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.

The Eyes Have It!

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Once upon a time, there was a land where people could see only out of either their left eye, or their right eye. Those who saw the land through their left eye, saw a world entirely different than those who saw through their right eye. Those who saw through their left eye saw a world where  local law enforcement expressed their unstated bias by targeting those different from themselves. Those who saw out of their right eye saw a world where those same law enforcement personnel stood as the sole barrier between anarchy and themselves.

It is ironic that the same scene can be perceived so differently depending upon which eye is used to observe. Those who watch with their right eye see the entire discussion regarding COVID as little more than a hoax, and are convinced that all actions dealing with reducing the prevalence of the virus as infringements upon their civil liberties. Those who see through their left eye are prone to view the other-sighted people as selfish and stupid for not being willing to take simple steps to reduce the impact of this disease upon society.

The preferred eye also affects intake of media. Those who see with their right eye seldom stray from Fox, unless it is to migrate to one of the video networks further to their right on the broadcast continuum, like Newsmax or OANN. Or perhaps forgoing all of the medium of television in favor of the internet sites like 4CHAN or 8CHAN. Now, for those whose left eye predominates their perception, if it is television it may be CNN or MSNBC, or even those old dinosaurs of network news still purveying their preferred flavors of distilled news. Heck, even the old form of 60 Minutes received a revival this fall when their traditional interview with the candidates got blown up by the incumbent. But those who see with their left eye, also may use their ears to listen to NPR, or seek out online sources like the MSM sources of the Washington Post or the New York Times.

Those who view things through their left eye are liable to see the working poor as victims of a system weighted against their efforts, leaving it nigh unto impossible for them to succeed in today’s world. The same group would be viewed by those who use their right eye as unworthy souls who just are not trying hard enough to succeed. Indeed, the Presidential son-in-law recently made a public statement codifying this belief when he said that his father “can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.”  Failure to succeed is only brought about by a failure to want to succeed. Nothing else could possibly cause these failures, for those who see with their right eye.

I’m not certain what is causing the schism in belief in science based upon the preferred eye. It seems a real statistical anomaly when those who see primarily with their right eye, are those who often reject the teachings and lessons of science. Indeed, some of these individuals sight has been so affected, they see the earth as flat, and as having been created for human’s consumption within the past few thousand years. Those who see with their left eye are more willing to accept demonstrated statistical evidence, so much so that it was reflected in the recent election where so many of those with the left sight believed it was risky to vote in person, so they cast absentee votes. Those same votes cast legally were viewed by those with right sight as being evidence the election was stolen, since so many of the votes counted late went for the challenger rather than the incumbent.

There are few remedies for trying to reconcile the sights of those who see with differing eyes. Whenever those who see primarily with one eye are exposed to the opposing viewpoint, their dominant eye reconfigures the images to conform with their preconceptions. Given the prevalence of ideological segregation in media selections, and in social media interactions, it is doubtful that anyone can force the other side to accept the correctness of another perspective. Even a global pandemic with its display of omnipotence against ideology cannot cause the two views to reconcile.

Given the intractable nature of the vision ailment running rampant across this nation, it seems hopeless to proclaim that there are seeds of reason seeming to sprout. The problem is, the tree of reason is a slow-growing species, and it can take generations before it has spread its branches over those who refuse to see other perspectives. We’d be better served if we depended upon the inexorable wave of demographics to cause those who see only with their right eye to become a smaller and smaller influence upon the rest of society. But somehow, even with the changes that will come about, there must be a way for those who see with their left eye, to recognize the bits of vision from the right-seers that are valid and worthwhile, and incorporate them into the vision of those who see mainly with their left eye. Otherwise, we are rejecting nearly half of the vision of humanity, and that cannot be correct.