Guaranteed City Services

The power went off about 2am while I was having a soak in the tub before heading to bed. I grumbled and then rinsed and dried myself off in the dark and climbed up out of the tub to get dressed again so that I could go find the flashlights and the hurricane candles and make sure the house was set up for several hours of life without electricity in the middle of a nearly unprecedented winter storm.

This is the second time in a month that the power has gone off here at the house. It’s off at the school across the street too which has never happened before, and that bothers me. The school is on a seperate grid set aside for essential services. Most Texas schools were built to be shelters for harsh weather as well as their main purpose as schools, and they are largely self-sufficient architecture if properly maintained. The power being out there was a signal that this was not the ordinary squirrel chewing on transformer wires kind of problem.

The power stayed off until 4:38am. It came back on while I was washing dishes by candlelight. Weirdly that is the same thing I was doing the last time there was a power outage. The power stayed on for ten whole minutes and then it went back off again. I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace soon and start cleaning the shotgun in preparation for the zombie hordes that should be milling about by the time everything thaws in a week. I hope all of you have your zombie plans ready.

This is getting to be a too frequent problem. If I wanted to be on my own for power I would live out in the country. I don’t live in the country because I want services from the city to work when I need them too. I’d like to not have to buy solar cells, a battery backup and a generator just because I as a homeowner can’t rely on the city to keep the power on. This is why we pay taxes. We pay through the nose so that the services we need are there when we need them.

Yes, this is unprecedented weather, a never-before seen type of winter storm for this area. I get that. But this is the second time in a month, and that time the weather was normal and the power was still off all day. The city needs to start making sure that basic services stay on all the time, and just FYI that also includes the internet in this day and age. It’s time for a rethink, as the saying goes. Let’s start getting the city to pay attention to what is really important to us as citizens. What is that?

  • Shelter for everyone.
  • Clean water for everyone.
  • Food for everyone.
  • Electricity for everyone.
  • Healthcare for everyone.
  • Information services for everyone.

When it became clear to me that climate change was a thing some time around 2010, I started thinking that the municipalities and states needed to start making plans to deal with unexpected weather conditions in the future, because we really don’t know what will happen as the planet warms up. Winter storms stalling out in the Southern regions of the United States are perhaps a completely unlikely event to contemplate, but that is what the word unexpected means, and that is also why they changed the nomenclature from global warming to climate change, because the net effect may have been hotter temperatures worldwide, but the individual weather patterns will include things like what we are seeing right now. We need to be planning for this kind of event in the future, and we should have started these plans twenty years ago or even earlier.

We’ve waited too long and now it is time to play catch up, and we’d better start doing the planning in earnest or we’ll be seeing rolling blackouts all summer and winter in the years to come. People dying to unforeseen climate events is something that we should not just be accepting blythely like we are doing right now. How many homeless will freeze to death tonight? How many of them have died so far this year?

In a year marred by uncertainty and loss, homeless Austinites and advocates gathered Sunday morning to remember and read the names of the 256 homeless Austinites who died in 2020 – an increase of more than 70 deaths compared to last year.

Along Auditorium Shores, dog tags representing each life lost were nailed to a memorial live oak on the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The silver tags fluttered and jangled with each gust of wind on the blustery morning, while Austinites on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail went about their Sunday exercises largely unphased.

kut.org

Will it top 400 in 2021? 500? When will we say enough?

February 18, 2021 – I wrote the original portion of this article Sunday night, early Monday morning, by copying parts of text that I had written on Facebook and Nextdoor earlier in the day Sunday. I was using my phone as a hotspot while typing on my laptop and it was the only connection to the outside world that we had in the house at that time. Not too long after my 5 am post, the phone and then the laptop went dead, and I had no power to charge either of them (other than sitting out in the SUV we borrowed from a friend due to the terrorist squirrels attack on our car. I’ll be writing that article shortly, I’m sure. If the power stays on) until Wednesday afternoon when we were woken up from the pretty poor sleep we were getting without our cpap machines, woken up by the sound of the high temp alarm going off on the chest freezer that sits just the other side of the wall from our bedroom. So that makes just under four full days without power for us here in Austin.

Most of the food in the chest freezer will be of questionable safety and will have to be thrown out, and that goes double for the contents of the refrigerator. We moved most items that we needed to keep edible to the porch, which remains colder than the refrigerator even today, Thursday the 18th.

That is 59 hours without power thanks to the Texas electric grid manager’s (ERCOT) unwillingness to provide or find additional power to keep the electricity on for most Texans. The death toll from freezing will not be known for some time, and the cost of life among the homeless population may not ever be known. Nor is this winter storm over. I noticed flakes of snow falling again today as I washed dishes in my freshly boiled tap water this morning.

Boiled tap water? The boil water notice was instituted yesterday as the assessments of the damage that the lack of electricity for four days has had on our local infrastructure revealed that the power had been turned off at Austin’s largest water treatment plant, and that water pressure remains under low pressure conditions. Low water pressure means that contaminants can be siphoned off of toilet tanks or leaks in cracked water lines, rendering the once potable water in the lines potentially life-threatening. The boil water notice will probably remain in effect here for several days.

I’m still no more confident the power will stay on than I was when it came back on the last time. It may be still on now, but how long will it be before ERCOT once again screws up and Texas is subjected to blackouts because of it? This has happened several times, pretty much every time that the weather goes below freezing for long enough for the non weatherized portions of the electricity grid to freeze and then fail to provide power.

