Genny power…

If nothing else, the storm that went through last week was the sort that makes you understand why the lines are down. I ended up with a few small limbs in the yard and a few larger ones fallen in the woods, but other than a flag mounting bracket that sheered away from the house because I wasn’t quick enough hauling down the color, it doesn’t look like much in the way of damage befell us. With the cable and internet out, I didn’t see reports from elsewhere, but I suspect I came through the heavy weather well under the circumstances.

The power lines in the neighborhood are underground and considering where we are in the woods most of the way down the Elk Neck peninsula, it doesn’t go out very often. When it does go out, though, it tends to stay gone for a long time. This is the third time since I’ve been here that I’ve been cut off for 24 hours or longer. The Generac kicked on around six o’clock Tuesday night and ran straight through into the early hours of Thursday morning. By the time grid power was restored, she’d run steady for a little more than 30 hours.

A few other houses were showing lights that I could glimpse through the woods. I presume they were running on backup power too. The chugging of my own engine drowned out whatever sound they may have been making. Maybe the endless drone of my system is some small payback for the neighbors who enjoy their late-night firework displays. 

I very intentionally sized my genny to run it all. It’s absolutely overkill and well beyond simply powering “the essentials,” whatever that means. I can cook dinner, do laundry, keep the air conditioner humming, run the pumps, and have lights from stem to stern. Perhaps I can’t do all of those things simultaneously, but there’s always more than enough juice to manage whatever combination of them I need to do in any one moment. It’s the kind of thing you don’t fully appreciate until you’ve had it. Then it feels like it would be impossible to go back to doing without.

I’m told at its peak, 25% of the households in the county were without power. Fortress Jeff, though, was lit up like a beacon all through the long night. It’s not exactly a subtle look when much of the rest of the street is swallowed up in inky darkness. Even though I’m not generally a fan of drawing undue attention, I’ll make an exception when it involves matters of personal comfort and convenience. I’ll just try not to think about the $500 worth of propane I had to burn off to make it happen.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Estimates. Over the course of the last two days, I’ve tried to come to terms with how bad we are at estimating in complex situations. Starting Tuesday night, the “estimated” time to have power back on 9PM, then 11PM, then unknown, then 3 PM Wednesday, then unknown again, then 11:30 PM, and then finally 11:30 PM Thursday. Grid power came back around midnight on Thursday, so I have no idea where that final estimate came from. This all transpired over the course of 30 hours. I mean wouldn’t it be better to just say we don’t have any fucking idea when things will happen than engage in wildly over optimistic dart throwing? 

2. Connectivity. It’s not the fact that the power is out that’s the problem. In a pinch, I can always make my own. The larger issue is that when the power does happen to go out, I lose nearly all connectivity. Despite Verizon showing that I have two solid bars of LTE coverage, the best I can manage are text messages and some highly garbled phone calls. It’s a $1000 smart phone reduced to less capability than I had from my old Nokia 3310. It’s almost like those “service bars” are a marketing gimmick and have no actual relationship to your actual signal strength. 

3. Social media. You don’t realize how much time you waste on social media until you can’t waste time on social media. Unfortunately, that largely seems to happen when you have nothing but time in front of you. Fortunately, I have a finely honed ability to entertain myself indefinitely, but in a warped and twisted way I did miss being able to have news and world events beamed directly into my eye holes 24/7 via Twitter. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Electricity. There are a lot of things I’m willing to jump into action and take care of around the house. Most things involving electricity don’t make the cut. I can replace an outlet or, if pressed, replace a ceiling fan, but beyond that in the universe of things that involve faults, the unusual, or things behaving badly, I’m a man who knows my limitations. That’s why I had a pair of electricians here at 7:30 this morning to diagnose a room full of oddly behaving outlets. Turns out, all those outlets were on a switch… located 30 feet away in a different room. Why it was designed like that is anyone’s guess. All is operating normally now, but gods, I could have fiddle around for weeks and never a connection between office outlets and living room switches.

2. The Republican Party. Does this even need going into? Paul Gosar, Maggie Green, Don Trump, Matt Gaetz, Lou Gohmert, and Jim Jordan are the contemporary standard barers for the party I’ve identified with since long before I was registered to vote. If that doesn’t scream that American conservatives have lost our way, and possibly our minds, I have no idea what would.

3. Court TV. If there’s anything worse than sitting in a courthouse watching a trial because you’re required to participate in it in some way, it would have to be voluntarily watching a trial on television. I don’t care what the latest “trial of the century” is, I just can’t see spending time hanging on every word. Like sausage, I don’t have any interest or need to know how it gets made. The only thing of even passing interest is how it turns out in the end. The breathless coverage across every media outlet in the country must be of interest to someone, but for my money it’s a waste of otherwise good airtime and electrons.  

What Don wants…

I watched a clip last night of a rally over the weekend in which the former President of the United States waived off the January 6th Capitol Insurrection as an event that never happened.

Republicans in the House might be willing to go along with such blatant disregard for facts. Republicans in the Senate might be willing to stay silent for fear of drawing the ire of those who continue to support the failed candidacy of a one term president. State level Republican committees and state parties may line up behind the fabrication too.

I have no influence at all on what those other Republicans do or say. 

Unlike them, though, I have a sometimes uncomfortable tendency to stand with facts and truth in the face of lies – even when, maybe especially when, those lies are told by those in positions of power.

