Where Do We Go?

I read a column in the New York Times that explains much of what has bothered me over the last few years. It was a column by Thomas Edsall. Now, reading his stuff is much like reading a research summary in Science magazine. Very dense, and you can lose yourself easily in it. But what I took out was that we now have two parties which are predicated on either intellectualism or anti-intellectualism. Both parties view adherents of the other party as evil dupes who just cannot see the virtues of their own philosophy. This is why the remark about deplorables in 2016 was such a divisive statement, and one that led inexorably to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Instead of being taken as a put down, it was viewed as a badge of honor to many who saw the remark as a typical denunciation from the coastal elites.

One party adores anti-intellectualism. One party denies the universe exists according to scientific principles, and therefore prayer and quack pharmacology can defeat the evil cabal who are trying to force-feed medical solutions upon the unwilling. One party eyes any argument about climate change as denying the supremacy of God over our physical universe, and besides, it will cost us money and make it likely we may suffer from energy shortages if their evil green agenda ever comes to pass. One party believes women have no right to determine if they will be fit parents and will force all women to become parents if they ever find themselves pregnant. One party believes immigration is part of a globalist plot aimed at diluting the purity of essence of the nation’s true patriots (and heaven help anyone who dares to utter a version of history which doesn’t match the Hollywood image of noble men rescuing hapless women from savagery). This party cannot conceive of any value for any position held by the other party.

So the other party acknowledges intellectuals often do know whereof they speak, and are willing to give credence to the claims of scientists. The other party does look down on those less educated, since they have made a moral judgement that being educated is an indicator of more worth. The other party is willing to question their beliefs if reality does not match what they’ve been taught. The other party thinks the laws of economics are obsolete, and we can fix any problem by creating more money and spending it on revised national priorities. And the other party is unwilling to acknowledge any position held by the other party since it is obvious they are ignorant.

Then you have those who don’t hold truck with the beliefs of either party. This is the fastest growing group in the United States, the independents or others. They find themselves trapped within a political system which ignores their real concerns. Sooner or later, one or both of the existing parties will fatally fracture, and we may find the leaky block of the center becomes the glue holding this country together.

But the deck is stacked against any third party becoming a real force in the political spectrum of this country. All states are governed based upon two parties sharing legislative power. In our state of West Virginia, we have a Mountain Party which pretends to put up candidates, then complains when those candidates are ignored by all powers that be. They receive their 1-2% of the vote, just enough to keep them alive in the electoral system, then they retreat back into their den of irrelevancy.

It will really take some major event to cause the two parties to schism enough to cause a new party to arise out of the debris left behind by the fractures. One might have thought one party’s insistence upon electoral fraud followed by an attempt at holding onto power via mob violence would have been enough. But alas, what might have been a schism in the Republican party ended up healing poorly when the initial cries of presidential responsibility were replaced by scenes of groveling at the feet of the ex-President. Likewise, the progressive wing of the Democratic party misread the election as a mandate rather than as an act of revulsion against the former President. So now they are trying to go boldly where no party has gone before, and rectify 40 years of inaction on the social front with a plan to address every social ill all at once.

The Republicans may be seeding the sprouts of their own demise by ill-considered devotion to a single politician, rather than standing behind principles of their own (unless you consider mindless adoration to be a principle). But the Democrats seem destined to fulfill Will Roger’s pithy quote of “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Just shows that nearly 100 years later, the same disorganization seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and result in party cannibalism.

So what is the answer? Will we cede control to the tribal group who believe the only good election is one that they win? Or will the tribal group win who believes only equality of results will repair the ills of the nation? God forbid that we actually have some rational actors seize control of our body politic and steer the ship of state by the rudder, instead of trying to direct the ship by rushing first to one side of the ship, then the other, thinking those actions are substitutes for steering.

Point of Personal Privilege

Willy Mays making The Catch, September 29 1954

Today I celebrate the completion of my 67th trip around the sun. To put that number into perspective, it is 1.5 millionths of a percent of the age of the earth. Maybe of more relevance, it is 27% of the existence of the US as an independent nation. As such, I do have a few observations about the current state of things.