When I wrote about this issue on Nextdoor several people displayed a complete lack of knowledge about the subject of the electric power grid in Texas. People like this guy:

So you’d like Texas to invest hundreds of millions (or possibly billions?) of taxpayer dollars to expand capacity to meet the power needs created by a single day of once in a century weather?

The problem is not capacity that needs to be built into the system. The problem is weatherization. Weatherization that has been pointed out as being needed before, but that Texas’ electricity council has never done anything to address:

Morning Edition – What Went Wrong With The Electric Grid In Texas? – February 17, 2021

So this is a very frustrating narrative, and largely because it is true that some of the solar and wind farms were producing less than you might have expected because of the extreme cold, but a lot of them were actually overperforming expectations as well. Simultaneously, almost an order of magnitude or almost 10 times as much of the thermal system – so coal, gas and nuclear – actually shut down because of the extreme cold, due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling. And as the governor mentions, renewables being about 10% of the grid, the other 90% of the grid was not available in the way that we expected to, either, and in a way that was very, very far outside of what we expected to see fail.

NPR.org

The weatherization issue is a known problem and it is an old problem. In 1989 Texas faced power outages due to freezing weather impairing the electrical grid. It happened once again in the 1990’s and in 2011. Now it is happening again because ERCOT and it’s member corporations have still not complied with suggestions made by the national electrical regulating body more than a decade ago.

As another commenter pointed out on that thread on Nextdoor, this is because ERCOT was set up specifically to allow Texas to avoid federal regulation. This is possible because all of ERCOT’s activities are inside Texas, which means its activities are not interstate commerce and thusly cannot be regulated by federal authorities. ERCOT passed on the recommendations from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to their participating electrical power generators, but few if any of them were followed:

Moreover, some of the same equipment, the report noted, had failed during previous cold snaps. One in December 1989 prompted the state’s grid operator to resort to system-wide rolling blackouts for the first time.

“Many generators failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment,” the 2011 report said.

The failures have already spurred a tangle of finger-pointing, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling on leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign.

bloomberg.com

The wikipedia page I linked under the acronym ERCOT above appears to have been written from press releases and from ERCOT’s own website. It is pretty hard to find any information on this obscure agency that isn’t filtered through their own internal lens. A local news station has just recently published a story that claims that several board members don’t live in Texas and one board member purportedly lives in Canada:

A KXAN analysis of ERCOT’s board revealed a total of five members do not live in Texas. Along with Telberg and Cramton, board members Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper do not appear to live in the Lone Star State.

Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media account shows her location as Canada, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists his home as Wheaton, Illinois and a University of Pennsylvania law school biography shows Hepper calls Maine home.

kxan.com

What is clear is that ERCOT has proven that it can’t manage Texas’s electrical generating grid with any reliability and needs to be scrapped and replaced with another organization that is mandated with ensuring that power stays on for the average Texan even when inclement weather is affecting the region.

This is not a big ask. This is not asking the government to invest billions of dollars providing excess capacity, although re-investing the millions of dollars of profit that these corporations have taken out of Texas in the future of Texas and in Texas’ ability to sustain the necessary systems for power generation and delivery would be a completely justifiable demand.

I’ll start simple. I’d like the state to stop denying that climate change is real. It’s all around us and affecting us more and more each day. Stop pretending that science is political. Science is real and climate change is real and we are just going to have to learn how to deal with this new reality that we have created. I would like a task force to be set up to spitball and then solve similar issues to this one we are living through now, and then they need to set up preparations to deal with similar crisis in the future.

There will be another crisis this summer from the heat and there will likely be one next winter from the cold. Once in a century storms seem to happen every other season these days. It is time to get off of our collective asses and go about setting up the systems we will need to survive this new and rapidly changing climate we find ourselves in. Austin should probably increase their investment in the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, and possibly start backing current plans to expand that station to generate more power. That would be a good place to start. On the other end of the spectrum Austin and Texas should allow and/or encourage households and businesses to install battery backup systems for their solar power systems, so that households and businesses can draw on their own power during peak demand cycles. Completely the opposite direction from where Governor Abbott is currently agitating energy to go, demanding a reinvestment in oil and natural gas.

Beau of the Fifth ColumnLet’s talk about windmills in Texas and cars on Mars – Feb 17, 2021 (I’d like to thank Facebook for making it so buttfucking hard to link videos inside Facebook that they’ve forced me to go out and subscribe to Beau’s Youtube Channel that I didn’t even know he had in order to get a working link to this video that I originally found on Facebook. Facebook video, a major driver of video subscriptions for Youtube. Google should be paying you. -Ed.)

In the meantime we still don’t have running water. Luckily we started having drinking water delivered a few years ago because Austin tap water had started tasting weird and didn’t look to be improving anytime soon. At least I could still wash dishes and clothes in it, as well as cook with it, while it was running. I really miss water at the taps that we could drink as well as do all those other things we need water to do in the average human home. Looking forward to the time when we can once again take basic necessities for granted as being guaranteed by the governments we elect to make sure we have what we need to survive.

If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you get bad government.

Bad government has consequences. Bad government can’t handle a crisis, won’t help its citizens (not can’t help its citizens, won’t), and can only blame others for its endless failure.

And you don’t have to look any further than what’s happening in Texas right now to see it.

facebook.com/Stonekettle

We made the Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word on MSNBC Feb. 18th & 19th . A clip from Rachel’s show is the featured image. Here are some links to the screenshots (Instagram link 1 and link 2) I took from the Thursday Feb. 18, 2021 show.

