A City Upon a Hill

US Politicians since Ronald Reagan have referred to the greatness of the modern self-styled Rome, i.e. the United States of America, as a “shining city upon a hill.” As is typical of political speech, it’s a glowing turn of phrase misused to mean something quite different from its original intent.

The original phrase comes from a sermon by John Winthrop, written in 1630. Winthrop was a Puritan minister, and the word “shining” does not appear in his sermon. His meaning was that the Puritan colonies in the US would be highly visible, and carefully watched by other Christian sects in Europe and the Colonies. “[T]his sermon called Puritans to model radical communal solidarity.” And indeed, the Puritans were quite successful at this. “[T]he commitment to a higher cause and the dedication to God had made the Puritan community unusually successful, and the success of their venture—the wealth it generated—had eventually undermined the venture itself. When Puritans started making money, their purposes collapsed.”

In other words, they started out as an idealistic communal hippy sect, and once it started to turn a nice profit, they degenerated into a pack of greedy bastards. It’s the age-old story.

See https://www.neh.gov/article/how-america-became-city-upon-hill if you are curious about this.

Reagan’s public revival of this expression, repeated by every President since, calls to mind the great cities and high towers that appear in works of fiction and lore: Tintagel where Arthur was conceived, Camelot where Arthur ruled, Minas Tirith where the last kings of Middle Earth reigned.

People forget something basic.

When you build a shining tower, it casts a shadow.

I read a story a long time ago, that went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a kingdom in which everyone was happy, healthy, and successful. A nobleman from a distant land arrived one day, and was astonished by the health and industry of the people. The King received him, and accompanied him around the kingdom, showing him wonder after wonder. They returned to the castle, and as they walked together, the traveler saw one dark door in a shadowed hallway, strangely out-of-place in this bright kingdom. He inquired about it. The King ignored him and moved quickly to the next wonder. Late that night, the traveler stole quietly from his room to the dark doorway, consumed by curiosity, and found it unlocked. A stone stairway lead downward from the door. He descended the staircase, and at the bottom, he found an old man, and a locked cell containing a small, naked figure of a child curled on the floor, covered in dark bruises.

“What is this place?” he asked the old man.

“This is the Heart of the Kingdom,” he replied.

“I don’t understand,” the traveler said.

“There is an enchantment on the land,” the old man said. “This is the price. You see the child within the cage? Every month, a child of less than ten years is selected by lottery from a family in the realm, and is brought to this place, to be stripped, beaten, and left to die of hunger and thirst in that cage. So long as this continues, the realm will prosper.”

The traveler, horrified, did not even return to his room for his possessions before fleeing the castle and the kingdom.

As I read about the chaos taking the Republican Party in the House right now, I keep coming back in my mind to the question of what drives the far-right Republican base. It’s a fringe, nut-case political ideology, yet it has substantial popular support. Why?

I think the answer lies, in part, within the parable above. I will explain with another story, this one a personal account.

The other night, I ordered take-out from a local Italian restaurant. I arrived early, and pulled into a parking spot in the storefront lot facing the restaurant to wait until the order was ready. At the outdoor table right in front of me was an older man in a khaki jacket. He didn’t like me being there; apparently, I had intruded on “his” space, which apparently extended into the parking lot. He started shouting at me, calling me a “white nigger” (he was also white), and a “son-of-a-bitch,” and making repeated reference to his military service; then he’d round back to the beginning and start over, getting angrier and more physically agitated every time as I continued to ignore him.

I eventually pulled out and moved the car to a spot further down the row, and he didn’t pursue. I called the restaurant to let them know this guy was out there, harassing customers. When I went in to pick up my order, the owner apologized to me. She said it was like this most nights: there was a homeless shelter nearby, and the crazies would come out and sit in front of the restaurant and shout at people. The police would do nothing, and there was no one else to call. They had to start closing the restaurant at 6:00 pm because of it.

The United States sacrifices its people without concern, some through military service in wars of geopolitical adventurism, some through unquestioning support of business downsizing and outsourcing in the name of “economic efficiency and profits,” and nearly all of us through a banking system that allows real inflation to outpace wages while juggling the numbers to make the argument that this just isn’t so.

All of us are racing upwards toward that “shining city on a hill,” but most of us will drop from exhaustion long before we get there.