When I was in my formative years, I saw images of pollution, and how we were destroying our environment. The burning of the Cuyahoga river was etched upon my brain. Thus I was more than happy to participate in the very first Earth day, where a group of us went out and cleaned up alleys in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Symbolic, yes. Meaningful, not really. But the human population at that time was about 3.7 billion people. Now we are roughly twice that amount. Even though in this country we have cleaned up a lot of visible pollution, we are facing the results of humans consuming much more than the planet can sustain. Over the eons, the earth stored enormous amounts of carbon in three repositories. Coal, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbonate rock. Over an instant in geological time, our societies are releasing much of the carbon locked up in these deposits and sending it out into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap excess heat and re-radiate it back to Earth. The setpoint for Earth’s temperature system is being fiddled with, and mankind will not be pleased with the results of this experiment we are conducting on ourselves. Like many young climate activists say, there is no planet B for humanity to live on. Somehow we have to realize the invisible pollution is more harmful than the visible pollution bothering us, and more importantly, do something to change humanity’s reward system to make a real change for the better.

The very first thing I can remember was traveling in our car across country when an announcement came over the radio. It spoke of a satellite, launched by the USSR, which was orbiting the Earth. I verified that memory with my parents while they were still alive, and thus I can say I was aware at the beginning of the space age. Now, we see space exploration begin to be expanded to private citizens. Whether the resources used to launch private spaceships are the best uses of the moneys spent, it is an essential step towards ensuring humanity keeps reaching for the stars instead of hunkering down on this planet.

Of course, Sputnik also caused another reaction in our nation. We realized we were behind in what could have been an existential conflict with another nation-state. Thus came the efforts to make it possible to annihilate our opponents at the touch of a button. We entered a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) world, and built up our military capabilities to reflect this. Along the way we discovered the limitations of conventional forces which means no longer will armed conflict consist of massed armies hurtling huge quantities of conventional explosives at each other. No, we have guerrilla warfare, where the patience of the home team can outlast any effort from an invader. And the type of warfare we now have is economic and cyber, causing more diffuse damage.

I was born on the same day as The Catch. This event is still referred to as the ultimate fielding play in baseball, and as of today, Willie Mays still is with us. Of all the sports, baseball may be the most unchanged. Yet even now, the tweaks being made may cause the nature of the game to finally change. In the minor league in my city, they have moved the pitcher’s mound back one foot, hopefully to enable hitters to have just a slight bit more time to react to ever faster pitches coming from an unending parade of super arms. The decline in starting pitching and the rise of the bullpen is otherwise the major change we are seeing in this sport. Plus, all of the pitching changes to bring in these relief pitchers have helped slow the game down. Combine this with the shortened attention span of today’s public, and there is no doubt that the long-term survival of baseball as the quintessential American game is threatened.

When I was young, the portable battery powered transistor radio was the epitome of technological progress. Radios were proud to tell you exactly how many transistors they contained, and when FM radios also came about, it enabled the youth culture to dominate popular music. Of course, individual transistors gave way to integrated circuits, and Moore’s law began to rule our lives. I have the honor to know in my lifetime I have moved from being an early adopter in high technology, into a Luddite who chooses not to participate in many of the modes of communication favored by today’s youth. My preferred mode of communication is this blog, which requires an attention span greater than the time required to digest the latest tweet from our political class.

In all of my days, it is in politics where one can sense the changes most acutely.  Maybe it is a natural result of the end of the cold war, where a common opponent helped to hide the intractable differences in our politics. But ever since the end of the cold war, emotional energy seemed to transfer to denouncing the other side politically as sub-human and definitely unpatriotic. Now we even have a party in US politics which denounces science as being fake, and seemingly wants to cause reversion towards a past where life was simpler, though much more brutish and subject to an untimely death. The difference in response between the two parties towards the treatments for the COVID virus gives a view of evolution in action. We may actually be seeing a change in the differential survival of those who believe in science, and those who don’t. Unfortunately for those of us who do believe in science, even this change may not be swift enough to affect the next election. But over time …..

Well, I am at the end of my self-appointed limit of about 1000 words in a post. I turn to you as readers to add items you have seen as changes in your lifetime, be they good or bad.