The Restaurant From The Future

Planet Money – The Restaurant From The Future – May 13, 2020

The idea is to build a scalable brand, not just a restaurant. So they have a research kitchen in the basement where they try out new recipes. One of their locations is what’s known as a ghost kitchen. You can’t eat there. It’s a kitchen that exists just for delivery. Overall, Yong is trying to build this beautiful restaurant chain. And it was going pretty well.

Two months into the lockdown, Yong and his team have kind of figured out how to survive. The family meals, the deliveries to hospital workers, the three-course dinners – it’s keeping the business afloat for now.

But Yong is not thinking about now. As usual, he’s focusing on what happens next when the lockdown is lifted, when he’ll have to face the single most dangerous thing in this pandemic – people, people starting to eat at his restaurants again.

Planet Money

This episode was inspirational for me. I’ve worked in and around restaurants and bars for a good portion of my life. It was great to hear from someone who isn’t terrified into inaction by the prospect of having to change how he does business. He is heading towards the future with an eye on what people are doing in other places that are coming out the other side of this pandemic. I wish I was confident that more people in the United States were following his stellar example.

nytimes.com

I’ve now read of a few places trying to reinvent themselves on the other side of pandemic. This could be a good sign. I look forward to hearing of others.

All Things Considered – Boston Tavern Pivots To ‘Plan B’ To Try To Survive The Pandemic – July 7, 2020

Daily Beef: Essential Oil Isn’t

It’s all the rage these days. You can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting someone trying to sell you essential oil.

Our presenters will explain how to build a daily immune boosting routine, how to manage digestive issues, how to use oils during your pregnancy and so much more! Plus, we’ll have a special guest talking about why we created the Online Oil Oasis. You won’t want to miss a single minute!

DoTerra promotional information

Mother was into essential oils for the last few years of her life. Right up to the point where the cancer she refused to admit she had killed her. Part of her insistence on doing things the natural way was from her early education in Christian Science. At some point during her life she shifted god into nature and was convinced that living naturally, organically, was good for her. She did fine with that belief until she started denying the findings of science.

It is a common delusion. Much more common than Christian Science itself is. Most people think organic and natural signify good things until you point out to them that poisons are natural and organic. They are simply natural or organic poisons. Too much water can kill you, as the most basic example. Organic simply means that whatever the product is, it once was alive. Natural means that it can be found in nature. That’s it. That is all that the words mean.

An essential oil contains the smell of the thing. That’s all they are, the smell conveying particles of whatever is infused into the oil. There is no more and no less to the product being marketed as essential. Marketed as something you need or require, need or require being mistaken for smell (essentia) Essential, not essential. It smells like something, not you need that something.

The real problem I have with essential oils is the exaggeration of their effects. If the only claim that proponents of essential oils made was “this smells good, I think you’ll enjoy it” I wouldn’t be writing this at all. That’s not the case, though. The benefits of essential oils are exaggerated because exaggeration sells. Websites like this one make extraordinary health claims like curing colds, asthma, bronchitis, hypertension, liver congestion, heart palpitations, depression, and boosting your immune system (what does that even mean?).Other websites make fanciful claims like “restore your body’s natural energy balance” – a claim so bad it’s not even wrong.

Skeptoid

Every time I go on a Meniere’s help group or talk to a layperson about my disability, almost without fail, someone will suggest I try some essential oils because they will fix whatever problem I’m complaining about at the time. Never fails. These days I have to actively restrain my own desire to lash out when whoever it is looks down their nose at me and pronounces the phrase essential oil.

I’ve tried essential oils. I still have some DoTerra oils that mom had amongst her possessions when we cleaned out her apartment. Tons of DoTerra branded products from vial purses to empty sample containers to dozens if not hundreds of different types of oils that she had read somewhere did this or that for her.

The Breathe formulation does open the sinuses when rubbed under the nose. Several of the essences in the formulation are known astringents. Astringents cause the skin to tighten, opening passages in the sinuses if you rub the oil under your nose. This is a known effect discovered by science. This isn’t because it is natural or organic, it is the chemical formulation that has this effect, an effect that can be duplicated artificially if needed. It’s simply cheaper to get the essence from the natural source. If it isn’t cheaper there are artificial manufacturers out there supplying the cheaper product. The chemical process will still work exactly the same, and you can save a buck at the same time.

The Digestzen has ginger in it. Ginger has long been used to calm digestion. I prefer chewing a Gin-gins to the grassy flavor of Digestzen, and excessive oil in the stomach is an agitant all in itself. Have a ginger ale. It’s all natural.

I can (and probably eventually will) go through every single oil that people offer to me as something that will fix my vertigo and dizziness. Mom offered me dozens when she was still with us. None of her magic concoctions worked. I wanted her concoctions to work, which is half of the necessary equation. The other half, science, simply wasn’t there to put the treatment over the line to make it effective. If it didn’t work when mom dispensed it, it isn’t going to work when a stranger suggests it. Zip it before I lose my temper and tell you what I really think of your woo.

Bad Food

All my life I’ve been preached at by people concerned with my well-being. People full of ideas about how I could eat better for less if I just spend more time shopping, cooking, eating.

If I had a nickel…

Better food is more expensive food here in the US, and time that isn’t promised to someone else is something that the poor have very little of, and I am one of their vast numbers. It feels like this has always been reality. For all of my life, it has been.

