They're probably never going to get that Trump and his enthusiasts aren't interested in preserving the GOPe.

Donald Trump is on a mission. Some Republicans devoutly hope that mission includes helping the party win back a majority in the House and Senate.
Other Republicans aren’t so sure. They believe Trump’s agenda leans much more toward seeking revenge against GOP incumbents who voted against him during the recent impeachment.
Other Republicans believe he can do both and that the two missions are not at odds at all.

Dr. Seuss Now?

The cancel culture came for the Muppets, so I suppose Dr. Seuss is not surprising. But he was always 'woke,' as AVI points out that the Muppets were too; he was pro-environmentalism, pro-get-along-with-everyone, pro-humanitypro-eating-strange foods. I guess he was in favor of “killing Japs” after Pearl Harbor, but presumably that means he was anti-fascist too.

He was even anti-Nixon.

I guess the revolution always eats its own.

Campaign song

 Gives me the warm fuzzies.


I don't know how we're going to decide how much money to spend in Texas to protect against the next presumably rare extreme cold event, or how to share the cost of increasing the reliability of generating plants and ancillary equipment.  I have, however, learned several things about how we approach the reliability/cost quandary.  One is that Texas's grid operator, ERCOT, is free of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction only in the rate-making context, because our intrastate sales aren't considered interstate commerce.  We are still subject to FERC regulatory authority over grid reliability, through the auspices of the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC), a continent-wide non-profit organization that derives its domestic authority from FERC.  There has been a lot of talk about how we in Texas should have learned our lesson from the 2011 winter storm that caused rolling outages, but we suffered polar vortex storms in 2014 and 2015, after which NERC issued a report on all of its dozens of members, showing ERCOT to be in good shape in terms of both energy reserves and winterization progress.  Clearly the 2021 storm blew everyone's weather assumptions out of the water.

The other thing I've gathered about reliability is that we need more attention to linked risks.  It is not anti-fragile to have backup systems that will fail from the same cause that resulted in failure of the primary systems.  Here is a slightly rewritten summary I posted to Facebook of what I learned from the operators of some of our exurban neighborhood infrastructure, which performed much better than infrastructure in the rest of the county or, frankly, the rest of the state.

There are  three different water suppliers on this peninsula, all of which use water wells and RO filtration.  For those of us not on septic tanks, sewage treatment for the whole peninsula is provided by a local municipal utility district (municipal in the statutory sense; we are an unincorporated area of the county).  The MUD also operates one of the three water supply services.  A second water company, ABU, is managed by the local volunteer fire chief as his day job.  A third water company supplies a somewhat detached nearby neighborhood managed by its own HOA, which relies primarily on septic tanks, but may also be connected to the MUD for sewer services to some degree.  So the peninsula has water from ABU, the MUD, and the HOA system, and we all have sewer service from the MUD.

The fire chief's wealthy boss at ABU water company also owns and operates an oil & gas company, which operates maybe half of the local gas wells that supply the county’s utility gas lines.  The fire chief is a talented mechanic who works on his boss's hobby race cars.

The report card:  Although the peninsula had power outages here and there, nevertheless, the MUD, which did not lose power, suffered no interruptions in supply of water or sewer.  The MUD had backup generators that were not used.  ABU lost power but suffered no interruption in supply of water, as its generator worked fine.  The HOA system did have some power outages, and I heard reports of water outages, but I lack details.

Because the MUD didn't lose power, all I really know so far is that it managed to keep operating despite an unusually hard freeze.  I have more information about how well ABU did and why.  For one thing, the fire chief did a lot of last-minute weather-proofing on the his lines and equipment, not all of which was successful, because some lines still broke. What was more important, though, was that although ABU lost grid power, it had a 300kW diesel-powered generator that ran for 4 days straight, using up maybe 2/3 of its 600-gallon diesel supply.

The fire chief chose diesel for this system because he’d been warned years ago that piped-in natural gas can’t always be relied on in a natural disaster. Sure enough, ABU's boss O&G company had to fight to keep its local gas wells operating. They managed it because their workers, and the boss too, got out in the field and weather-proofed equipment, and then when some equipment still froze, used heaters to get it unfrozen. If our county still had at least partial natural gas pressure, much of the credit goes to this boss and his organization. Many other local gas wells just shut in when it got too cold.  Sure enough, many generators in town failed, including the generator at the new ER, because the utility gas pressure fell too low. This reinforces the good sense of the fire chief's decision to run the ABU generator on a diesel tank.