So We Fight To Keep The Dream Alive

Fire hoses in Birmingham in 1960’s

Critical Race Theory. Three words that strike dread into the hearts of many who believe this theory is being forced upon their innocent children, and makes the children feel bad. Of course, most of those who protest CRT wouldn’t know it if it struck them alongside their head like a 2×4. Instead, what we have is a noisy bunch of naysayers who have been driven to protest by what has been said on their various media sources. There CRT is mischaracterized so much that any attempt at presenting a contrary view to the lily-white version of American history is seen as communistic influence aimed at making Americans feel guilty toward the inherent racism of our society.

When will we ever get to the place where we can accept that multiple versions of the truth can exist simultaneously? Sure, the settling of the American Midwest involved much sacrifice by those who tried to eke out an existence for their families on soil they had to tame themselves. But at the same time, it is a fact that this land was occupied for thousands of years before white settlers broke the soil with their plows. The conquest of the indigenous peoples of North America enabled the white settlers to take over the lands and only have to fight nature instead of the previous residents. Sure, we gave Indians great reservations, and set up residential schools for the young (where the indigenous culture was carefully extinguished). Is it any wonder that today, reservations are where you find the most entrenched poverty, along with a plethora of substance abuse problems?

When it comes to the ongoing story of Black Americans, the story keeps getting stranger and stranger. Apparently since we elected a half-African as President, all of the racism in our society magically left and we now are in a post-racial society. Or, at least, that is the bromide Fox viewers keep telling themselves. What is not acknowledged is the social rebound coming from Barack Obama’s election exceeded the push to put him in office. Once he was there, the antipathy towards his policies was not only tinged with racism, racism became the sole motivating force. Using the example of the Affordable Care Act, something that was modeled after a Republican’s approach, immediately became anathema. The requirement to pay a tax penalty if you were uninsured was viewed as onerous and tyrannical. Underlying everything was the unstated fact that this was a program developed by a Black, and therefore must be opposed with every ounce of effort. We tried to link the opposition back to our founding fathers, by calling these racists “Tea Partiers”, as if they would be washed clean by the waters of Boston Harbor through this alliance.

When the rebound resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the unspoken part often became overtly spoken. Like in the response to the death in Charlottesville, where a moral equivalence was drawn between those protesting the racism, and those who emulated a torch march from the 1930’s and who felt morally justified in using their macho car as a lethal weapon. It took the events of 2020 to really show how far these purveyors of white pride would go to maintain their power. Antifa, that paragon of anarchy, became the boogeyman for the right, and their non-existent organization was decried time and time again. Meanwhile, those who instituted real violence on January 6 were coddled since white Americans could never be a danger, even when they used mountaineering tactics to scale walls, and mob techniques to overrun police lines. Of course, it was obvious that the Antifa provocateurs were behind all of this. Everyone who entered the Capital building were peaceful tourists who would never have caused damage or defecated in the hallway.

I am old enough to remember the television news showing the fire hoses and police dogs turned on those who demanded their right to vote. The fact that we have to revisit those scenes nearly 60 years later in response to Republican malfeasance in state legislatures is horrendous. The fact that my Senator from West Virginia believes in a non-existent comity among the Senators is worth more than moving legislation along to address voting discrimination is very disappointing. And the fact that so many folks wish to return us to a previous state of Great where it was ok to subjugate anyone who didn’t fulfill the Aryan ideal is worse than disappointing, it is disgusting.

I am an example of how demography is not destiny. I am a Caucasian retired chemical engineer, who spent his entire career in a manufacturing industry. I grew up in Nebraska, and now have lived in West Virginia for more than half of my life. If anyone should identify with the Fox news archetype for my political beliefs, it is me. But I grew up detesting the evil exposed on that television screen. And I am now exasperated at how we are having to fight the battles of the 1960’s over and over again, only this time with the added burden of those who refuse to recognize the true common enemy of the virus. I hope we have enough strength to repudiate those who select evil over humanity and actually work to build a society where all can share in the great wealth we generate in this country. There are ways we can do that and encourage work and thrift and all of those virtues supposedly embodied in that mythical time when America was Great.

