at the hands of the satanic Democrats. There are still tens of millions whose image of Trump is as a ripped man holding the automatic weapon of vengeance ready to pounce on those who object to his manifest greatness. It is obvious that all the facts in the world will not change the mind of a single one of these true believers. What we must be ready to do is make progress while we step around those who are screaming and holding their breath as they denounce the unfairness of the world.

The real problems we face as a species have not gone away over the past four years. In cases like climate change, they are now worse, and we have squandered a significant chunk of time in a futile attempt to recapture our past fossil fuel greatness. In others like pandemic preparedness, we’ve seen only too vividly how important it is to have early warning systems in place, and respond appropriately when a true signal is sounded. There are many other problems that can cause our intricately constructed house of economic cards to collapse. Supply chain issues come to mind as demonstrated by the pandemic, but it is our electric infrastructure that is most vulnerable to attack, either from nature, or from cyber threat. We must make it feasible for these problems to be addressed. The four years we spent on a circus sideshow now appear as a wasted opportunity.

When I used to sing this verse to my children, I would repeat the first line.

Donald’s sad, very very sad. What a sad day Donny had.

The second time through, it was slightly lower in pitch. Then I’d break into the following final line, raising the pitch:

But then he got happy! He really got happy!

When I sang that, usually it caused the boy who was pouting or crying to forget what he was mad about, and get mad at me for making fun of him. In Donny’s case, I’m afraid he is congenitally unable to become happy. If four years of near absolute power cannot make him happy, then there is not a thing in the world that will work to make him happy. That is undoubtedly the curse he will take with him to his grave.