Fast food is the cheapest food. That is why fast food businesses are successful. They provide food that is ready when you need it, and they provide it at a price that isn’t too high for the hungry person to afford. I could go to Taco Bell and eat lunch for less than four bucks back in the day, back when I sold my time to other people in exchange for continued existence. Two bean burritos and a taco, with a cup of unsweetened iced tea if I wanted to splurge.

Making the food myself I’d have to shop for the raw materials. A stack of tortillas was a dollar, the beans were a dollar, the cheese was a couple of dollars; and if I spiced the food properly we’re talking more than the prepared food would have been, and I’d still have to prepare it. Hours I didn’t have spent preparing the beans and then turning them into refried beans. Plus I’d have more food than I could eat by myself, so I would have to freeze it for later.

All of that preparation would have had to be done in a kitchen that was more than ten miles away, which is where home was, then frozen in a freezer that was similarly located at a distance. Or I could spend four bucks and eat the food prepared by Taco Bell. I could spend more to get a hamburger at Fran’s or Dan’s, but then I’d be eating the dreaded red meat, and that would have been even worse for my health.

This is why Americans are fat. We are fat because french fries are a buck and are available on every road in the US if you just pull off and hit the drive through. A sack of potatoes is $4 and you still have to have the fryer and the oil to make the Pommes Frites yourself. A hamburger can still be gotten from Whataburger for $4. Eight buns and a pound of hamburger will cost you more than that, without even getting into what you top the hamburger with. You just can’t beat the prices at fast food restaurants. I’ve tried, many times. It can’t be done. Not here.

Don’t get me started talking about green groceries. I love salads, but the only place I can get them cheap is Dairy Queen. If I buy the vegetables at the grocery store I’ll spend twice as much for more food, food that will go bad before I can eat all of it. Again, I’ve tried this many times. You have to buy more food at the store, you have to prepare the food yourself, you have to eat it or preserve it to eat later, or it spoils. Versus just driving through the DQ and getting a grilled chicken salad hold the cheese and bacon and spending $6. This is the problem.

Time pressure combined with cost constraints means you have to eat poorly, or not eat at all. I lived for months at a time on frozen leftovers when I was a working stiff. Leftovers brought frozen from home and thawed in the nuker in the office at lunchtime. I know how to cut corners. But sitting alone in your cubicle eating leftover thanksgiving turkey and rice gets old after a few months, and you start to want to get out and eat with your co-workers. They, if they are smart, don’t have children. Children are too expensive to have unless you are wealthy. They have more money than you, and they probably still eat poorly because that is what it is like to have to go out and find food in the food deserts that most downtown business areas are. You eat fast food, even if you have money. You just pay more for it at more respectable places than Taco Bell, but it is still assembly-line food made quickly for the massive downtown lunch crowds.

Now that I’m disabled, not beholden to someone else for my survival beyond counting on the continued existence of the US government (fingers crossed) I have the time to cook for myself, while still not having above poverty finances to afford better food. Being cooped up at home means I eat better now than I ever have previously in my life, and that is because I simply don’t bring food into the house that isn’t what I should be eating, and I dole out what I bring in over long periods that hopefully end before the food spoils. Using the chest freezer we specifically bought to preserve extra portions in, as often as possible to extend the shelf-life of prepared foods. That is what the luxury of not owing my time to someone else provides. Food that is slightly better than food bought at a counter prepared by someone else.


Here’s an example of what I mean by food being more expensive to fix for yourself than it is to buy at a fast food restaurant. This is one of the more reasonable markets near my home. The dreaded Walmart (Editor’s note. Yes, this paragraph has been extensively modified. This change makes the point better) Many places in the US are food deserts, no food available other than fast food. I’ll take a Walmart if that is all there is to shop at; and in many, many places, that is all that there is. That isn’t all there is in my neighborhood, but I won’t sully the other markets names with mentioning them in an article titled bad food. Walmart has no reputation to lose, so they will get picked on here.

This illustration will drive the point home.

Walmart

Thirteen dollars and change, just for the produce. Chicken breasts aren’t available on the website, other than canned. Canned wouldn’t be good enough. Not for purists. I’d have to get fresh chicken breasts in person, buying at least six of them, and freeze them for later. Five dollars a pound. A block of goat’s cheese will run about seven dollars. A bottle of balsamic vinaigrette is about four dollars. If your objection to my buying bottled vinaigrette is to tell me I should be making my own dressing, and you feel the need to tell me about it, I will stalk you in response. Tread carefully. All told I would spend upwards of thirty bucks just to make two salads. Then you have to go back out for more greens, which will spoil in three days.

…Then remember that I can get a salad, pretty much like that one, at DQ for $6. I have the goat cheese and dressing, so I’m golden. Fast food is cheaper. Fast food is easier. Fast food is why Americans are fat.

Based on comments to an article in a private Facebook group.

Beef’s Beef With Beef

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a 15-page petition with the USDA to prevent products from being labeled as “meat” or “beef” unless they’re made from a slaughtered animal.

Countable.us

So what is it if it’s genetically bovine muscle tissue if not beef? I want someone to explain to me how beef isn’t beef if it tests out as beef? This is the most transparent attempt to manipulate markets that I’ve seen since the tobacco industry stood up and said their products were not dangerous or addictive. That was a lie, and pretending beef is not beef is also a lie.

I have been and remain anxious to be in the front line of consumers for this product. It’s a product that is good for the environment. It’s a product that removes the suffering of animals raised for food completely from the equation. Because it is only muscle cells, there is no chance of gut bacteria getting mixed in with the meat causing costly recalls and deadly food poisoning outbreaks.

