What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Texas. There was a time Texas was on my short list of places to go when I retired. I always enjoyed my time down there – mostly in and around Ft. Worth. As it turns out there’s just too much fuckery. A creaking power grid, rampant disregard and willful ignorance of basic public health, draconian laws to enforce extreme right-wing Christian “values.” Yeah. Texas could have been great but it’s turning into the rightist wackjob equivalent of leftist California. Hard pass.

2. The morality police. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), used to do business under the name “Morality in Media.” They think sex is dirty and want to save us all from impure thoughts. They’re the ones who recently took a run at OnlyFans and then clutched their pearls when sex workers fought back. There’s a long list of things they want to tell grown ass adults they shouldn’t be able to see or think. Now, they’ve apparently decided that Twitter is too sexy, because gods forbid that anyone should crack a smile if they see a boob or whatever. I gladly invite these joy-thieving, self-anointed morality police to shove their agenda directly up their ass. Who knows, they just might find a little thrill. 

3. Assumptions. Look, I make the functional, artistic, technical, financial, and any other type of decision you can imagine around here. No, I don’t need to run it past anyone first. There’s exactly one person that needs to be consulted about any household decision and you’re consulting him. I promise you, it’s a feature, not a design flaw… and I’ve thought through every single thing I’ve asked for from every reasonable angle long before scheduling the conversation. I don’t know what kind of dysfunctional people you’re used to dealing with, but I can assure you that I’m not one of them.

The great unmasking…

Thanks to Texas and a bunch of deep red states deciding that government-imposed mask mandates are no longer required as part of the response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the question “When should we stop masking?” is an apt one. Everyone has an opinion. This happens to be mine…

In general, I’m mostly opposed to broad, sweeping government mandates made under the guise that “we know best.” Then again, I’m also philosophically opposed to assuming I know more than people who have spent a lifetime studying virology. That said, the imposition of masking in public hasn’t felt like a grave threat to my personal liberty. I’d be hard pressed to devise an argument that wearing a bit of cloth in an effort to prevent the transmission of a deadly and previously unknown virus somehow violates any right protected by the Constitution. Most of the positions staked out by people who have made such an assertion, sound more like teenaged whining than well-reasoned logic.

A fair number of people who aren’t part of the small, but loud “I won’t wear a face diaper” contingent, are fairly reasonable. Their response to questions of when does it stop is often “not yet” or when recommended by the CDC or other competent medical authority. There are a few, the true pro-mask outliers, who want to keep their masks on forever. 

When I can’t avoid being indoors in close proximity to others, I’ll keep mine on for now. Yes, even after being fully vaccinated… though in all honestly, I suspect I’ll subconsciously be less vigilant once my relative risk of slow, breathless death is dramatically reduced. I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but I’ve always found self-interest to be more motivating than vague notions of “the common good.” 

The real line in the sand for me will be about two or three weeks after we’ve reached the point where everyone who wants a vaccination can get one. That’s the moment, were, in my mind, masks in public places become purely optional and where mine will likely fall away unless there’s compelling evidence to the contrary.

Yes, there are going to be those out there who steadfastly refuse both masks and vaccinations. Frankly, I don’t feel any sense of moral obligation to continue protecting them when they’ve opted not to help themselves when help is readily available. They’ve made their choices, so on their head be it.

Fake snow…

There’s a segment of the population that has decided the storm a few weeks ago that drove Texas to its knees was all part of a vast and continuing conspiracy that somehow features “fake snow” delivered on target by the government or Bill Gates. I remain a bit unclear on that last bit.

Every time I think my countrymen couldn’t possibly be more ridiculous, we go ahead and set the bar just a little bit lower. I’d love to say I’m surprised that some significant portion of the people living in the United States are complete morons, but pretty much every time I’m forced to go out and interact with the general public confirms it. Is it possible that the dumbing of America is picking up speed?

