Sunday, February 21, 2021


One of the most gratifying things to read over the last few weeks was Texan99 starting a post at Grim's noting that she had expected to find X but found Y instead when she went looking at the power outage explanations. More usually, people just blame whatever or whoever they thought was the source of every other problem before. "It's like I always say, Marge, you just can't trust the Democrats on anything." 

The common characterisation used to be that Liberals would say "These are bad/good people" while conservatives would focus on "these are bad/good ideas." That may have been self-serving and relied on cherry-picked data, but I can at least say that this was part of my moving from liberal to conservative in the 80s.  The constant focus on what bad people the conservatives were combined with the self-congratulation of what good people we are grated on me increasingly.  I was told that the religious right was awash in that sentiment, but I only saw some. I did see some, and very annoying, but I saw more of all of us aren't quite good, but we're trying.

Has that changed in the last decade, that generalisation of mine?  I can't tell.  The type of interaction I have with the world has changed since I started moving about the building rather than developing team relationships at work beginning around 2014 and semi-retirement at the beginning of 2017 accentuated that.  Having the last of the children grow up changed things.  I wonder if the election of Obama years ago pushed all sides into bad people/good people mode increasingly, and Trump embraced it rather than rejecting that framing.  It's not a good thing.

Blaming the Usual Bad Ideas isn't quite so damaging, though it can be a closed-mindednesss of its own. Blaming overregulation or deregulation is frequent, as is blaming capitalism or safety net. Everyone is sure they are the scientific ones, wrapping themselves in some things while ignoring others. I even see some of that in the discussions I have been reading about the Rationalist, Gray-Tribe community in all the news about Dr. Scott Siskind and Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten). Many have science they don't like to see either, or obvious conclusions from the science they want to avoid.  Fortunately, they seem to be getting called out from within their own community - no need for me to ggo over and help, as they are better at it.

What are the other idea categories we like to instantly default to whenever anything goes wrong or goes right?  There used to be a religious/secular knee-jerk split that it had all gone bad since we kicked prayer out of schools versus Puritans always ruining everything by telling others what to do.  That's still there, but I don't think I hear it as often. Judeo-Christian/Western Civ versus multicultural/the Glorious East has been shouting from the balcony in every debate I can remember since college. 

This was prompted by listening to Texans in their crisis, but it's not about Texans.  Whether they are better or worse on these things I don't know.  My prejudices would tell me you can count on California to have more irrational complainers and New Hampshire far fewer, but everyone else I just file under Likely Some of Both.


james said...

On a tangent--maybe we don't feel the changes with slow long-term trends; and when we do we feel they're reversible. But inflection points, even if the change is small compared to the long trend, feel like ratchets.

Texan99 said...

I may dull your pleasure a bit by observing that, although it's true that all the power sources suffered in the freeze, the dominant impression I've formed now is that we could afford to lose a lot of the fairly minimal wind power capacity because the natural gas contribution, though also reduced by freeze, still absolutely dwarfed every other category and saved our bacon. Without gas's ability to ramp up, even if to an ideal degree, ended up making the difference between 4MM Texans out of power and much closer to 30MM. Also, it's sure starting to look like wind and solar subsidies have been distorting the market to the detriment of the reliability of gas and other thermal, though that's less clear. The legislature has begun to wrestle with it.

I also think we'll probably have to reconsider creating a market for capacity/reliability. It's kind of like the problem of seeing that certain things can be made much cheaper in China, without considering that there are huge costs to depending entirely on China for chokepoint items. The current energy market in Texas relies on the promise of high profits in tight supply periods to give generators an incentive to jump in to the market. This doesn't, however, properly incentivize generators to do expensive maintenance of a sort that would prevent brief but disastrous power outages in rare events. We may need to pay a premium for power that's guaranteed available under various black-swan conditions. The problem, of course, is that we're almost entirely focused right now on preventing a freeze-out that may well not recur for 40 years. A year or two from now, we may be wishing instead that we'd spent all that money securing ourselves against sabotage, or EMP, or some other unlikely event we can barely imagine. It's the usual problem with spending to eliminate risk: every choice you make has opportunity costs, and you can't spend infinitely to protect against all of them.

Texan99 said...

to ramp up, "even if NOT to an ideal degree," I meant to say.

Texan99 said...

On the actual point of vilifying enemies, I've been startled in the last few weeks to read repeated remarks by people apparently innocently asking Republicans whether they're not inappropriately bitter about a perceived stolen election, and asking whether they think any Democrats were similarly bitter when Clinton lost. I mean, with a completely straight face, and they seem genuinely surprised to be reminded of the 4-year snot-bubble tantrum, fraudulently obtain surveillance warrants, two impeachments, quite recent interviews with Clinton still profoundly bitter over her stolen election, etc.

It doesn't appear that most people can remember anything bad their own tribe has ever done. Four years from now I'll be tempted to ask one of them, "Hey, don't you think President Trump's supporters were fairly restrained in their bitterness over a perceived stolen election? It's not like they tried to occupy the U.S. Capitol or anything. Why U mad, bro?"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"I may dull your pleasure a bit by..." No, not at all. That you eventually concluded "I was mostly right in my estimations, but have modified my views according to better data" is entirely respectable. None of us is completely Bayesian, but trying to get there is tremendous.

David Foster said...

re Texas..from what I've read, some regional grids, such as the one we have here in PJM territory, have a 'capacity market' in which the producer has to guarantee a certain level of on-demand power and if he can't meet it, there are penalties. Texas, otoh, is more of an 'energy produced' market, in which all you lose if you can't produce is the associated revenue. (I'm sure this is way oversimplified)

See this piece:

...if you're selling wind and/or solar generation, you're obviously a lot better off with a market where you are just selling pure kwh and don't need to guarantee capacity.

David Foster said...

On the larger question, what I observe is that almost everybody is acting like *lawyers*. By which I most definitely don't mean that they have been studying logical argument, persuasive skills, and the statue books, rather, that that are acting like someone who is representing his client's case and who is only interested in information that goes against that case from the standpoint of thinking about how he can counter it.

Grim said...

My mother always told me that there are good and bad people everywhere, and on all sides. I've decided that she was definitely right about the bad people. She was probably right about the good ones, too, though in some places they seem harder to find.