#WeThePeople LIVE EP 113. ARTIFICIAL MEAT

Editor’s Note: I hate that show title. It ain’t artificial, it’s just meat. Also Josh Zepps has apparently abandoned his We The People Live podcast (WeThePeople LIVE on Twitter) Give me a heads up if you run across where he’s hosting the show on the web these days.

And if the whole truth were told on this subject, we have no choice. The increase in protein demand from a more affluent world population will require us to produce meat in this fashion if we can ever hope to feed everyone while not destroying the environment. Do not fall for the natural fallacy and believe cows are natural and lab meat is artificial. Cows were modified by man to be what they are today. Lab meat is simply the next step in that process.

What we need to be thinking about is not what we call meat that is grown from animals we recognize in the field, but rather what names we will apply to the kinds of cultured meat that will appear after this technology is accepted. If you blend genomes to heighten taste and (for example) remove allergens like alpha gal from the product, it won’t be beef or pork any longer. It will still be muscle tissue (meat) but what kind of meat that would be part of what kind of animal that has never been seen in the wild or on the farm? That is the real quandary.

In any case, the meat producers must not be allowed to try to alienate the consumer from this new food supply, altering the playing field to suit themselves and not the entirety of humanity on the planet as the oil companies and tobacco companies and the sugar industry has done in the past. This needs to be put to rest now so that consumers can be assured that they are getting what they pay for and that no business can blow smoke up consumers butt with fake claims of natural and organic. As if  food you can digest isn’t organic. As if feedlots and slaughterhouses are natural. Do not fall for that kind of bull because you will get the bullshit along with it, and what is in bullshit can kill you.

Texas Standard, WHAT SHOULD WE CALL LAB-GROWN MEAT? By Michael Marks, July 23, 2018 12:45 pm

Evidence of Society

Does society exist? Most anarchists and conservatives would say it doesn’t. I present a counter-argument.

When was the last time you stalked prey, ran it down and then ate it? That’s not a realistic question, is it? I mean silly, right? I’ll skip over asking if you’ve crafted your own weapons with which to hunt game, I know most people have not done this and the creation of the most basic tools an individual can make is a skill that vanishingly few people can exhibit. When was the last time you planted seeds, watched them grow, and then harvested the crop? Well, all of us have probably tended a garden in our lifetimes. Agriculture is in just about everybody in some way. There is something real about digging in the dirt and watching plants grow. Something very zen and rewarding about the entire process. However, gardening is definitely not the same as growing everything you need to survive all by yourself year in and year out.

Why am I asking these questions? Because that is what it means to be truly self-sufficient. To be able to produce the food you require independently. To be able to create all of the tools and clothing you require to survive in any climate in any region of the world. If I were to ask you about building your own shelter, even fewer people would understand just how difficult that process and others are. They would be clueless as to just how many people are required to create the many things we take for granted. Take for granted (i.e. an entitlement) especially in the US and other developed countries.

TED, Thomas Thwaites, How I Built a Toaster from Scratch

I have heard the challenge, repeated many times over my years in libertarian circles, to prove the existence of society. It is almost a mantra to some individualists, and I know there are survivalists out there who are convinced they could live on their own indefinitely. Some of them even can do it, I’m sure, but the number of people who could do it are a fraction of a percentage point of the entire human population. That is a pretty steep hill to drop off of, if the lights just go off one night and never come back on.

Coming from the other direction, the number of people the Earth could support if everyone had to live a hunter-gatherer life is probably less than one billion people. I haven’t seen anyone do a back of the envelope calculation on that in several years, so my number is off I’m sure. The point is that the number of people the world can support in a primitive lifestyle is smaller than the number of people our established technology can support. The systems built and maintained over centuries by people who just want to see their children have it easier than they did, to be able to survive without having to claw their way through every day wondering if they’d make it through the next day.

The nine-to-fiver who complains about the cost of his latte has no clue, none at all, just how many people who had to labor to get him his coffee with milk in a container that he could just throw away when he’s had enough caffeine to keep him alert. And he gets that tasty beverage in exchange for a promissory note, a debt instrument, money, that the retailer then passes back down the chain eventually to the field workers in a far away country that actually touch the soil and grow the coffee that he thinks he paid too much for.

All of this, the high numbers of people, the ease of access to goods and services, the ability to do some task divorced from producing sustenance for yourself directly and still be fed, clothed, sheltered? All of it is evidence of society. Money is evidence of society, all by itself. Money is a socialist system, a system that exists because there are others to trade with in the first place. Without the group’s agreement, you’d still be running down prey like your ancient ancestors did, and hoping that the animal didn’t injure you before you killed it.

While I was recently watching the seventh season of The Walking Dead, I was struck by the notion that the entire group still wears clothing that doesn’t visibly disintegrate when they move. Seven years on, they still aren’t spinning and weaving thread and cloth. Patching shirts and jackets. For that matter the vehicles still run after being essentially without maintenance on the side of the road for years. Gasoline still burns even though (as anyone who has experience with small engines can attest) you’re lucky if you can get a lawn mower engine to start after it’s been sitting idle through one winter. Lucky to get it started because the fuel itself is unstable and will degrade over time. Rick and Carl and the rest of the crew? They’d be walking or riding horses everywhere by now because the fuel to run modern vehicles can’t be easily created without a vast infrastructure of technology that very few people understand.

