Saturday, March 30, 2024

Here's What I Learned This Winter When I Wrote About the Power Grid

Trying to stay warm on a chily night.
The first part of the winter I spent time researching the reliability of our electrical grid and whether nuclear energy plants might be a solution for meeting the ever expanding electircal needs our country, and especially our state of Minnesota, needs. 

Part of my interest stems from the discovery that Minnesota has had a moratorium on new nuclear power plants since 1994 while simultanously closing coal plants and embracing a net-zero carbon policy by 2040. Some expert in the energy field believe this 2040 target will be impossible to reach solely by "approved" renewable energy sources --solar, wind, biomass, rivers.

1. Three Grids. Before studying this I believed that the country was made up of a patchwork of grids. In one sense it it, but in another there are only three systems in place. The Pacific Coast has its own grid. Texas is another grid. The rest of the ocuntry operates on the same frequency, which is good because the different regions can draw energy from other regions if on the same system. Texas, being its own system, was unable to pull energy from surrounding grids when it collapsed a couple winters ago. 

2. Contradictory Objectives. Nuclear is safe and produces zero carbon, but Green advocates are opposed to it. For this reason, efforts to lift the nuclear moratorium in Minnesota have failed. Proposals to do so remain locked up in committee and never get a hearing on the floor at the Capitol in St. Paul. As one nuclear expert I spoke with put it, "The belief that we can meet future energy needs by renewables alone and without nuclear is La La Land thinking."

3. Wind and Solar energy are not within our power to control. Wind is erratic and the sun sometimes hides its face for days on end. Power needs are ongoing day and night. Which lead to this concern...

4. Power Plants generate energy to meet present need. The energy is used as needed. There is no "storage" depot where it gets accumulated for future use. This applies to wind and solar as well. You can't store today's Wind and Solar power for future use when needed (other than for a few short hours).

5. Getting new power plants built takes twice as long and costs twice as much as it ought to. The reason is primarily caused by aggressive opposition, legal obstacles, red tape. 

6. No one died at Three Mile Island and there was only one death in Fukushima. 36 people die per year from dog bites, and bee stings kill twice as many as that.

In 2022, 10 people died in the United States coal mining industry, which is 10 of 66,172 occupational fatalities.  

7. People worry about nuclear waste. In truth, all the extremely dangerous nuclear waste ever produced since the start of our nuclear energy age would currently fit into an Olympic sized swimming pool or (if you prefer) the leaning Tower of Pisa.

8. How dangerous is the other radioactive material? Consider this: According to SpringerLink, nearly 10 million patients each year undergo radioactive material injection or ingestion in medical procedures. 

* * * 

I learned a lot more than this, but for today these are a few things off the top of my head that I'd not thought about before.


Is Our Energy Grid at Risk?

Friday, March 29, 2024

Is the U.S. on the Verge of Becoming a Pre-Civilization?

What would the U.S. be like in a post-energy world? What will it be like if the lights really do go out?

One of the many new things I learned about the power grid this year is how interconnected it all is. That is, our energy grid in the U.S. is comprised of three grids. There is a West Coast grid, a Texas grid and the rest of the country connected in a single grid. Each grid is comprised of power plants, energy distribution substations and lots of power lines.

The more I learned about energy generation the more concerned I have become over the future of life as we know it. Today's Wall Street Journal carries an op-ed titled, The Coming Electricity Crisis. The subtitled expresses my concerns precisely: Artificial-intelligence data centers and climate rules are puusing the power grid to what could become a breaking point. 

But it's not just data centers that are the problem. It's everything. Anther article says the Biden administration's EV mandates are going to bring down the grid because we aren't creating power plants fast enough to meet the need. And why not? We've known for years about this need for more energy. Part of the hangup is NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard.  Part of the hangup is that it takes about 100 times as many regulation clearances to get nuclear plants running as it does other kinds of plants. So it takes twice as long to roll them out, if they can be rolled out at all because of the legal challenges at every level.

Here in Minnesota we are de-commissioning coal plants while maintaining a mandate against any new nuclear power plants.

So what will living in the United States be like if the energy grid permanently collapsed? Are you ready? First off, it would be extremely challenging and would lead to widespread disruption and hardship. 

Here's a short list of impacts:

Loss of Basic Services
: Lighting, heating, cooling, and refrigeration would cease to function. Hospitals would struggle to operate, and access to clean water could become compromised as water treatment plants rely heavily on electricity.

