Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 18th, 2021

Texans in the Midst of Another Avoidable Catastrophe

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Byan Washington has an article in the New Yorker about the latest catastrophe Texas could have avoided with better decisions. His article begins:

Out in Houston on Sunday morning, at the precipice of a statewide freeze in Texas and blackouts throughout the city, I passed two different women, each handling several cartfuls of groceries, who, speaking into their phones, noted that they “may have gone overboard.” I’d popped into Lee’s Sandwiches for a few gallons of coffee, and then into H Mart for other odds and ends. As the morning progressed, the traffic across Bellaire Boulevard worsened from a slight crawl to an impasse. Folks were stocking up in a way that’s become commonplace over the past year in the city, although the debacle to come had few precedents.

The storm that hit the state on Sunday left more than four million Texas residents without electricity, and many without water. The city of Galveston lost much of its power on Monday morning, and as of Wednesday afternoon it had yet to be restored. The city of Abilene lost both power and water and was given no sense of when either would return. On Tuesday evening, Houston’s Clear Lake area was issued a boil-water notice. Photos of cul-de-sacs blanketed in snow proliferated on social feeds, with residents “skiing” on highways and folks sledding down hills of snow in baskets—somewhat pleasant at the beginning of the week, until the power stayed out. Now parts of Dallas are so cold that water bottles are freezing next to people’s bedsides and appliances are heavy with icicles. These are some of the lowest temperatures that the state has seen in nearly thirty years.

Faced with an untenable surge in demand, power providers tried to signal that they had a plan (“rolling blackouts”), but then segued to a blackout of information itself, until Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, stated, early Monday morning, that the outages were statewide. Officials avoided providing timelines as they issued recommendations on how to conserve energy and stay warm. Residents measured the temperatures in their homes, covering windows with blankets and wrapping pipes and wedging towels into the spaces beneath doors to retain heat in individual rooms. The city’s unhoused population was sheltered in hubs throughout the area (if they could reach them), and some of those places eventually lost power, too. Health-care workers scrambled to distribute the covid-19 vaccines that they had on hand before they went bad in the outage. Local community organizations like Austin Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Houston began to circulate resources and guidelines across their communities.

Houston, on a good day, is not a city overflowing with spacious third places. The city’s residents were faced with several bad options: stay at home and freeze, or chance the already uncertain roads and flee to friends or relatives who’d managed to retain their power by chance or by means of a spare generator—although the latter option involved congregating amid the spectre of covid-19. The elderly, the very young, and the otherwise vulnerable were left in an especially nightmarish scenario. After the city’s businesses were asked to turn off their lights to conserve energy, much of downtown continued to shine with lights from skyscrapers and high-rise offices (many of which only powered down when they were publicly called out for it). As of Wednesday morning, at least twelve weather-related deaths had been reported across the Houston area.

Whereas much of the country is powered by regional energy systems—which are able to pull and pool resources in times of duress—Texas’s power is largely under the control of ercot, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages nearly ninety per cent of the state’s electricity load. The state’s independent network of utilities was devised with the goal of avoiding federal regulation; by not crossing state lines, Texas’s power grid could sidestep national utility guidelines—and energy companies could profit under the guise of individualism and “self-reliance.” State leaders, sacrificing long-term, communal safety for immediate profit, have shaken their heads at the idea of reform or collaboration and said, But we don’t need it. Then it got very cold, very fast, and the system (particularly, it seems, the parts that rely on natural gas) proved vulnerable—and, sure enough, the onus fell on the individual. ercot has stated that it has no idea when the power situation will resume any semblance of regularity. The state’s governor and myriad other elected officials have been quick to pass the blame.

At home on Monday, my boyfriend and I spent our time insulating the apartment and entertaining the dog. When we did venture outside—on two slipping and skittering walks across the neighborhood, and then a pitch-dark drive to pick up more water—we were met with barren roads. That night, we cordoned ourselves in the living room, arranging candles and ring lights collected from our yearlong Zoom hell, and ate a dinner of Lunar New Year leftovers, including braised pork with eggs and kimchi (a reminder that, as ghoulish as things were, they could be worse). Not long after midnight, our power returned, then went in and out in fits and starts into the next morning.

On Tuesday, we made it a point to set out for gas, and along the way we stopped by a Randalls. Folks wandered the dark aisles by the glow of their smartphone flashlights. The frozen-food section was cordoned off with masking tape, and meat displays were covered with cardboard, retaining whatever cold they could. The gas stations nearby were deserted, so we continued to drive until we ended up at another open grocery store, a Fiesta beside the highway. The electricity was working there, and everything was in stock. A woman stood beside the bakery, doling out loaves by the order. A butcher hacked at piles of beef behind a counter, and the fishmonger handed out numbers to folks assembled in line. A dude manning the front door apologized that customers couldn’t all be let in simultaneously; they’d had power since eight that morning, he said. On the drive back, we passed several car accidents as we continued searching for gas. Parking lots were full of folks driving in loops and warming themselves, as others congregated in their cars with their children and their pets. We waited in line for an hour across three stations before we found one beside NRG Stadium that, eventually, provided a full tank. But we’d only just barely left the parking lot before it became clear that this gas station had run dry, too.