As a nation, we shrug. Leaving the unfit behind is the sacrificed child, the Heart of the Kingdom. It’s the way we roll. Pick yourself up and try harder, soldier. If you can’t make it to the top, it’s your own damn fault. It’s not our business to offer you handouts. Pull your own weight. Reimagine yourself.

I believe what drives the far-right Republican voters is an awareness that they have already been abandoned as “unfit” to live in the shining city. They’ve lost the game. Many are retired and being devoured by rising prices. Many are young and did not inherit wealth to let them start somewhere above the bottom of the hill. Many did their best, but had their industry collapse, or their job eliminated, or a health or financial issue that buried them alive.

Of course, they can’t accept that they were unfit. There’s obviously been a mistake somewhere in the paperwork. They’ve been cheated. It was an immigrant that took their job. It was a government handout to a lazy person. It was discrimination against veterans, or against white people, or against their Christian religion, or against their maleness.

They are right that it wasn’t their fault, any more than it was the fault of the child chosen by lottery to be beaten and starved in a dungeon cage. It fell on them because their number came up in the lottery. They had to be fired so that Elon Musk’s financials would look better this month. It wasn’t personal.

So why do these folks turn to the Republican Party?

I think it’s really pretty simple, which it would have to be.

Donald Trump gave them a job.

When you are starving in the middle of a large city, unable to find work, and someone offers you a little pay and some respect for roughing up dead-beat borrowers, maybe breaking an arm or two, maybe making someone “disappear” — you take it. It’s food. It’s rent money. It’s new shoes. It’s dignity.

Donald Trump gave them legitimacy, because he was listening to their discontent. He had his own agenda, a criminal agenda, but he was listening, and that’s something no one — no one — on the Democratic side was doing.

Nor are the Democrats listening now.

I’m thinking of that guy outside the Italian restaurant the other night. What good will it do him to have lots of federal money dumped into “the economy” for dams or roads or solar energy plants? How long would he last on a road crew before he took a shovel to some “white nigger” he was working next to? What about a black worker? Is it even possible that he could ever “pull his weight” again after whatever trauma put him into this state? How could a capitalist justify the return-on-investment?

The basic problem with the Democrats is that, since Reagan, the Democratic Party has been the whole-hearted supporter of the capitalist Heart of the Kingdom, the very system that manages the kingdom’s dungeon and its ghastly lottery. They seem to believe that if they just feed the capitalists enough government money, the money will start to “trickle down” to the people they hire. They have a lot in common with some of the Republicans — their differences are … nuanced. They aren’t listening to those who have already fallen.

The rest of the Republicans, the far-right Republicans, are following Trump’s lead, and they are listening to the discontented, but for their own purposes. Like Trump, criminal purposes. Mad purposes, in some cases.

No one will like what they create if they ever take power again.

So what is the solution to this conundrum?

Well, I have a modest suggestion. We had a not-entirely-dissimilar situation in the late 1900’s, and what resolved it was “trust-busting.” I believe the modern terminology would be “nationalizing” certain industries, starting with industries that exhibit the “economics of second best.” These are industries that cannot be optimized, because — put very simply — profits compete directly against the value of what is produced.

The medical insurance industry is a good starting place. No other civilized nation rations medical care according to ability-to-pay. Hell, no other uncivilized nation (or tribe) rations medical care that way. Medical bills, or fear of medical bills and medical bankruptcy, touches every person, young and old. Medical insurance actuaries perform a valuable statistical function for planning costs, but all of the actuaries should be employees of the Federal Government, and all of the current profit-taking from the medical insurance industry should shut down entirely. They should all be “downsized.” Absorbed and regulated by law. And the top administrators? Suck it up, and “reimagine yourself.”

I’m pretty sure most physicians would be good with this. The current system isn’t working for them, either, because the insurance industry is draining a huge amount of money out of the profession, both by profit-taking, but also by rationing care, putting pressure on clinics to get rid of services and doctors, and overloading the rest.

I’m picking the medical industry as a low-hanging fruit, as it is probably one of the most unethical and dysfunctional applications of capitalism that it is possible to imagine. If someone has a better example, I’d love to hear it.

But the goal is to go back to John Winthrop’s original idea: that we are a “city on a hill” that others are watching, and we must stand for something better than swagger and bad manners and naked greed.

Solar Part II

We’re finally through the permit maze.

July 11, 2022: Initial paperwork done, financing acquired, we’re moving forward.