No Vaccine For Me, Please

So now we wait for the unintended consequences. Now that the US CDC has removed the requirement for masking in most situations for those who are fully vaccinated (or vacciminatedified as my elder son says), what can we expect to see going forward? First off, those governors including our own in West Virginia will be under extreme pressure to remove any masking mandates. This has already taken place in West Virginia as of May 15. Second, we can expect non-governmental groups like my church bureaucracy to relinquish their limits on in-person services (and perhaps on singing in church as well).

But the primary consequence is that there will be a low level of severe coronavirus continuing to circulate through the population since the virus will still have plenty of unvaccinated people to attack as we go through the months and years to come. If you look at the Venn diagram of those who will not get vaccinated, and those who have resisted masking, you will see a very good overlap. So those who have not been vaccinated will not follow any guidelines from the government. As those of us who have taken the jabs celebrate our freedom from the limitations imposed by the response to the virus, we must be aware that there is no visible sign to mark the vaccinated from those who are not. Since the vaccine was supposed to be the mark of the beast, I figured there would be some visible means to distinguish those who are protected from those who are not. Alas, that is not the case.

We must all be aware that even though we in the US are fortunate enough to see falling case rates, our health system will continue to see a large number of virus patients filling our hospitals. The stressed health professionals will not be able to totally abandon pandemic status, but the reduced levels we will see will likely mean our health care system won’t be overwhelmed.

That is obviously not the case across the globe. One needs only to look at the severe effects of the virus surge in India in order to understand this is a global fight, and no one is really safe until all people have the chance for immunization. Eventually the uncontrolled spread in many countries will result in a viral mutation that will evade the existing immune response from vaccination. So we have a selfish interest in preventing the scenes of suffering we see as images from India are seen on our media.

But I fear it will be nigh unto impossible to disabuse those who insist that this vaccine is evil, and a part of the New World Order mission to depopulate the earth, and we are only waiting until the 5G signal comes that activates the self-destruct mechanism we’ve had injected into ourselves. As has been said, you can’t fix stupid. And what’s worse is that so many folks are willingly adopting these ludicrous beliefs because they’ve been persuaded by the constant drumbeat of the media of the right.

Look, the right loves to bewail the perceived intolerance of the left. Well, this partisan of the left is open, and has gone so far as to read an extensive link about gain of function research conducted at the Wuhan virology lab and sponsored by that paragon of evil, Anthony Fauci. This was a link provided by my younger son, who has been vaccinated but is also deeply suspicious of China.

I will say we do need to find the animal reservoir for this virus, else the description in the link will be more likely to describe the actual origin of the virus. Regardless of the actual source of the virus, it is apparent that the initial tendency of the Chinese government was to minimize the severity of the initial outbreak. That does not justify the ethnic sniggering conducted by US government officials who were only too willing to blame an entire ethnic group for this viral dissemination. It is the words of these government officials which emboldened so many US citizens to attack their brethren for appearing Asian. What those on the right do not want to admit is that their followers take their words literally and view actions they take in support of ill-advised words as justified both legally and morally. Cancel culture from the left can result in the loss of a job, and that loss is sometimes not justified. Cancel culture from the right can result in the loss of a limb, or a life. After all, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And when one side defines what liberty is, extremism is often the result.

So we will emerge from the pandemic haphazardly. Some countries will see greatly decreased frequency and severity of infections. Others who may have escaped the ravages of the disease to date will find themselves overrun by later surges induced by more infectious variants. Meanwhile, the host country for the Olympics is questioning the worth of holding this event in the midst of an ongoing surge in cases. Given the expenses involved in hosting an Olympic game, it seems that there will be great reluctance for future cities to vie for the right to spend themselves into oblivion. Especially if this year’s games are canceled. Maybe that’s symbolic of how the world, which once was unified by athletic competition, is now unraveling due to the overwhelming trend towards provincialism sweeping over the nations of the earth. Much like the virus has swept over the earth, totally ignorant of the imaginary lines dividing the countries on the ground. Some realities just cannot be ignored.

The Beat Goes On (and On, and On)

I expected the views of the Earth from the moon would have brought us closer together. The image of a fragile blue-white pebble from space shows just how small this space is we fight over. But instead of unifying us, we seem to have forgotten the lessons we could have learned from seeing Earth as a tiny ball suspended in a cosmic sea. We now insist that our version of humanity is the only one worth celebrating, and indeed, we must reach back into our past to recapture greatness rather than reaching forward towards new opportunities.