Communication Breakdown
: You can forget about your cell phones, telephones and internet services. 

Transportation Challenges
: Once our cars run out of gas, then what? Trains and airplanes rely on electricity in some form. All air traffic control centers would come to a halt. 

Economic Collapse: The economy would naturally suffer due to the inability to power businesses and industries. Production and distribution of goods would grind to a halt, leading to shortages of essential items and skyrocketing prices for what remains available. Where will we get our toilet paper? No more avocados.  

Social Unrest: Food riots? When grocery store shelves are depleted, what then? 

Health Risks: Forget about surgeries. Perishable medical supplies needing refrigeration will disappear.

Alternative Energy Sources: Some people say communities will need to rely on alternative energy sources such as solar power, wind power, or localized microgrids to meet their energy needs. Unless you are already set up, however, few will have the expertise or materials to make that happen.

Government Response: No question the government would likely declare a state of emergency but without media who will hear that? No doubt each political party would likely blame the other party and spend more energy jawboning than accomplishing anything else.

Ayn Rand's novella Anthem
(SPOILER ALERT) takes place in an imaginary future where the two heroes escape from the "civilized" fallen society and discover in the forest a house from the forgotten past. They are amazed at the contrast between the civilization that preceded their and the one they had been living in, which was supposedly "better."

I've not read the book in 50 years but the impressions it left are still with me today. Here in the U.S. we think life is better than anywhere in the world. Yet our schools are failing, our roads disintegrating, and crime in our cities multiplying like cancer cells in a petri dish. The intangible factor that concerns me most is the loss of our ethical foundations, that is, a common belief in the notions of right and wrong. Machiavellian ethics have more sway over our leaders today than the Biblical virtues or humility, generosity, truthfulness, kindness, mercy and compassion. The moral decay has left us awash in a tidal wave of spew.


Getting back to my primary concern: the energy grid... 

"Projections for U.S. electricity demand growth over the next five years have doubled from a year ago. The major culprits: New artificial-intelligence data centers, federally subsidized manufacturing plants, and the government-driven electric-vehicle transition."

And a little further, the editorial board writes:

"Don’t expect the power to come from New York, which is marching toward a power shortage as it shuts down nuclear and fossil-fuel power in favor of wind and solar."

Today, March 29, 8 percent of our Minnesota energy is coming from solar and 23 percent from wind. More than half is coal and natural gas. But we're shutting down the coal. Shouldn't we wait till we have something in place to replace it? 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Uninformed Preaching to the Disinterested: A Lament for Modern Journalism

"Red, Black & Blue" Ink on paper.
The image of the intrepid journalist, unearthing truth and holding power accountable, has been romanticized for centuries. But in today's media landscape, a disquieting truth emerges: the "fourth estate" might be more akin to the "uninformed preaching to the uninterested."

There are any number of reasons journalism has now gotten a bad name. First, we've seen an erosion of journalistic standards that discerning media viewers have been turned off by. The talking heads have had their biases for decades, but when we (Boomer gen) were growing up the networks at least made an attempt to appear "fair" in the coverage.

Then there's the pressure for clicks and virality, which often trumps rigorous fact-checking and nuanced reporting. Echo chambers and confirmation bias reign supreme, with news outlets catering to pre-existing beliefs rather than challenging them. This creates a self-referential ecosystem where journalists preach to their own, amplifying their personal biases without engaging the wider public.

Add to this the rise of citizen journalism, blurring the lines between professional reporting and personal opinion. This is where we need to exercise discernment and fact-check before sharing. Unverified claims and emotional appeals can drown out fact-based reporting, and if you go around sharing some of that drivel, don't blame the Russians when someone else calls you out.

One consequence of this decline of local news is an information vacuum that breeds apathy and disengagement. When citizens feel disconnected from the issues and institutions that impact their daily lives, they are less likely to be interested in or actively consume news. This disinterest further fuels the perception of journalists as irrelevant and out of touch.

Dismissing all journalists as uninformed is obviously a dangerous and silly oversimplification. Many dedicated professionals strive to uphold the highest standards of ethical reporting. Investigative journalists continue to expose injustices, and thoughtful commentators provide valuable analysis and context.

The true challenge lies in bridging the gap between these dedicated professionals and a disengaged public. Clickbait headlines are not the answer.

The path forward for journalism should not be paved with lamentations, but with renewed dedication to its core principles: informing, educating, and holding power accountable. Only by regaining the public's trust and fostering a genuine interest in news can journalists reclaim their vital role in a healthy democracy.