That’s television, you say? Of course it is. It’s fantasy. And so is the notion that any of us are truly self-sufficient. None of us can replicate even the most simple of machines that we rely on daily, and yet we delude ourselves into thinking that we are capable and independent. Rational actors on a vast, mathematically predictable stage. That ability to delude oneself in that fashion? That too is evidence of society. Flat Earthers are a modern invention, and absolute proof of society’s existence. You don’t question that the Earth is round when you watch the people who will bring back your dinner tonight sail over the horizon to catch fish. The curvature of the Earth is as evident as the gnawing hunger in your belly.


I first thought about writing a post like this one after listening to this episode of Freakonomics,

Stitcher – Freakonomics – How Can This Possibly Be True? – February 18, 2016

I was inspired by the complexity of the process of creating one of the oldest tools modern man utilizes, the simple wooden pencil. As the episode goes into, the pencil is hardly simple at all. It took generations of tinkering and tweaking to create the object that you and I think of as a pencil when we say the word pencil. This TED talk portrays the complexity of the subject more quickly,

YoutubeTED Ed: Small Thing Big Ideas – Why the Pencil is Perfect – Facebook

Modern technology is so much not like the pencil. Facebook’s baldly abrasive and ham-handed attempts to acquire all internet traffic for itself (as witnessed by the fact that it took two years to get the above video from anywhere other than Facebook –ed.) are a hallmark of poor design, but that is a different subject for some other day. The subject for today is how the simplest of objects that we take for granted, a toaster, a pencil, are beyond the ability of any one person to put together and have work properly. So much for the dreams of rugged individualism and self-reliance. Would you mind passing me that cup of tea, please?

The triumphs of the free market are actually nothing like triumphs of the free market. They are products of society, government and business working together. This is the part of the human equation that most individualists simply cannot wrap their minds around. None of us get exactly what we want. Not even the wealthiest of wealthy men gets exactly what they want out of life. To the extent that anyone’s needs are met it is done through cooperative effort. Like-minded people working together for a common goal. The most that any individual can do by himself is survive, and that only for the brief instant that their life contains. If that’s all you want out of life, survival, then you really are a pathetic creature. I grieve for you.

Stitcher – Freakonomics – Is the Government More Entrepreneurial Than You Think? (Ep. 348)

Here’s some evidence of the government funding that Mazzucato’s talking about. DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, created during the Cold War to keep American technology ahead of the Soviets, has over the years produced several kinds of missiles and airplanes as well as the first computer mouse, miniature GPS receivers, HD displays, and a digital personal assistant. ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, founded under George W. Bush, has funded a variety of energy projects, including battery-storage tech; the Department of Energy, starting in 1978, invested more than $130 million studying the extraction techniques that have come to be known as fracking. And the National Institutes of Health has helped fund the vast majority of all new drugs approved by the FDA.

Stephen J. Dubner

Editor’s note: January, 2020 – I updated links for the content that is hosted off-site. TED added their Facebook only content onto Youtube and their own website. Freakonomics now forces me to link to their content on Stitcher to embed it. It would have been nice if they had done some of this work for themselves, giving me links to the Stitcher locations for each episode. Instead I had to search, find, and then rebuild the embed for both episodes I link here. Such is the life of a blogger who is his own editor and website manager.

Fear Mongering in the Anti-GMO Age We Live In

The attached image was posted on the Snopes Facebook group with the usual question attached, is this true? No. No it’s not true, but it sounds emotionally true to anyone who thinks farming is a clean business, or that food is somehow sanctified by nature when it grows wild somewhere. Even in 1913 farmers bought seeds from seed producers, and if you are doing science you use the tools of science like the bunnysuit pictured in the bottom half of the image in order to avoid cross-contamination between the various test crops you are working on. If you want clean food you have to engage in cleanroom practices. The fact that the 1913 farmer who is grinningly sweating all over the food he’s offering you doesn’t seem to phase anyone screaming about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Farmers want to buy seed from seed manufacturers because, and most farm raised people know this, the hybrid seeds are hardier and produce better crops. My farming Uncles in Kansas proudly wore their Dekalb caps, announcing they used Dekalb’s proprietary hybrid seeds. They could afford to buy good hybrid seed because of the demand for corn crops to feed the nearby beef producing industry. If you are a smart farmer you grow the crops that other industries demand in bulk quantities, because farming to meet corporate demands will pretty reliably produce profits for the farmer.

Hybrid seeds are the end product of crossbreeding which has to be duplicated every year by the seed producing corporations. Hybrid seeds cannot be harvested and then replanted the next year, and most farmers do not have on site storage to hold the seed volumes they would need to replant what they sowed the previous year. Nor is that a good farming practice, to replant the same crop year after year. Most farmers with an understanding of soil fatigue will rotate crops from one field and one season to the next field and season. It is a dance that takes decades of work to understand, and patience that daunts the imagination to comprehend.

The problem here is not the ownership of the seed technology or that it is GMO based. The problem is a yawning chasm of understanding between people raised on farms and familiar with farming practices, and the city dwellers who don’t know the gory details involved in getting their food to the market, and aren’t actually interested in learning about them. Most organic food consumers would decide to starve to death rather than put the stuff that is produced in their mouths in the first place; or would if they actually did understand just how dirty the entire farming process really is.

Found in the wild on the internet. 