July 31, 2022: Official notice that the process is beginning.

Aug 19, 2022: Site survey done, official plans drawn up, permitting begins.

Oct 17, 2022: Permit process completed.

Nov 16, 2022: All materials procured, work scheduled to begin.

Nov 16, 2022: Installation starts.

Tomorrow, the power goes off as they replace the breaker-panel, which is in good shape, but looks like it was installed in the 1950’s. It’s common for the area, and I’ve been informed before that it would be one of the first things replaced if we ever had a major electrical problem. Or, in this case, an electrical upgrade.

I was assured that we would have power back on by the end of the day.

Tomorrow may be a little chilly. I’m taking the day off, since I can’t do the remote-office gig. Sweater weather. Maybe brunch out.


Though we’ll need to pay attention to the dogs. They’ll need reassurance.

A Tale of Two Nations

It was the worst of times. And it was the worst of times.

There are two visions of America — that is, the United States of America — that both agree the nation is failing. But they agree on almost nothing else, and that is real reason that the nation in such deep discord and danger as a republic.

Most people who are likely to be reading anything I write are well aware of the national problem that one vision sees, but I’ll outline some of the main features. The problem this vision sees in America is that it exists in a world that is facing a rapidly accelerating climate crisis, combined with rapidly depleting energy resources, species extinction, chronic drought, rapid viral evolution, and a significantly dysfunctional government/private-sector “engine” that cannot seem to even discuss these matters. Instead, the government and private-sector are united only in minting new billionaires. Our democracy is being torn apart by dishonest politicians, corrupt businesses, demagogues, and is on the brink of collapsing into complete chaos.

It was the worst of times.

There is another vision of America — that is, the United States of America — that many of you are only partially-aware of. This is the White Christofascist vision.

The “white” portion refers to racism based upon a core belief that people with pale skin and European ancestry are, on the whole, mentally and spiritually superior to people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. They believe that you can dress up a black man and put him in the White House, but he can at best only go through the motions of being a President, because he does not have any greatness in him. It isn’t in his genes, or as they used to say, in his blood.

By contrast, any white man can lead, or govern, because it is in his genes, his blood, his inherent superiority. In this vision, when the Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal…” there is a silent whisper afterward, “… according to their kind.” But the kinds of men are most assuredly not equal, and the kinds are divided by skin color. All white men are created equal. All black men are created equal. But white men and black men are not equal to each other.

The Christo- portion of this represents the belief that Christianity is the One True Religion. The -fascist portion of it means that a uniform code of “Christian values” must govern all American behavior, and form the “standard” against which all custom and law must be measured. These Christian values can be enforced by legal penalties, including fines, intimidation and beatings, incarceration, exile, or execution, as necessary. It’s called “discipline.” Even white people need a firm hand at the tiller, and the rest require governance.

The problem that this second vision sees in America is this: an “invasion” of dark-skinned non-Christians into the nation, a decline in Christian church affiliation and attendance, a culture that violates “Christian values” with impunity and even with government protection — violations such as same-sex fornication and marriage, acceptance of sexual abominations like medically-facilitated sex changes, acceptance of abortion, acceptance of birth control and sexual license, teaching of non-Christian concepts in public schools to children, a “woke” abomination that denies the inherent superiority, under God, of white people, and “confiscatory taxation” of the successful, which is thrown away on poor people, non-whites, and non-Christians, resulting in government-run “socialism.” Our nation is being torn apart by all this un-Christian behavior, and is on the brink of falling into chaos.

It was the worst of times.

I apologize in advance if I was less than flattering in my description of the White Christofascist world-view. I find it completely appalling, and at least made an effort at objectivity.

But I’m not going to go into a critique of either world view here.

What I wanted to point out is that, while a lot of politicians and religious leaders are two-faced, lying cowards seeking to steal from the public, a lot of them are deeply sincere.

You need to pay attention to what they are sincere about.

The End of Technology

A snappy title for what may be an old-man rant. Judge for yourselves.

A week ago or so, we bought a new television. We bought the old one when we moved into a new house in Fort Collins, back in 2012. That 10-year-old television works just fine, except that the streaming services have been fucking about with their systems, and suddenly, there are bunch of formerly-free services that are pay-per-view (in one form or another) and their software is completely incompatible with “old technology.”