ABU’s water pipe leaks posed a challenge, as did some frozen sensors. The fire chief thought at first that his water tank levels were adequate, until he eyeball-checked some of them and found that the frozen sensors were stuck on a false high reading. That warned him to keep the wells running and the tanks full. The leaks created pressure problems, but again keeping the wells on full blast made up for the struggling pressure. The only trouble was that the increased volume was too great for the RO filters to keep up, so the water supply temporarily bypassed them and converted to pure well water—potable and safe but not as tasty.

The water system in the rest of the county broke down completely, exposing people first to a shut off and then to a water-boil advisory.

What happened in the rest of the state?  It's still very murky, but the upshot is that the same freezing conditions that caused demand to spike also shut off about half of the state's power generating capacity.  Wind and solar primary equipment froze up and stopped operating.  You might think that thermal generating plants wouldn't freeze, but in some cases, not only did critical ancillary equipment freeze and fail, but their fuel suppliers froze and failed.  Gas wells froze and were shut in.  Gas that made it to pipelines couldn't maintain flow or pressure.  There are stories I haven't been able to confirm about power plants losing grid power; apparently they aren't set up to operate independently of the grid no matter how much power they generate internally, which amazes me almost as much as the idea that they don't get first priority from the grid, if that turns out to be true.

Even without spending a mint freeze-proofing equipment that freezes badly enough to cause a disaster only every century or so (because it's a huge problem only if the freeze is not only unusually deep but also state-wide and long-lasting), it seems there are changes we could make to unlink some of these risks.  Plants should be set up to use internal power not only for core functions, but to some extent to heat their ancillary equipment.  It can't be sensible to use unreliable grid power for the very facilities on which the grid is depending.

Gun Totin' Libtards

Update: I gave up swearing last year and had been doing well, until I was overcome by a confluence of unfortunate metaphysical circumstances this past week. I'll adjust the language in last night's post accordingly.

James McMurtry, who seems to be a very talented musical lefty bubble dweller, shoots up some Goya products. Funny enough. I do have to say, this is the Democratic Party in Oklahoma. No doubt.

Back when I used to be a Democrat from Oklahoma, I confused a number of poor souls in Massachusetts with this very same attitude. Those Yanks, bless their hearts, had no idea what to make of me. "Democrat? Guns!? What .... ? AAAAAAHHHHH!"

I kinda started my turn to the Dark Side when I realized the construction workers on campus with the USMC / Army / Sniper (what branch? does it matter?) bumper stickers on their trucks were much more "my people" than the ... um ... um ... a-Ka-DEM-ics with whom I was going to school.

Anyway. Okie Democrats. Massachusetts Democrats have to make apologies for us. That's OK with me. Maybe it'll be respectable to be an Okie Democrat again one day. (I should note, as part of this update, that I left the Democratic Party some years back, but I do hope they get their act together.)

Ukraine and Tags

I know we've had this here before, but without tags, it's hard to find stuff. So, here it is again, with tags. So we can find it next year. Cuz I'm like that.

Repeats and Other Stuff and So What?

I know, you've heard some of this before. So? Let's just drink it like we mean it.

More below the fold

Power grids

 It's pretty much spring in Texas now, but last week was a doozy.  It spurred my favorite kind of local debate, over how a community should react to an emergency.  Whine that government didn't take care of everything as unobtrusively as a well-tipped concierge?  Or roll up your sleeves and deal with some adversity with good grace?

Here on the coast I don't think we got below 17 or so at the worst.  That's pretty bad for us, and killed an awful lot of landscaping.  It also created icy road conditions of the sort that we never handle well.  Still, there's no reason to die in 17-degree temperatures if you're indoors and protected from rain and wind.  We had about 10 days notice that this thing would hit, so also little excuse not to have some basic food and water in the house.