GMO’s are a good thing. GMO crops are the answer to several of the health problems we face today. Problems like vitamin A deficiency in areas that subsist on rice giving rise the the Golden Rice project, one of several positive GMO developments I listed in this article. GMO saved the Hawaiian papaya industry, and Hawaii promptly banned all new GMO’s from the island. Tellingly, the GMO papaya is one of the few organisms they didn’t ban. If we are going to have bananas on the table in the near future, we will have them because we will Genetically Engineer a banana that is resistant to the fungus currently wiping out banana crops. The list goes on and on and on.

Consumer ignorance of exactly what GMO is (one third of people surveyed did not realize that all food has genes in it) is causing massive problems in the sugar industry because the roundup ready sugar beets they are relying on are the subject of targeted boycotts by ignorant consumers. There are no substitutes for these beets which can replace them without massively larger pesticide spraying regimens, but the farmers will doggedly attempt to switch back to the products that sell even though their farming operations are not set up for the kinds of demands that older methods of farming requires. Only big agri can swing that hammer, and they have regulations written (like organic regulations) specifically to allow the kinds of farming they find profitable and available.

Organic foods are not any better for you, nor are they more organic than any other product on store shelves. Every living thing we’ve ever encountered or created is organic. Nearly every chemical we produce was discovered in nature first and is therefore natural. Nine tenths of the loud, shouty, feary statements about GMOs and food are baseless and indefensible and yet they continue to spread.

How quickly we forget as a species that people still die of hunger all over the world every single day. Someone died of hunger in some city in the US in the short time it took me to write this article. In the early 1900’s there was a crisis looming on the horizon. The human population on the planet was increasing at a rate that farming practices of the time could simply not match. People in Europe and America were going to start starving to death in ever increasing numbers if something wasn’t done to increase the crop yields that farmers produced. The Green Revolution solved that crisis by enabling farmers to meet the growing food demands of the population.

We are facing another crisis in food today and it will take new technologies to bridge the gap between what we can produce now in the relatively stable climate we’ve enjoyed throughout human history, and what we will be able to produce tomorrow as the climates change and the need to produce food with fewer byproducts drives the research into lab-grown meat and aeroponic and hydroponic plant farming techniques. We will either have to embrace these new kinds of food, or we will starve. Choose wisely.


Here’s a fun test. Type “Natural Food” into your favorite search engine and look at the images that come up. Now look at all those organic and natural food images. Red apples. Giant tomatoes. Bright yellow bananas. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? With these images in mind, understand that none of the images are of naturally occurring fruits and vegitables. Not a single image is of something found in nature unmodified by man. No really, they aren’t natural foods.

This image shows a natural plant, a plant found in nature before humans altered it, and what foods we created from it. That is a natural plant, the food we get from it is man-made in the sense that most people use. If what we create is natural then all foods are natural and organic and the labels attached to them are nothing more than marketing. The idea that foods are natural? That Adam and Eve ate an apple in the Garden of Eden? The idea that there were recognizable apples in the beginning of human evolution some hundreds of thousands of years ago? This is the depth of misunderstanding that is encouraged in the average consumer.

Pamela Ronald|TED2015 The case for engineering our food

The Pop-Tart Conundrum

I have a burning question I want an answer to, but I doubt I can get the answer myself.

I love Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts. I have been buying them by the case from Amazon.com until recently. The price was about what twelve boxes should be from the local retailer, two dollars a box or twenty-four dollars. We get free shipping from Amazon.com because we are Prime members, so having them delivered every third month made sure that we had Pop-tarts in the house when I wanted some without having to make a trip to the store. Last month Amazon doubled the price of these Pop-tarts to over $40 a case which prompted us to cancel the scheduled next shipment of them.

I started to get curious about this price hike, so I went to Walmart.com and saw that they were still offering Pop-Tarts for $2 a box. I was able to get them shipped for $2 a box by ordering a case and a half (free shipping on orders of more than $35) the extra half-case I made up of unfrosted strawberry and blueberry just on a whim. I like them but they aren’t the guilty pleasure that the brown sugar cinnamon ones are. They aren’t the ones I loved as a child.

This is the question. Why the price difference? Both Walmart and Amazon try to be the lowest price available in a given market. If you think about it, Amazon should be offering a discount on the items because we were buying in bulk (factory labeled cases) and Walmart actually had to take the time to box and ship 18 individual boxes of Pop-tarts to my home in their own shipping containers, a perfectly valid reason to tack on a processing fee which they didn’t do.

Why are Amazon and several other online vendors acting like there is a shortage of Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts when Walmart is not? Why that specific flavor and not the other flavors? Why isn’t there a bulk discount when shipped in bulk? Doesn’t this fly in the face of economics 101? I would love to have an answer to this question.

(sent as a online query)


2018 – I copied and pasted the above text to Amazon as a review, a review that Amazon has since deleted, because the price had once again gone over $40 after briefly being back down around the acceptable $20 range for a few months. There is a third party seller that is selling two boxes (two boxes, you can see the pictures on their review) for $20! That is a markup 5x retail, making the current $42.87 case price with Prime seem cheap by comparison. However, I can still walk into virtually any super WalMart and pick up as many boxes as I want for $2 each which puts the case price that WalMart is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 to $16 at most. I’m still not understanding why the price difference. I would love an explanation.


February 14, 2019 – There are several results for the item I want to buy on this page (Kellogg’s unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts) but every one of the top results are by businesses engaging in fraud. Fraud, because they don’t come out and say that you will be paying $6 per Pop-tart. They hide that information behind fuzzy numbers. Even Prime’s offering for this item is overpriced because I can get one box (8 Pop-tarts) at Walmart for about $2. Why is this fraud allowed on your platform, and why are even prime’s prices so high? The case price (12 boxes of 8) for these should be about $14, not $30-ish as it now is.

