Mimsy Were the Borogoves

In a subjugated nation we should not even have the liberty of continuing to insult each other. — Albert Camus (Resistance, Rebellion, and Death)

Election Fragility—Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

“The purpose of voting today is to give a democratic veneer to an undemocratic regime—not to give the people a say in the direction of their government.”

“What we thus have is a voting system that is slapdash, inconsistent, porous, and easy to manipulate—i.e., cheat. Again, by design. The media, the intellectuals, the ‘experts,’ the universities—every opinion-shaping sector of our society—both cheerlead and lie about all of this… to shift blame from those who rig everything, refuse to explain anything but instead gaslight, gaslight, gaslight, onto those who, in response, decline to believe.”

Rolling blackouts keep following me around—Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

It’s a blues song. When I lived in San Diego, San Diego bore the brunt of California’s exchange-based rolling blackouts and high prices. Politicians and bureaucrats had the brilliant idea that if you bottleneck consumer energy purchases in a government exchange, they could get a lot more graft. It worked—witness Enron—but it also, like our more modern health exchange, precipitated massive price increases and shortages.

Now there are rolling blackouts in Texas, in the midst of the coldest weather we’ve had since I moved here—and apparently the coldest weather in half a century.1

There are some huge differences between this crisis and California’s back at the beginning of the century. Most importantly, these blackouts didn’t last for several weeks. And almost as important, Texas allowed energy sellers to make contracts. That means that (a) my costs have not skyrocketed like they did in San Diego2 and (b) my energy company let me know they were in no danger of going out of business.

But in one sense last week’s blackouts in Texas happened for the same reason as San Diego’s: really bad government policies. In this case, to get more of that sweet, sweet cash from federal subsidies, Texas included unreliable energy sources in its reserve forecasts. This allowed them to prioritize wind and solar to a higher proportion than they could have if they had only included reliable energy sources in reserve forecasts. “Reserve” here means “what do we have to cover emergency increases in power usage?”

We’ve got to the point where wind is nearly a quarter, 24%, of our energy production. It is exceeded only by natural gas at 44%. We’ve been both increasing subsidies of wind turbines, and drawing down coal.

It worked, barely, until last week. I don’t remember any problem with the last hard freeze a few years ago. But only barely. Organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been warning for years that the real reserve—the reserve of reliable energy—has been dropping awfully close to zero as Texas adds more and more unreliable energy and does not add reliable energy to make up for it. Texas has even been removing reliable, resilient energy, mainly coal.

The Indispensable Man—Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

“I know precisely when I first heard Rush. It was not long after he started the show and not long after I bought my pad in New Hampshire. I was driving some visitors from London through the North Maine Woods toward New Brunswick in that dead zone where the only thing that comes in is the soft-and-easy station on 94.9 FM from the top of Mount Washington. And then that died, and there was nothing, and I forgot to switch it off so it was automatically scanning up and around the dial as we chit-chatted in the car. And then suddenly it found [Rush Limbaugh].

“And, in my car, conversation ceased. My friends were what you might call slightly skeptical lefties, so they disagreed with what Rush said on the issues but they were rapt by the way he said it. Because they had never heard anybody say it like that before. It was a unique combination—absolute piercing philosophical clarity, and a grand rollicking presentational style honed through all the lean years of minor-market disc-jockeying.”

ERCOT’s phantom reserve—Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

July 8 2020: “Wind and solar energy are intermittent, meaning their contributions to the grid plummet dramatically when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. And although ERCOT clearly has no control over the weather, this challenging situation is made worse when forecasts are based on assumptions that create a false sense of security about the reliability of the grid.”

They were warned: “We can’t expect to be 100 percent secure from every possible risk, but we surely want to do better than barely scraping by. With such a slim reserve margin, unplanned power plant outages or just days with little wind or sunshine could put us into a real emergency—this time with blackouts.”

Bean counting and ballot counting—Wednesday, February 17th, 2021
Abraham Lincoln’s peaceful ballots

This is true only so long as voting is secure against fraud.

I saw this from someone inadvertently bolstering Trump’s claims:

Dear Mission Federal Credit Union, I just want you to find 11,780 dollars in my savings account. Everyone there has miscounted.

They thought that was making fun of Trump, but in fact it points out a very severe deficiency in how we handle elections. What would happen if he actually made that request is that Mission Federal would take it seriously and do an investigation. They wouldn’t stonewall and gaslight him and tell him it’s not enough money to worry about.

I’ve dealt with Mission Federal—they used to be my credit union. Like any bank or credit union, if you show them that your savings account total plummeted inexplicably in the early morning, you won’t need affidavits for them to open an investigation, and it will be thorough. In fact, if it turns out that the total in one part of their system does not match the total in another part of their system, they won’t even wait for you to contact them. They’ll open an investigation immediately whether you ask for one or not.

Banks and credit unions know that miscounts happen. They know that fraud happens. And so they keep multiple records of the same data from different sources in order to verify different counts against each other. They maintain a chain of custody for assets handled by employees whether the assets are physical or digital.

If you ask to see your canceled checks, you’ll be able to see them immediately or nearly so. There’s probably already an online system for you to request canceled checks for any reason whatsoever without any arguing with the institution’s officials about whether you need them or not.

What they will not do is tell you, “the money we see missing from your account isn’t enough to matter, so we’re not only not going to restore it, we’re not even going to bother looking into it.” Show them a one-cent discrepancy and they will spend far more than one cent tracking down what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to keep it from going wrong again.

Reliable, resilient electricity—Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

“There is a lot of conflicting ‘information’ about the TX blackouts. Here’s the bottom line: the root cause of the TX blackouts is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar energy over reliable energy… Intermittent wind and solar can always go near zero.”

2020 in Food—Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021
Miami Cubano

A Cubano from Enriqueta’s in Miami is a great way to start the year.

I decided to break off the cookbooks from my Year in Books post because there were a lot of cookbooks this year—and a lot of food that isn’t book related.

When the year started, it was going to be a year of glorious travel—and glorious food. In early February I had a craving for a really good Cubano. So I texted a friend, used some airline points, and we went to Miami and Key West. The Cubano came from Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop. We also hit a lot of bakeries; this chocolate-filled pastry came from Rosetta Bakery.

It snowed in Texas while I was in the water at Miami Beach. So that worked out well.

Then, in March, I went to Raleigh for a business meeting and stayed on to try some new restaurants and visit some used bookstores; that’s when things started getting weird. The evening I arrived, walking back to the hotel after a very nice meal, I noticed a sign at a CVS:

SOLD OUT OF CLOROX WIPES HAND SANITIZER ALCOHOL MASKS LYSOL

It was like the slow descent into an end of the world movie, such as Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth.

The very nice meal I was walking back from was Bida Manda where I’d had crispy pork belly soup and stuffed Anaheim peppers. I had a lot of very good food in Raleigh, but that first meal was a standout.

Chocolate pastry

A chocolate pastry from Rosetta Bakery in Miami is not a bad start to the year.

Crispy Pork Belly

Crispy pork belly soup at Bida Manda in Raleigh. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful trip.

Salmon and Basil

Raw salmon marinated in lemon juice and basil; and pan-fried salmon skin on the side. The French definitely know how to live.

The Year in Food—Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Almost as important as the Year in Books is the Year in Food. Both feed the soul as well as the body.

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