Some of my neighbors are strongly invested in creating a narrative of Armageddon.  One claims to have witnessed an elderly lady die when her oxygen machine froze up.  The problem is that such a thing could barely happen here without making waves, if not in the local newspaper then at least in the EMT gossip mill.   There are only about 25,000 people in the county, for Pete's sake.  It seems a shame to have to say so, but I'm convinced he's a lying drama queen who enjoys having people commiserate with him for having had to witness such a shocking example of malfeasance by rich fat cats and/or nanny state representatives.

In my unincorporated area of the county, the volunteer fire department was available as a shelter, but only one or two people took advantage of the opportunity.  The local water company and sewage treatment plant muddled their way through without denying service to anyone, which is more than I can say for any other water company in the entire county.  A number of people in town found that their backup generators failed because the natural gas utility couldn't keep pressure up.  People in town keep suggesting darkly that we did well because we're fat cats.  They can't have driven through this area if they think so.  The people who kept things running aren't rich, they're just sensible and provident.

We're seeing spirited discussion over why the electrical grid couldn't maintain service for nursing homes and grocery stores.  The nursing homes are required by law to have backup generators.  The grocery stores aren't, but that's on them.  They got restocked within a few days.

Many people seem to assume that the electrical grid operators should be strung up for their failure to predict how many plants would shut down in the unusual cold.  I'm less convinced.  It seems to me that they planned for reasonably likely conditions.  This cold front was colder, longer-lasting, and of greater geographical extent than we've seen before.  There is an argument that Texas's independent grid is vulnerable because it insists on remaining independent of FERC regulation, but that exemption is limited almost entirely to ratemaking authority.  The Texas grid remains subject to North American grid regulatory authority, which gave us a clean bill of health after the 2011, 2014, and 2015 cold snaps in terms of our energy reserves and our winterization efforts.  The 2021 cold snap was greater than anyone planned for, but I can't reasonably blame either ERCOT or the plant operators, least of all for their "greed."  There are people still gathering information on why plants failed and what might have prevented the cascading failures.  Clearly we should be looking at linked risks like gas failures that cause electrical failures and vice versa.  Nevertheless, I'm unconvinced that this is an example of failure to plan for reasonable foreseeable events.  Sometimes things just get extreme, and you have to learn from developments that weren't predictable enough to invest a lot of resources in preventing.  I do think that an important lesson is that backup generators should be much more widespread than they are, and should be fueled by supplies you can genuinely count on, which is to say gas or diesel tanks rather than gas utility lines.

Waylon Jennings, 1976

America, when it was healthy and whole.


Fine. We'll just have "sports" from now on, and if women can't hang, forget 'em. 

These trans* characters can't hang either. If they could they'd be men. I'm sorry, but it's true. Nah, that's not fair. I'm not sorry.

The Problem of Ancient Primary Sources

Having finished one philosophical discussion, Grim recently asked for suggestions for the next project. I suggested maybe a discussion of how to read these texts. How can someone today read and understand Plato, or Aristotle, or other ancient philosophical works?

Many years ago I took some courses in reading classical Chinese. The textbook gave us selections from primary sources like Confucius, Mencius, and Tang Dynasty poets, and also provided extensive glossaries, and we were expected to translate a selection before each class. In class, we would each read our translations, and then we would discuss where we had problems, or where noticeable differences between our translations had appeared.

At one point, I started feeling like I was getting it. Not like I was an expert, but the texts started making sense more naturally. I did what I thought was a good translation of a particular text and felt kinda proud of it, for a beginner.

When I read my translation to the class, the professor paused for a moment. "That's a very plausible translation," he said. "But I'm afraid it's wrong." And he proceeded to give the correct translation.

I understood where I had erred, but not why. Surely there must be some marker in the text that would have indicated the change he gave me, a marker I wasn't aware of. So I asked him, how could I know which way to translate this?

"Well," he replied, with a touch of reluctance, "you have to know the story before you begin."

So then much more recently we were discussing akratēs at the Hall, "the puzzle of someone who knows what is right but does the wrong thing anyway." In the comments, I was trying to work through a definition of virtue, and Grim made a suggestion. "You probably need to read Plato's Parminedes. Socrates was very young when that conversation is supposed to have happened; and it raises all these questions beyond the practical to the metaphysical."