How close did we come to losing our cherished form of democracy during the 2020 Presidential election and its aftermath? A lot closer than we thought. Try these “what ifs” out for size. What if the endless stream of ludicrous lawsuits about the election found one of those Trump-appointed judges who were given incompetent ratings by the ABA? One of these judges may have viewed their fealty towards their nominator as greater than their belief in the law, and ruled in favor of the ex-President. What would that have done to the electoral aftermath?  Or, what if the roving mobs had come across one or more of their intended targets, and actually managed to hang Mike Pence, or pillory and puncture Nancy Pelosi? Would we still see Trumpistas referring to the mobs as nothing to be feared if they had taken a human toll in the form of the lives of members of Congress?

Just when you thought we had gone beyond this past presidency, along comes another Republican member of Congress who insists on stirring the festering pot of divisiveness. According to them, it is only those who want this nation to fail who insist that the previous election was fair. I’m wanting to go on to discuss real solutions to problems we have in this nation, only to be stymied by legislative representatives at the state and federal levels who care more for cultural hyperbole than the real work of legislation. But then someone like Ted Cruz comes along and informs the business elites that if they dare to express an opinion about a legislative matter, then they can just forget about having their bribes responded to by members of his party. We may have believed in the corruption of these legislators, but now we have them openly reveling in their moral turpitude in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

If you think about it, this resistance is to be expected. The mantra of the Republican party since the primacy of Reagan has been that government is incompetent, and we’re all better off if we go it alone. Funny how it took over a half million deaths to disabuse many folks from continuing to believe in that mantra. Still, when you see the number of people who refuse to get vaccinated, you realize how deeply the poison of this past administration has seeped. As I’ve said, seldom do we have the chance to see evolution in action at the human level, but the differential survival rates between the vaccinated and those who disdain vaccination may eventually show up in a human preference for science at the genetic level.

But to have the beliefs of 40 years torn asunder by the reality of nature is tough for many to accept. It was tough for all of us when we learned the reality about Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Those myths sustained us in our innocence. Likewise, the myths fed the American people about the sanctity of Republicans as exemplified by Trump were comforting to many, causing them to abandon their ability to apply logic to what they saw in front of them. I had never believed that so many people would ignore their logical brains in favor of accepting what Fox and Newsmax and OAN whispered in their ears, night after night. Combine this with the power of social media, and you had the perfect storm for the 21st Century USA. And thus, we barely escaped this last election with our democratic republic intact.

Reasonable people can disagree with programs and priorities. That what elections are supposed to decide. But it is unacceptable to have discussions about programs usurped by those who refuse to accept reality, and insist on re-litigating the last election time after time. What will it take to make those who still follow their orange champion (#cheetojesus) to give up their folly? Will indictment and conviction on criminal charges disabuse his followers from their cult? Probably not, he will be viewed as a martyr. Will the release of the internal documents that William Barr used to proclaim Trump’s innocence convince millions that the Russia investigation was not a hoax? Probably not, since the phrase Russian Hoax was uttered so often that many will not go beyond the headline. No, it will take some event yet to come, where their champion does something so gross and crass that it breaks through the impenetrable force field protecting him in the eyes of his cult followers. And when that break comes, it won’t be pretty, since no one likes accepting they are the foolish victim of a con. It’s always those who are most invested in the scheme who insist in their belief until the end. Once that end comes, they will turn on him with the same fury that they supported him in the Capitol on January 6.

What Happens Next?

Despair creeps in when hope is exhausted. For so many during this long pandemic season, despair has been a constant companion after the shock of the first few weeks passed. But now, along with the seasonal change, hope is returning. For some, the financial boost coming from the COVID relief package will enable them to hang on until the economy fully recovers, and they can go back to a service economy job that pays just enough to squeak by. For many others, the opportunity to abandon the prison of their home with the onslaught of vaccination, will bring back essential socialization and family interactions. Still, it is hope that is omnipresent in this time of rebirth in nature.