Will it happen? It's a challenge.

* * *

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Increasing Normalization of Censorship and Canceling

"Fantasia" -- Collaboration with Dream by Wombo
The title of this blog post comes from an interview with Jordan Peterson titled Jordan Peterson: The radical Left is guilt-tripping the West into oblivion.

The description for this podcast: Dr Jordan Peterson discusses how to win the culture war, with insights from Soviet and Nazi dissidents who stood up against tyranny and compares their struggles with clampdowns on free speech today. He sits down with The Telegraph’s Steven Edginton in a wide-ranging discussion from why Britain was a miracle for the world to whether he is addicted to Twitter.

Best quote so far: "Courageous people are quite rare, much rarer than I thought."

* * * * *

I continue to be fascinated with the ways AI can be used. The above was my intro to a blog post about a Jordan Peterson interview with Steve Edginton. You can read what I began to write initially. I intended to draw attention to some insightful quotes. The first that jumped out at me is cited above.

Then I changed my intent by having ChatGPT rewrite the same introductory comments but in different styles. Here are the results of making this request. 

Formal and Analytical Style:
In this thought-provoking podcast, Dr. Jordan Peterson delves into the strategies for prevailing in the ongoing cultural conflict, drawing upon the experiences of dissidents from the Soviet and Nazi regimes who bravely opposed oppression. By juxtaposing their struggles with contemporary challenges to free speech, Peterson provides insightful commentary on the current state of societal discourse. In an engaging conversation with The Telegraph's Steven Edginton, topics range from the exceptionalism of Britain on the global stage to Peterson's contemplation on his own relationship with social media, including his reflections on the scarcity of genuine courage in today's world. Amidst this exploration, Peterson's observation that "courageous people are quite rare, much rarer than I thought" resonates as a poignant reflection on the complexities of human nature.

Conversational and Reflective Style:
So, picture this: Dr. Jordan Peterson, right? He's diving deep into this podcast, talking all about how we can actually win this whole culture war thing. And get this – he's using stories from these real-life heroes who stood up against some seriously messed-up regimes like the Soviets and Nazis. It's wild, man. Plus, he's chatting it up with The Telegraph's Steven Edginton, shooting the breeze about everything from why Britain's kinda like this miracle for the world to whether Peterson's got, like, a Twitter addiction. And hey, you know what's got me thinking? That line he drops about how "courageous people are quite rare, much rarer than I thought" – it's hitting me right in the feels, you know?

Sensational and Provocative Style:
Brace yourselves for the ultimate showdown in this electrifying podcast as Dr. Jordan Peterson unveils the secrets to victory in the culture war! Prepare to be blown away as Peterson draws inspiration from the harrowing tales of dissidents who dared to defy tyranny under the shadows of Soviet and Nazi rule. But hold onto your hats, folks, because the shock doesn't stop there – Peterson isn't afraid to tackle the hot-button issue of free speech crackdowns head-on! And in a no-holds-barred interview with The Telegraph's Steven Edginton, Peterson spills the tea on everything from Britain's global significance to his own social media habits. And if you thought you'd heard it all, think again – Peterson's revelation that "courageous people are quite rare, much rarer than I thought" will leave you on the edge of your seat, questioning everything you thought you knew!

* * * * *

So, what's the point? My intent was actually to share this observation: it takes courage to speak out and take a stand. Would you agree? 

Related Link: What Good Am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you --Bob Dylan

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

President Pachyderm and His Pink Electric Elephants

Once upon a time in America, there was a president named President Pachyderm. President Pachyderm became famous for his outlandish ideas and love for all things pink and elephant-related. In addition, he recognized the shackles an uncooperative Congress can put in the way of a president, so he decided to run his nation by means of executive orders, a growing trend in White House governance.

Early in his second term, the President signed into law Executive Order #24315 thereby requiring every citizen to own a pink electric elephant. This decree sent shockwaves through the nation, since nearly all pink electric elephants were now being manufactured in China as a result of Executive Order 23101 which he had signed the previous year in order to balance the budget. (Up till that moment the entire pink electric elephant industry had been subsidized by taxpayer dollars.)

Political pundits and mainstream media were immediately on board with the new EO, declaring it a brilliant idea. Late night comics liked the new EO because it gave them a steady supply of new material to prop up sagging ratings. Bitter disputes broke out on the leading social media platforms as those who supported the president strove to cancel those who criticized it, and vice versa, which generated more buzz than even the ongoing war in Uzbekistan (now in its 8th year). 