The phrase "beyond the practical to the metaphysical" should have been put in flashing red lettering. In any case, I thought I was going to read more about virtue, but instead ... well, here. I'll put a selection from the beginning of it below the fold, with some discussion of difficulties I had reading it.

Two Days’ Riding

Winter’s almost over, kids. 

Bryson City, NC, motorcycle parking.

Chili burger and fries, Bryson City, as recommended by the local Harley dealer.

Pisgah National Forest

The Devil's Courthouse, as seen from NC 215

Charley's Creek

A Revolution from Above, to Empower the Already Powerful

This is an interesting argument. The opening frame is worth hearing; the rest is impossible given the structures of power, so you can stop whenever you want once he starts talking about the Ivy Leagues. Harvard and Yale and Duke may burn in a revolution, but they will never roll over in the way he discusses. 

If only I still traveled

I confess, I never liked to travel.  I liked being in faraway places, for a short while, at least, but getting there got to be less and less fun the more I had to do it, the deeper a disgust I developed for hotels, and the more nightmarish airports became.  I've traveled very little since 9/11 and none at all since COVID.  I like where I am.

Still, if I knew anyone still forced to submit to the indignities of airlines and airless hotel rooms, this would certainly be a tempting purchase:  a compact, hard-shell suitcase on wheels that pops up to become a closet full of shelves.  It's almost too bad I haven't any use for such a well-designed little product.  It reminds me of the "object" that Diana Villiers has made for Stephen Maturin in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.

What to do Next?

I'm done with the read-through of Plato's Laws. Perhaps I should now read secondary literature on it, and try to turn that into a publication of some sort; but on the other hand, this doesn't seem like the right time in history for a genuinely academic work. The reason to read things like this is to try to find a way forward; in more peaceful times, it might be better to write for an academic audience.

Is there any philosophical text that you have always wanted to read, but never gotten around to reading? Especially if it might be relevant to the presently brewing troubles?

On second thought

Isn't police defunding the real public health crisis confronting America today?  Why not divert COVID funding to fill the hole in Chicago?

Plato's Laws XII: The End

At the end of his last dialogue, Plato has his Athenian return to the subject of virtue, its divisions, and its central importance to good governance. These arguments should be familiar even if you have only read my summary of Plato; students of Plato will know them backwards and forwards. Yet it is worth looking at them one last time, as he chooses to do.

The Athenian closes his long miscellany by raising a worry that, although they have set up excellent laws, the state's longevity and security has not been assured. He likens this to the spinning of wool, which needs a knot at the end to prevent the work from all coming undone. What sort of knot could ensure that all this carefully-spun pattern of laws and institutions should continue to hold together across generations? 

The answer that he comes to is to empower the nocturnal council with the power of serving as a general committee on the virtue of the citizenry and the state, which to a reader living after the French Revolution and the various Communist movements is as terrifying an answer as it is easy to contemplate. Let us agree that pragmatism has proven this approach to be a false answer. It is still worth looking through the argument to see if we could identify where it goes wrong.

First: keeping the state from going astray from virtue is analogical to navigating a ship to its proper destination, or leading an army to victory rather than defeat. Thus, just as a ship needs a captain and an army needs a general, someone needs to be firmly in charge of making sure that the proper end (virtue, the right destination, victory) is kept always in view and adjustments are made as necessary to get there.

Second: the state is like an animal's body in that it has different organs that serve different purposes. Just as an animal needs sense organs like eyes to identify threats in the world, the state will need a sense organ (apparently the sort of thing we would call an intelligence service, the Athenian proposing elements to survey both domestic and foreign environments). Just as the animal needs a mind to make decisions about what to do with the information sensed by the sense organs, the state will need a decision-making body. Just as the animal's mind will only be successful if it has the right kind of understanding to make correct judgments about what its senses detect, the decision-making body needs to be composed of individuals with a very high level of practical understanding.

Third: we call the qualities they will need "virtues," but we also call them collectively "virtue." The Athenian had already divided them all the way back in Book I into four parts (courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice). Now we get a very Socratic move: the right people to be on this council will be the ones who can say exactly why it's acceptable to call them four, and in what way they are separate; and also who can say why it is right to call them one, and in what way they are the same.