A shared characteristic of Houstonians, one could argue, is a tendency to fall prey to disaster unprepared—but only exactly once. Whether facing the ravages of climate change, the state, or some other man-made calamity, the city’s residents learn very harsh lessons, and we tend not to make the same mistakes again. [That is not true. Recall  the extensive flooding in Houston that resulted from the decision to allow housing to be built in floodplains — 162,000 housing units with more being constructed even after Hurricane Harvey showed the folly of putting houses where floods will occur. Lesson not learned. – LG] But it’s one of the great shames that this city—and this country, and the individuals who govern it—requires its residents to weather these things at all. The collapse of ercot is one of the many signs that Texas has failed, and continues to fail, to adapt its infrastructure to meet the inevitability of climate change. In a new year already absurdly filled with crisis—an insurrection one month, bungled vaccine distribution the next, in the midst of a pandemic that has ravaged the nation in ways almost beyond comprehensibility—yet another disaster doesn’t feel entirely out of place. But the exacerbation of one emergency doesn’t eliminate the likelihood of another—and we can be sure that this storm, like every other once-in-a-generation weather event that Houstonians have experienced in the past few years, will not be the last. Like all of our other travails, it will require an expansion of the imagination, and our leaders’ inability to rise to the task won’t eliminate the necessity of doing so. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2021 at 1:44 pm

The backstory to the Texas power catastrophic failure

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Heather Cox Richardson in her column today provides some good historical perspective on what led to Texas’s failure to ensure that its people have power and drinking water: it was not simply a failure, but a deliberately chosen high-risk approach. She writes:

The crisis in Texas continues, with almost 2 million people still without power in frigid temperatures. Pipes are bursting in homes, pulling down ceilings and flooding living spaces, while 7 million Texans are under a water boil advisory.

Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, put on Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic],” he said.

After an outcry, Boyd resigned.

Boyd’s post was a fitting tribute to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed today from lung cancer at age 70. It was Limbaugh who popularized the idea that hardworking white men were under attack in America. According to him, minorities and feminists were too lazy to work, and instead expected a handout from the government, paid for by tax dollars levied from hardworking white men. This, he explained, was “socialism,” and it was destroying America.

Limbaugh didn’t invent this theory; it was the driving principle behind Movement Conservatism, which rose in the 1950s to combat the New Deal government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. But Movement Conservatives’ efforts to get voters to reject the system that they credited for creating widespread prosperity had little success.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, an attorney for the tobacco industry, wrote a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining how business interests could overturn the New Deal and retake control of America. Powell focused on putting like-minded scholars and speakers on college campuses, rewriting textbooks, stacking the courts, and pressuring politicians. He also called for “reaching the public generally” through television, newspapers, and radio. “[E]very available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks,” he wrote, “as well as to present the affirmative case through this media.”

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This “Fairness Doctrine” meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about “welfare queens” and same-sex bathrooms, and “makers” and “takers,” Limbaugh played “Barack the Magic Negro,” talked of “femiNazis,” and said “Liberals” were “socialists,” redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

By the end of the 1980s, Limbaugh’s show was carried on more than 650 radio stations, and in 1992, he briefly branched out into television with a show produced by Roger Ailes, who had packaged Richard Nixon in 1968 and would go on to become the head of the Fox News Channel. Before the 1994 midterm elections, Limbaugh was so effective in pushing the Republicans’ “Contract With America” that when the party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the Republican revolutionaries made him an honorary member of their group.

Limbaugh told them that, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans must “begin an emergency dismantling of the welfare system, which is shredding the social fabric,” bankrupting the country, and “gutting the work ethic, educational performance, and moral discipline of the poor.” Next, Congress should cut capital gains taxes, which would drive economic growth, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and generate billions in federal revenue.

Limbaugh kept staff in Washington to make sure Republican positions got through to voters. At the same time, every congressman knew that taking a stand against Limbaugh would earn instant condemnation on radio channels across the country, and they acted accordingly.

Limbaugh saw politics as entertainment that pays well for the people who can rile up their base with compelling stories—Limbaugh’s net worth when he died was estimated at $600 million—but he sold the Movement Conservative narrative well. He laid the groundwork for the political career of Donald Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a made-for-tv moment at Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address. His influence runs deep in the current party: former Mayor Boyd, an elected official, began his diatribe with: “Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!”

Like Boyd, other Texas politicians are also falling back on the Movement Conservative narrative to explain the disaster in their state. The crisis was caused by a lack of maintenance on Texas’s unregulated energy grid, which meant that instruments at coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants froze, at the same time that supplies of natural gas fell short. Nonetheless, Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry went after “liberal” ideas. They blamed the crisis on the frozen wind turbines and solar plants which account for about 13% of Texas’s winter power. Abbott told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Tucker Carlson told his viewers that Texas was “totally reliant on windmills.” [Wind turbines work fine in cold weather if they have been winterized. The Antarctic research station uses wind turbines just fine, as do northern states like Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and others. It’s simply that Texas regulations do not require power plants to be winterized so the plant operators and owners protected profits (if not their customers) by skipping that. – LG]

The former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, Rick Perry, wrote on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website to warn against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said. The website warned that “Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2021 at 1:10 pm

Shaving soap to honor the day — and my 1940s Gillette Aristocrat works better with the pre-shave

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In honor of the day, I brought out my Special 218, a dark brown high-glycerin shaving soap that makes a wonderful lather (cf. Mama Bear soaps — the soapmaker who once made QED soaps retired some years back, taking his secrets with him, so today’s QED soaps are nothing like they were before.

I of course began the shave with Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, and then loaded the Edwin Jagger synthetic with Special 218, enjoying the strong pine fragrance. The razor seemed to love the prep, gliding smoothly through the stubble with no problems at all, leaving my face smooth and (thanks to the pre-shave) my skin moisturized.

A good splash of Anthony Gold’s wonderful Red Cedar Aftershave, and the day begins — no so bright as yesterday, but still a good day without snow.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2021 at 10:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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