Initially people were scrambling to get their hands on pink electric elephants, stores overrun with frantic customers demanding the rare and elusive creatures. Streets were filled with people parading their new companions, each one more absurdly pink and electric than the last. Many of those unable to acquire affordable pink electric elephants joined protesters blocking bridges and highways. 

As demand for pink electric elephants skyrocketed, chaos ensued. Research papers began appearing in scientific journals warning of the stress all these electric elephants were putting on the energy grid. Opponents of these ideas pressured journals to retract these papers and replace them with research extolling the virtue of pink electric elephants.

Both Democrats and Republicans crafted legislation to again fund American pink electric elephant manufacturing plants, laws that failed to pass Congress because 90 percent of this new legislation contained pork favorable to each party's constituencies.  

In the meantime, because of a shortage of resources needed to manufacture them prices soared, and soon only the wealthiest citizens could afford to purchase the coveted symbols of American Greatness. Those unable to comply with the president's decree faced hefty fines and even imprisonment. 

As a result, a countermovement ensued in which Americans began boycotting shopping malls even though they were fully stocked with pink electric elephants.

Much was being written in the media about the delays in getting the elephants from China. There was also speculation that pink electric elephants were being used to spy on Americans. Congressional hearings led to an investigation that rocked the nation. The Chinese, it turns out, were broke but had been forcing the president to pay for their weapons buildout because they had blackmail on him performing raciall yREDACTED th an electric pink elephant with cameras installed in its eyeballs.

Amidst calls for the president's impeachment, the rest of the world looked on in bewilderment. International news outlets dubbed President Pachyderm the "Pink Elephant King" and his followers the "Electric Elephants."

Despite the commotion President Pachyderm remained unfazed, convinced that his pink electric elephants were essential to national prosperity and happiness. He continued to promote his vision with fervor, even going so far as to commission giant pink electric elephant statues to be erected on both ends of the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol.

The rest of this story is yet to be written. If we're lucky it will also be soon forgotten.


As for President Pachyderm, he remains as colorful and eccentric as ever, blissfully unaware of the chaos he's unleashed upon his nation. 


Saturday, March 23, 2024

What Was Warhol's Influence on Dylan?

e-Interpretation May 2012 from the "Screen Test"
Dylan's intersection with Andy Warhol seems to have been inevitable. The emerging icon and established icon were both inhabitants of what was then the cultural center of the world.

The Screen Test  
Bob Dylan's encounter with Andy Warhol's camera, known as the "Screen Test," was a brief but iconic moment in both their careers and in the broader context of 1960s pop culture.

Andy Warhol created hundreds of "Screen Tests" during the 1960s. These were short, silent, black-and-white film portraits of various individuals, usually lasting around three r four minutes each. Warhol used his 16mm Bolex camera to capture his subjects, often celebrities and friends, in a fixed frame with minimal direction.

If you go to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh you can see the setup and actually  participate in your "Screen Test."

Warhol's Screen Tests were not scripted or directed in the traditional sense. Instead, they captured unguarded moments and subtle nuances of the subjects' personalities. 

In the case of Bob Dylan, he visited Warhol's studio, known as The Factory, in 1965. The encounter resulted in a Screen Test session where Dylan was filmed by Warhol. During the session, Dylan exhibited his characteristic enigmatic persona, staring into the camera with his trademark inscrutable expression. The film captures Dylan's face in close-up, allowing viewers to study his features in detail. Some say Dylan was just being Dylan whereas others suggest that he was very uncomfortable.

One of the features of Warhol's persona was the manner in which his personal life remained shrouded in mystery, unavailable to the public till the day he died. This air of mystery created an allure of sorts, not unlike the private spaces Dylan has maintained over the years.

Warhol's observations about pop culture were pointed, not vapid. Dylan's work in the Sixties was equally pointed, right on target and so direct that it was sensationally influential. 

Related Link

The Warhol Museum

Warhol -- A Poem

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Are We Making Progress or No? 21 Quotes About Progress

The Beatles wrote a song about progress in relationships called "It's Getting Better All the Time." As for society on a grander scale, a case can be made that whereas progress is being made in some areas it's open to debate whether things are really better. It depends on what you measure.

What follows are 21 ponderables for your consideration.


The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
--George Bernard Shaw

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. 
--Ogden Nash

The Difficult is that which can be done immediately; the Impossible that which takes a little longer. 

--George Santayana 

The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.