I’m constantly reminded that the average person probably does ok. They handle their business and get through life without being completely derailed by obviously fictitious shit. Then I remember that at least half the population is, by definition, below average. These are the people you interact with who leave you wondering who laces up their shoes in the morning or how they can possibly survive on their own “in the wild” without competent supervision.

As much as I wish I could be surprised that so many people are convinced Texas was coated in fake snow, or the lizard people are controlling the media, or there was an unimaginably complex plot to steal the 2020 election, I’m really not. I don’t understand what seems to be a compulsion to believe the most patently absurd, farcical ideas versus the far more mundane and plausible reality. Are people really so bored in their daily life that they have some need to create wild fictional scenarios? 

I’m all in favor of a little escapism now and then. I’ve got the movies and books to prove it. What I’ll never understand is how so damned many people decided that constructing and living in their own alternate reality is in any way a beneficial way to spend their time. 

If anyone would like to present actual evidence that one of these wild ass conspiracies is true, the comments section is always wide open… but bear in mind, “evidence” does not consist of random stuff you’ve pulled from your favorite conspiracy theorist website or “video proof” you discovered on YouTube. If you send me that shit, I’ll absolutely laugh and mock you without mercy.

The price of power…

Apparently in Texas you can sign up for a “wholesale” electricity plan. Just like a loan with a floating interest rate, it could be a real benefit to the consumer when rates are low. The catch is, the interest rate for loans or the wholesale cost of electricity changes over time. Sometimes it changes both dramatically and quickly.

Signing up for the “wholesale” plan makes eminent sense when gas and oil is flowing and prices are low. All it takes, though, is a single unexpected event to make such a decision catastrophically wrong. It’s the inherent risk of pinning your plans on a floating rate that’s governed entirely on the vagaries of supply and demand in a potentially volatile marketplace.

While I feel badly for the people who woke up this week to a $16,000 bill for electricity, I presume the contract they signed included a pretty large warning that price moved both up and down and often does so with great rapidity. I felt sorry, too, for people who signed up for zero percent mortgages only to realize that when their mortgages rest to the “real” rate they couldn’t afford both the principle and the interest.

In both cases, these are people who willingly bypassed traditional service agreements or mortgages in favor of “exotic” options. The low up-front cost of exotic options, even if no other explicit warning is made, should be a clear indication to the average consumer that they are assuming a greater than normal degree of personal risk. Both are just one step better than walking in to the local casino and putting your month’s mortgage or rent payment on red and hoping for the best.

Though I feel sorry for both groups, I don’t feel any more sense of personal responsibility to bail out electricity consumers who made bad choices than I did for bailing out homeowners who took on unreasonable levels of debt. Expecting to enjoy all the benefits of low prices without encountering the corresponding negative possibilities smacks of immature thinking. Constantly protecting people from the natural consequences of their own actions clearly hasn’t done us any favors, as it seems no one has taken any of the lessons to heart. 

Now because I’m not a complete bastard, I could be convinced that low-interests emergency loans for those needing relief is a reasonable idea, but simply wiping out legitimate debt because it’s politically expedient sends an appalling message. Mine won’t be the popular opinion, of course, since no one wants to be responsible for themselves and politicians don’t win votes in this modern world of ours by expecting anyone to live up to their personal obligations when a billion dollar bailout is available. So, really, those whole post is about nothing more than yelling into the void.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. Days I have to schlep over to the actual office to do things I’ve been successfully doing from my living room for a year are annoying. And not just for the usual reasons surrounding spending a day locked in cubicle hell. A not minor part of the annoyance package on those days is the fact that right out of the gate it means I’m losing 80-90 minutes of quality reading time just to get over there. It just adds insult to injury.