As a nation, we begin to crawl out of our foxholes and survey the landscape around us. Some things should come into focus, even if they were visible prior to the pandemic. Though visible, they did not register as urgent problems in the before times. Will we have the collective will to address these problems now? We will see. The COVID relief bill has taken a first step towards solving some of these problems. But it is time-limited relief, and its provisions are for only one or two years. The problems, like child poverty, have existed for far longer. It was only during the nadir of the pandemic that we realized how interconnected we all are, and how we need to solve the problems of our brothers and sisters in need, or we will be swept under the tide of humanity crying out for aid.

We had a foretaste of what can happen when we ignore these problems for too long. Demonstrations aimed at protesting excessive use of force by law enforcement, were coopted at night by those who favored direct action and anarchy. It is important to recognize that the demonstrations were instigated by acts of violence, but the economy was also a significant factor. When people do not see hope in their lives, despair can overwhelm them and it is a small step to violence. Of course, those who saw only the violence in the streets were convinced that the source of that violence was organized, and financed by an evil cabal. Then we saw what could happen when those who decried violence, decided to perpetrate violence themselves on January 6. Certainly we all were living in a state of despair at that time.

Will we learn our lessons? Will we let the siren song of substance abuse wrap its embrace of slithering tentacles around us? Will we continue to insist upon punitive actions only as the sole treatment method available to those who succumb to its fatal attraction? Will we realize that the costs of maintaining our prison complex are vastly greater than the costs of providing real treatment? That’s just one of the problems that existed long before the pandemic, yet shows up now in greater relief.

Will we be willing to invest in improved facilities for schools? In some states, the disparity between school facilities and achievement is immoral. The zip code you live in should not be the primary determinant of your educational outcome. Yet it is in far too many states. But of course it is the greedy teachers’ unions that are seen as the source of poor student performance.

Will we continue to accept that in the service economy we now have, it is not moral to allow those who look after the most vulnerable in our population to work full time for wages that do not provide enough money to live in dignity? We’ve lost many of the jobs we had in small towns, where a manufacturer could take those who did not pursue advanced education and provide them jobs where they could support a family. We may decry the global shift of labor and capital, but it will not reverse and provide those jobs in the future. Any manufacturing that returns, will use smaller amounts of labor, and require advanced education in order to control and maintain the machines that actually perform the manufacturing. We can wail and moan about this change, or we can accept it and try to fashion our real world into one where we’d like to live.

We’ve just gone through a period where we tried to squeeze out testosterone as a grease for our economy. Witness the frantic push to grab the last bit of fossil fuels out of the public lands. Because, you see, drilling for oil is manly. And we need that image of the roughneck out there in his domestic pickup, living his life out in the frontier towns of the Dakota’s, or among the tumbleweeds of Texas, showing the best of what America has to offer. Yes, doesn’t require much education to be a roughneck. Just what we need to Make America Great Again. But the investment required to keep the oil and gas flowing through the fracking fields won’t just keep coming, since it is nigh unto impossible to make money when the output from the wells declines so precipitously. So will we turn from the allure of fossil fuel towards a cleaner future?

The Texas freeze has shown us just how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. Will we have the will to require investment in upgrading facilities and making it possible to integrate periodic sources of energy generation (i.e., renewables) into our delivery systems? The next failure may not just be in Texas, but can be global in nature, especially if we get smacked by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Are we willing to spend money now to protect against something that may not happen for 100 years?

All of these problems (and many more) have existed for decades if not longer. The virus has shown us that we are all living on borrowed time if we expect life to continue blissfully ignorant of the risks we run. Somehow we need to change our mindset from a heedless rush for maximum profits by corporations, to a model where some of the excess profits are recycled into system improvements that ensure continuity of service. Can such a change in mindset happen without government mandates? Texas may be our canary in that a completely deregulated environment did not ensure continuity of service to cover a once in a hundred-year weather event.

Since the 1980’s in the US, we have seen government put down as being the worst enemy of true Americans. It is past time to put that phrase into our history books, as we see what that philosophy does to a society after over 40 years of implementation. You end up with massive inequality in the economy, a bulging underclass that does not share in the overall prosperity of the nation, and facilities that all depend upon that have grown increasingly frail. It is time to change our perspective and look at what can be, and work to create that future for all of us.

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.