The facts in evidence are these: Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. There is no substantive evidence of fraud. He (eventually) conceded, after first expending great effort to undermine the electoral process and people’s faith in it. As his supporters stormed into the Capitol, he refused to call them off at best and actively encouraged them at worst. 

Now, Don wants us to refuse to accept what we’ve seen. He says he didn’t concede. He says there’s no way of really telling who won an election. He’s saying nothing happened at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Who are you going to believe, he seems to ask, a disgraced former president who fled Washington in shame on January 20th, or your own lying eyes?

Other so-called Republicans can do what they will, but from my seat here, I’ll stand against Don’s bid to rewrite history. I’ll stand against the weight of the party that just wants its members to fall in line because they think we all value power more than truth. I’d rather see the Republican Party cast down for the next generation than give in to those who betray the republic and hope we’ll all just look away.

My fellow Republicans – whether they be friends, family, or the party at large – are going to be sadly disappointed if they think I’ll stand with them for the sake of preserving peace and tranquility. I stand with and for the republic, the Constitution, and the laws… and there’s absolutely nothing political about that.

Personal power…

I’m sure I say this early every summer, when the Mid-Atlantic is thrashed by heavy rain, high winds, but my god do I love my generator. The lights go out, I count to ten or maybe twelve, and everything turns back on. It’s the briefest possible interruption short of devising a truly uninterruptible power supply for the entire house.

Being able to power everything from lights, pumps, furnace, AC, stove, clothes dryer, sun lamps, and every other bit of electronics in the house almost simultaneously, there’s no question the thing is oversized for what I really “need.” If pressed, I might have to pick two between running the air conditioning flat out, cooking a full dinner, and doing laundry. I’m sure I could have made due with something smaller or more efficient, but given the difference in price point, picking limited circuits instead of running it all felt like a bad trade off. The freedom to not have to pick is, in a word, delightful in that it lets you just get on with the day instead of adding additional layers of complication.

Scratching together the cash to get it installed when I was house poor was a bugger. The thing’s got a bit of a never-ending logistics tail in demanding regular maintenance. But in a week where trees kept falling across the power lines here in Elk Neck, I was reminded at least three times that peace of mind and a steady supply of electricity has been worth every penny.

Good as they may be at getting issues resolved relatively quickly, at this point I think I’d be hard pressed to go back to living solely at the mercy of the power company’s service restoration timetables.

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

Friendly reminder…

I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.

We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president. 

This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president. 

The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.

The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore. 

So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.

If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.” 

Morality and ethics aside…

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have deep misgivings about what appears to be the exercise of increasingly unchecked power by both the federal and state governments. That’s especially true when the discussion turns to the he power of the state to “lock down” people within entire geographic areas or perhaps the entire country. Where it makes perfect sense from a medical or harm reduction standpoint, it creates ponderous questions about due process rights, false imprisonment, and the Constitutional protections Americans enjoy against arbitrary government action. Where government reasonably can require a contagious person into quarantine, does that power also extend to people who aren’t sick? Should it?

I guess you can go ahead and add constitutional scholar and medical ethicist to the long list of things that I’m not.

The morality and ethics aside, I’m wondering at what point people begin to reject medical advice in favor of “living their best life” and rolling the dice. Having spent a lifetime watching people, and Americans in particular, I hope you’ll forgive me if I doubt the average person will be perfectly willing to live under a regime of social distancing, isolation, closures, and economic armageddon for as long as the 18 months or more that Imperial College is speculating it may take for COVID-19 to run its course

And still people ask me why I like animals more than people…

It was rainy and warm this morning. Ideal weather for finding a turtle on the move this time of year. I even made a point of going back in the house to grab a rain jacket in case I came across one of the local eastern box turtles on the road in need of a hand.

I found one, a fully grown adult, sitting at the edge of the blacktop a few hundred yards from the turn out from my neighborhood. Three massive cracks in his shell, no response to stimuli. I’m guessing he took a glancing blow from a tire – enough pressure to crack the shell, but not enough to crush him. I’m not sure why I bothered to check if he was alive after seeing the damage done. Even if it weren’t the still early hours of the morning, there’s no place within an hour’s drive that could have treated him. I suppose I could have at least offered a quick end to his suffering.

Two more miles on, there was another, splitting the double yellow line. This one was crushed beyond any reason to consider stopping. I drove on, with quietly building rage leaching out into every cell of my not insubstantial body.

Look, I’m a carnivore. I don’t have any moral objection to steak or bacon. Killing an animal for sustenance is an act as old as our species. If you’re going to kill something, you’d damned well better have the intention of eating it, though. Otherwise, you’re just a sick fuck getting his rocks off on causing pain and suffering because you can.

Turtles are the very definition of a harmless animal – they don’t destroy your crops or your yard. They aren’t going to eat your cat or endanger your livestock. Their only mission in life is to walk around foraging for their next meal and making little turtles. That’s it. One, or probably both of these boxies was killed by someone who had to make the conscious decision to do so. The fact that it’s illegal to drag this kind of person out of their vehicle and beat them to bloody death with a tire iron is what I consider possibly the biggest flaw in the American legal system.

I’ve seen articles that say climate change could wipe out humanity or at least kill us off by the billions… frankly that doesn’t sound like the worst possible outcome I could imagine.