Socrates at least as Plato presents him to us was very concerned with this proposition. Virtue is a kind of knowledge, and thus is rational. Rationally, things are either one thing or they are more than one thing. They are a unity, or they are not a unity. Courage is a kind of wisdom, because it is a practical wisdom about what to do in the face of danger. It is a 'practical' wisdom because it embraces both the knowledge of what to do, and the capacity to do it. But if you have courage, then, you should be able to say exactly what it is that you have -- you should be able to give a rational account of this rational quality.

Back in Book One, I said that the Athenian gave an account that doesn't seem to follow a rational order of priority. Wisdom is the chief virtue, but a precondition for justice. If that's the way we rank the virtues, then the priority of wisdom arises from the fact that you must have it in order to attain the others; it is thus prior in the literal sense. Yet courage is also a precondition for justice, and it is said to be lesser ranked. Here in Book XII, the Athenian says that courage is partly bestial, which seems like it is therefore not rational, at least not fully. 

Ath. There is no difficulty in seeing in what way the two [virtues] differ from one another, and have received two names, and so of the rest. But there is more difficulty in explaining why we call these two and the rest of them by the single name of virtue.

Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. I have no difficulty in explaining what I mean. Let us distribute the subject questions and answers.

Cle. Once more, what do you mean?
Ath. Ask me what is that one thing which call virtue, and then again speak of as two, one part being courage and the other wisdom. I will tell you how that occurs:-One of them has to do with fear; in this the beasts also participate, and quite young children-I mean courage; for a courageous temper is a gift of nature and not of reason. But without reason there never has been, or is, or will be a wise and understanding soul; it is of a different nature.

If courage is not (fully) rational, then you shouldn't necessarily be able to give an account of it of the type he is demanding. If it is a precondition for justice, then, justice itself has an irrational root. You shouldn't expect to be able to give a fully rational account of it if it is predicated on a partly irrational quality.

Plus, this deeply complicates the idea that courage and wisdom are two parts of a greater whole. Wisdom is said to be "a gift of nature and not of reason" and thus "of a different nature" from wisdom. (Hamilton gives this last as "the cases are utterly different.") Why should we expect to find a rational account of the unity of the virtues if they are neither fully rational in all cases, nor of the same nature?

The Athenian does not give us the answer, which would allow prospective council members to cheat by just repeating what he has to say, but he does give us a hint of how to proceed that students of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists will recognize. 

Ath. [W]e ought to proceed to some more exact training than any which has preceded.

Cle. Certainly.
Ath. And must not that of which we are in need be the one to which we were just now alluding?

Cle. Very true.
Ath. Did we not say that the workman or guardian, if he be perfect in every respect, ought not only to be able to see the many aims, but he should press onward to the one? this he should know, and knowing, order all things with a view to it.

Cle. True.
Ath. And can any one have a more exact way of considering or contemplating. anything, than the being able to look at one idea gathered from many different things?

Cle. Perhaps not.
Ath. Not "Perhaps not," but "Certainly not," my good sir, is the right answer. There never has been a truer method than this discovered by any man.

The answer is philosophical training with an eye towards appreciating the Forms. The Forms are supposed to be fully rational (Aristotle says that they are pure activities, and thus stripped of all mere potentiality -- and as such, you should be able to appreciate them intellectually). However, they have an interpenetrating quality. Because they are not material, they are capable of being 'all together in one place,' yet intellectually distinguishable from one another. Perhaps you have an idea of number, for example; and in a way, all the numbers you know are 'there.' But in another way, you can distinguish the numbers 1 and 4, or any other numbers, and say exactly why they are different, and exactly in what ways they are the same. 

This requires a type of philosophical training that the Athenian admits he has no idea how to perform, and in fact can't devise for students. They have to figure it out for themselves, by doing the work, where they need to go next. 