--Fridtjof Nansen

We stand today at a crossroads: One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other leads to total extinction. Let us hope we have the wisdom to make the right choice.
--Woody Allen

Without deviation, progress is not possible.
--Frank Zappa 

What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.
--Henry Havelock Ellis

Change is one thing, progress is another. Change is scientific, progress is ethical. Change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.
--Bertrand Russell

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.
--Thomas Edison

Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight.
--Bill Gates

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
--Arthur Schopenhauer

The technology life cycle has three stages: Hype, disillusionment, and application.

--Bob Lewis

The science of today is the technology of tomorrow. 

--Edward Teller

All progress is based upon a universal, innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.
--Samuel Butler

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
--George Santayana

The most damaging phrase in the language is, "It's always been done that way."
--Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Quality has to be caused, not controlled. 

--Philip Crosby

Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.
--Fred Brooks


Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems.
--Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens.
--Benjamin Disraeli

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Living Life Without a Script: The Pros and Con

This past weekend someone made a comment about living life without a script and it generated some thoughts which I can try to capture here. 

At first blush, not having a plan or script seems liberating. Upon deeper reflection, however, such a life can also be quite daunting. Here are a few of the pros and cons that come to mind regarding living life without a predetermined plan.

On the positive side, there's something to be said for the spontaneity and freedom it offers. Without the constraints of a predetermined path, you have the flexibility to explore new opportunities, embrace unexpected challenges, and pursue passions without being bound by societal expectations or norms. This freedom can potentially lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life, where you can discover your true self and express your creativity without inhibition.

In theory, living without a script encourages adaptability and resilience. When faced with unforeseen circumstances or obstacles, some people may become better equipped to adapt to whatever life throws at them. This flexibility enables them to navigate life's ups and downs with greater ease and confidence, fostering personal growth and development in the process.

Many people may be drawn to this kind of free-flow lifestyle becaue it fosters a sense of adventure and discovery. Embracing uncertainty and stepping into the unknown can lead to exhilarating experiences and meaningful connections with others. By embracing spontaneity and the unexpected, you can open yourself up to a world of possibilities and enriching experiences that you may not have otherwise encountered.

On the other hand, there are drawbacks. For example, without structure and direction how do you set goals, make decisions or prepare for the future? I'm reminded of Aesop's fable about the grasshopper and the ants. The industrious ants spent the summer and fall preparing for winter. The grasshopper fiddled around, laughed, skipped, hopped from here to there. Some of the ants may have even grumbled about their lot, but when winter came the grasshopper was hardly prepared. 

I once asked a Native American friend about how the Ojibwa survived such a hostile environment here in the Northland. How did they prepare for these brutal winters?

He said, "As soon as winter is over they would begin preparing for the following winter to come." Their survival involved planning and, like the ants, industriousness.

While living in the now, it can be a challenge to stay focused on priorities. After a while this lack of direction can lead to feelings of aimlessness and uncertainty, making it difficult to find purpose and meaning in life.

Living without a script can also be risky and unpredictable. Without a safety net or fallback plan, individuals may find themselves unprepared for setbacks or emergencies. Financial stability generally requires a plan and a commitment. Long-term stability doesn't just happen magically. 

Yes, living responsibly can feel like a burden at times, but there are rewards as well. Assuming responsibility for a family, or a community, develops character. How many hippie communes failed right at that point as people shirked their responsibilities?

Not everyone is cut out for a life of floating aimless and free. Anxiety about the future can produce emotional distress. 

If your life is one of flitting about, outsiders may envy your freedom, but if you're here today and gone tomorrow, who will be your support group through the tougher times and curveballs life throws at most of us in one way or another. 

This is why people come together in groups with shared values. Whether it be a church, a bowling league, curling club or community action group, there's something healthy about being associated with others in one way or another. This is why healthy families are so meaningful. Blood is thicker than water.

* * * 

I'm not sure who coined the name "Peter Pan Syndrome" but it's pretty apt. And actually, I understand the appeal when Peter Pan sings his creed:

If growing up means it would be
Beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

Behaviors associated with Peter Pan Syndrome include avoiding commitments, seeking instant gratification, shirking responsibilities and maintaining a childlike dependence on others.

Yes, I'll concede that it's fun when you're young to go with the flow... but there are many unseen rewards for pursuing an ambitious goal. Your attempts to achieve audacious goals may fall short, but you'll be a better person for it. You may even leave a legacy far beyond anything you ever imagined.

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