Feedback left on the Amazon website. When I looked again, the case is no longer offered by Amazon at all. The fraudsters are still at it. Stay tuned.

Greece in Perspective

This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness.  It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is.  Or maybe it is still current. In any case, here it is.


When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family.  It was common in those days (1980’s) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.

We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what could loosely be called campus housing (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get with no education and few prospects.

Which wasn’t much money. Not enough to raise four kids and keep yourself fed at the same time. She had left college to get married when she was 21, and it was typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound to modern ears. Women weren’t expected to be wage earners, bread winners, back in the dark ages of the 1960’s. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad’s behavior anymore, fourteen years later, she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.

We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn’t force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.

Which wasn’t often, and not often enough.  There were many days where there simply wasn’t enough food.  Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it.  Proud as my mother was, she wasn’t willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food.  She wouldn’t take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn’t starve even if we didn’t have much adult supervision.

So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people’s groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage.  Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas.  In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don’t tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you.  Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.

Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out.  Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.

That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good.  Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.

There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.

Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took.  If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door.  No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.

This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don’t work for it, you starve. If you can’t work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for layabouts and slackers, no one who takes a handout is worth anything in life.  Sick people are different, but sick people get better.  That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don’t give him more than enough to keep him off the streets.  We certainly don’t give layabouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off.  If you can work you don’t need any help.

You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.

Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective.  No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those layabout Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its people’s laziness.

Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn’t have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.

Because they can’t pay. Because Greece isn’t Germany, in the same way that Germany isn’t the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual.  Because you can’t get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.

Sometimes people really can’t provide for themselves.  Sometimes lazy people really aren’t lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick.  Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.

The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child.  Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She’s working even if she doesn’t have a job.  She’s raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn’t the word to describe this person.  You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.

Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope.  Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.

Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan. Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished.  Or so we should hope.

A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.

The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones.

General George C. Marshall
Postscript

As it turns out, Greece is not populated by layabouts and ne’er-do-wells. They actually have the most working days per year of any of the European Union nations, according to statistics:

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers in Greece put in an average weekly shift of 42 hours, even more than Germans who only manage 35.3.

Willing to work harder than most of the rest of the people in Europe, just not rewarded at the same rate as the rest of Europe. I wonder where I’ve heard that before? As usual, the people who do the work are rewarded the least. The people who hold the investments make all the money. Just FYI, it looks like Greece is no longer out in the woods financially. So I guess that is good news.

Maynard Keynes had more to do with the Marshall plan than General Marshall did, apparently. The plan appears to echo most of the content of The Economic Consequences of the Peace Keynes’ work proposing how Germany should have been treated after World War One. It took another war for the leaders of the rest of the world to figure out what kind of horrors they had helped create in Germany. If we don’t figure this financial mess out soon, we could well be embroiled in war that could possibly end the human race once again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter

Read the comments under this image from Facebook:

Facebook

…Read them and understand just how far we have left to go to bring understanding of what money is to the average American. I’m getting too old for this shit. They made me buy my own lunch at Burger King when I worked there for 9 months back in 1979-1980. I was fired from that job for necking with my girlfriend in the mop room. It was worth it. That wasn’t the worst offense that I remember when it comes to food and caring for your employees. That award goes to the night manager at that Sweetwater Safeway that I talk about in the original text.

Facebook

Facebook

Proud Omnivore

A Guardian interview article,

Laboratory-grown beef: meat without the murder, but would you eat it?

Growing meat in labs could cut hunger, tackle climate change and end animal slaughter, but creator Professor Mark Post says the biggest beef will be convincing consumers

…spawned an online dialog on a Friend’s Facebook wall. Would you eat this? They asked. Yes. Yes I would eat it. Where is it being served? The question in my mind is the same as the one dealing with vaping vs. smoking. No harm, no foul, right?

Once the eating of meat is uncoupled from the killing of animals, the arguments against the evils of meat go out the window. If it is similar to the smoking argument, this won’t end the discussion. The anti-smoking activist groups target vapers as being as evil as the smokers in spite of the fact that vaping has not been shown to be a health detriment, and is not smoking in any real sense. Nicotine has positive uses as an appetite suppressant. Removed from the cancer causing cocktail of burning tobacco, it may actually be a viable way to keep ones weight down.

I am a tofu eater. I love tofu in almost any dish. I don’t like beef. If it isn’t a hamburger, keep it away from me. I also don’t like the way chickens are treated, but I still eat chicken because chicken good. I love fish. I’m lactose intolerant. I am the poster child for someone who should be a militant vegan. 

That’s never going to happen. Why? Because protein sources aren’t plentiful enough if you eliminate all meats. Those are just the facts, folks. 

Give me my vat-grown protein sources and I’ll be the first one backing the ending of ranching as we’ve known it. Until then keep your plant religion to yourself, please. I don’t like evangelists of any stripe.

I could actually get by with the questionably named soylent if I didn’t have to feed a family. Children are the problem. The proteins they need are more substantial than the proteins an adult needs. Meal taking is about the only excuse for family gatherings anymore, on top of that. 

Every single vegetarian I’ve known looks like they are slowly starving to death. I wouldn’t back the counter-arguments of proteins being plentiful enough, if what you are worrying about is where your food comes from rather than making sure you are getting enough of the right kinds of food.

Facebook