Ath. In the first place, a list would have to be made out of those who by their ages and studies and dispositions and habits are well fitted for the duty of a guardian. In the next place, it will not be easy for them to discover themselves what they ought to learn, or become the disciple of one who has already made the discovery. Furthermore, to write down the times at which, and during which, they ought to receive the several kinds of instruction, would be a vain thing; for the learners themselves do not know what is learned to advantage until the knowledge which is the result of learning has found a place in the soul of each. And so these details, although they could not be truly said to be secret, might be said to be incapable of being stated beforehand, because when stated they would have no meaning.

He is capable of saying a few things about what kinds of things they must learn, and the first one is that they must develop a fear of God. No one without a firm conviction on the proof of the divine, and the soul that orders the world, can be trusted with power. That part of the argument was actually given in the text, so potential Guardians on the council must show that they have understood and accepted the argument. The world is ensouled, and the soul that began all motions is deeply ordered and driven by a commitment to justice. 

The rest of it he likens to a game of dice, with three dice, where the winning throw will be only three aces or three sixes (e.g., 1 chance in 108, although I think here Mr. 5,040 is thinking more of the metaphor of very long odds than a specific mathematical number). It may be nearly impossible; but if it can be done, he says to Cleinias, "you will obtain the greatest glory; or at any rate you will be thought the most courageous of men in the estimation of posterity."

So: where did he go wrong? Was it a failure to wrestle with the irrational roots of what he wanted to be fully rational virtues? Was it the idea that godly men would rule fitly, which pragmatically seems to have been disproven by the long history of the Vatican and its council of Cardinals? Was it the analogy of the state to a body? The analogy of statesmanship to the captaincy of a ship or being general of an army? Was it the idea that human beings would benefit from being subject to the rulership of virtuous guardians? 

Or was it just that the philosophical training that was necessary but nearly impossible proved actually impossible to convey? If you did have guardians who fully understood the relationship of courage and wisdom and temperance to justice, could they guide the community justly? Or would they, too, fall into the human weaknesses that Aristotle warns against in the Rhetoric? 
First, to find one man, or a few men, who are sensible persons and capable of legislating and administering justice is easier than to find a large number.... The weightiest reason of all is that the decision of the lawgiver is not particular but prospective and general, whereas members of the assembly and the jury find it their duty to decide on definite cases brought before them. They will often have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgement obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain.
At the end of this reading, I hope you have questions, and that you feel inclined to voice them or to engage them. If you'd like to do so privately, rather than in public, feel free to email me. But one of the greatest goods of Plato is the invitation to all to join the field of philosophy. He doesn't end up having all the answers either, and is often aware that the things he wants to say sound incoherent. Don't be afraid to compete; even the masters of this game have given no perfect answers, and no sure way forward. The best the Athenian can say is that he wants to try, but admits that the odds are very much against him.


An essay and lecture. 

The devil you say

 When that that happen?

Worth Considering

It's not true that the 'Woke' are strictly Marxists, not most of them: I know some who are, strictly, but most of them are just adapting Marxist argument styles to issues of gender or race. This author argues that they aren't at all Marxists, however, because they've abandoned collectivism. 

I'm going to think about that for a bit before I respond to it. I feel like it's wrong, but I'm going to work through it for a while before I decide. The one thing I will say now is that a good friend of mine who actually is a self-declared Marxist is happily working on reparations programs around the black community in one town in Georgia. He's right that the community was abused, historically and not all that long ago, by the expansion of the local university. Some of his ideas for making that right are not terrible;  and ironically, sometimes it requires him to defend non-Marxist things like property rights. 

So maybe there's flexibility, and maybe there's cross-pollination; but it does seem to me like there's a lot of compatibility, at least. I'll think about it; in the meantime, read his argument.

BB: Man Asks You Use His Preferred Adjectives

“It distresses me when people use adjectives I don’t identify as,” Becker later explained. “Like ‘creepy,’ ‘weird,’ or ‘off-putting.’ That’s basically denying my existence and trying to genocide me.” Many would call that statement ‘nutty,’ but that is not from Becker’s list of approved adjectives.
The Bee is tremendously good at this stuff, although really we're already there. You're not only supposed to use the preferred pronouns, but adjectives like "female" or "male" and nouns like "man" or "woman" as preferred, too. Otherwise it's, like, genocide.

And genocide is only ok if it's one of your cultural norms!