2. Emotional responses. It seems that Ted Cruz flew to Cancun while the power was out in Texas. Sure, the optics aren’t ideal, but if Ted stayed in Texas, do you really think he’d be sitting in the dark just waiting for the lights to come back on? Unless your senator moonlights as a power plant operator, electric lineman, oil well repairman, or LP gas tanker captain, there’s very little role for him beyond making phone calls and prodding the people who run the grid to get their act together, which could be done from Houston, Washington, Cancun, or the International Space Station. Honestly the last thing anyone needs in a disaster situation is one more politician wandering around getting in the way of emergency responders. Having worked a fair amount of my early career in emergency management, I can’t remember a single thing that was improved when the politicians showed up in the room for their photo op. 

3. Prediction. Let me start by saying that I recognize that “the weather” is a ludicrously complicated system. Predicting how it’s going to behave at one particular spot on the globe at any given time involves huge assumptions and massive amounts of computing power. With that said, three weeks ago the experts were calling for 4-6 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Last week the experts called for 4-8 inches of snow. We ended up with two inches of slush. Today, the experts called for another 4-8 inches of snow. Thus far, the results have been less than an inch of sleet, freezing rain, and snow. I’m not saying the daily weather forecast is absolute hokum, but maybe instead of trying to project exact details, we focus more on whether the storm will produce liquid or frozen precipitation and leave it at that since nailing the details seems awfully problematic.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Texas. For a hundred years, the Republican Party celebrated the states as testbeds of democracy – where we could experiment to discover new and innovative solutions to problems the country faced, without defaulting to top-down directives imposed as the One True Way as dictated by the general government in Washington. I have to admit it took a remarkable amount of testicular fortitude for Texas, 18 other states, and in excess of 100 members of the House of Representatives to so publicly abandon that position by attempting to force Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to do whatever Texas thinks they should do. It took a tremendous amount of fortitude and made each and every person associated with trying to bring that case before the Supreme Court look like an absolute fucking idiot. 

2. Tea. The problem with tea is first you have to wait for the water to boil. Then wait again while it steeps. When you need a good caffein charge it feels like it takes something just short of forever. I love a good cuppa, but there’s something to be said for coffee that heats and brews at the same time.

3. Existential crisis. According to the internet “A new survey finds nearly eight in 10 Americans say 2020 caused an existential crisis for the country.” I’d submit that the headline would have been more accurate had it claimed that the survey found that almost 8 in 10 Americans was woefully unaware of their own national history and lacked a fundamental understanding of just how bad historical “bad times” were in comparison to what we face in 2020. Sure, it seems bad in the moment, but that’s mostly because we’re the ones living through it. Ask the same people if they’d like to trade their life in 2020 for an all-expense paid trip to 1918 or 1864 or 1777. There, perhaps, they’d learn the true definition of an “existential crisis.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

IMG_7893.JPG1. Canned goods. The media is currently filled with pictures from Texas of shoppers with carts piled high with canned goods, cases of water, and the usual list of hurricane supplies. I’m always struck when I see these pictures that so many people who live in an area historically frequented by natural disasters don’t have a week’s supply of food and water already laid on. Keeping a few extra cans of beans around for just such an occasion feels like something you should just do automatically even if you’re not in an area prone to high winds and water. Keeping yourself and your household alive in the immediate aftermath of whatever very bad thing hits your community feels a lot like something that you should take on as a personal responsibility instead of waiting for the Weather Channel to tell you you’re going to need water… and then bitching about the government not getting to you fast enough after the storm passes.

2. Powerball. Some woman in Massachusetts won my $758.7 million jackpot.

3. Suffering fools. We live in a polite society where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone in the eyes and ask them directly if they’ve always been stupid or if they have just been struck in the head by a blunt object. The result is no matter how stupid someone is, we’re not supposed to call them out on it. Look, I’m not expecting everyone to be a rising Einstein, I’m more than aware of the moments when my brain has locked up when trying to do or comprehend things that should be simple… but honest to God when the sum total of human knowledge is available to everyone on the device they spend most of their day staring at, there’s just no excuse for so many people to be so incredibly dumb.