They call it “anti-piracy,” but I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

So I plug in the brand-new television, and it kinda works, but Netflix won’t allow me to play anything except Constantine (with Keanu Reeves) which is, frankly, not a very good movie. I go through two lengthy troubleshooting sessions on the phone, complete with remote service connection from a tech. Turns out, Netflix tweaked their “anti-piracy” software, and it is suddenly incompatible with God alone knows how many televisions, including (unfortunately) the one that still stinks of the packing materials in our house.

Quicklist: Types of Television

  1. Quantum Light-Emitting Diode
  2. Organic Light-Emitting Diode
  3. Light-Emitting Diode
  4. Liquid-Crystal Display
  5. Digital Light Processing
  6. Plasma Panels
  7. Direct View

Consumer Reports currently recommends 82 different models of television, and put 59 more into the “Yeah, not so much” category. That’s 141 “choices” to cycle through, featuring some random distribution of the seven different types of television listed above. Which of these are compatible with Netflix? And also with Amazon? Which is available at a good price at Costco? Do I want motion-smoothing? Is color saturation important? What about the Hip-Hop-Foo-Maroo option?

God Himself gave up on all this some time back and started designing a new universe that doesn’t support television.

I talked it over with my wife, and we’re taking the new television back, and reconnecting the old one. And if, in the end, I can only use it to play Skyrim with my old XBox-360, then so be it. It’s my Big Screen Skyrim machine. Or maybe we’ll just dump it and repurpose an entire room.

Imagine that.

I also tried to make an adjustment to my retirement plan this weekend. I’m not talking about tweaking investment accounts. I’m talking about the personal model I’ve put together for how the fuck we will keep the rain off our heads and food in the refrigerator for another 20-30 years, until we finally stop making choices and die.

I will be blunt: the mathematical model I put together for a heavy-ion accelerator back in graduate school was simpler.

Back in 1970, when I was in High School, I read a book called Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. It made a huge impression on me at the time, and one of his concepts was the problem of “overchoice.” Overchoice is a fragmentation of standard (or even substandard) life-choices into a lot of frivolous distinctions based on “market differentiation,” which can cause people to obsess over which is “better.”

When I was a lad, there was Ford and Chevy. Same damn cars, but people argued about “quality.” My father was a Ford man, and never bought a Chevy in his life, to my knowledge. A point of pride.

By the 1970’s this had become a major social pathology. Toffler called it “overchoice.” Other terms are “analysis paralysis,” or “information overload,” or “the tyranny of small decisions.” It’s closely related to “buyer’s remorse,” where you finally make a decision, and then start second-guessing whether it was the right decision. Ford or Chevy? Post Toasties or Corn Flakes? OH MY GOD I MADE THE WRONG DECISION I AM GOING TO DIE!

It burns up all the energy we could be putting into economic justice. Or climate change. Or global hunger. Or a normal family life.

Nah. What am I thinking? What’s IMPORTANT is the latest and greatest in Quantum Light Emitting Diodes. Whatever the fuck those are.

Apart from the issue of making us all into drones who spend our lives sorting grains of sand by size, all this overchoice starts to erode functionality. I went to a store today to get a piece of metal to fix a fence latch. At check-out, I encountered an electronic teller that requires that I first put my card in the slot, then select 1 or 2 for credit/debit, then press Enter. It’s one of the last of these dinosaurs in town. So, like everyone else, I stand there wondering why nothing is happening until the teller un-zones and says, “Press Enter” — it’s hard to keep the annoyance out of her voice, she does this all day long — and then I remember I’m in THIS store, and life moves forward. I go to two other stores, and encounter electronic tellers which have a completely different process.

Somewhere, a dozen executives chose one system or the other, and wasted God knows how many hours making the decision. Now they have teller machines everywhere, and can’t afford to re-tool. If they did, it would all change in a year or two, and they’d have to do it again. It gets folded into the cost of their business, and their prices go up.

In the process, the technology starts to diverge at a core level, and machines stop talking to each other. Suddenly, a brand-new television variant doesn’t work with Netflix. A major bank drops support for an old teller machine variant, and a thousand businesses need to upgrade. The upgrade isn’t compatible with old accounting software they’ve been using for years, so they need to spend more money. Some of them go out of business. The entire economy shudders, just a bit.

In space, they call this a Kessler Event, where all of the space trash we’ve dumped in low-earth orbit starts colliding, knocking more stuff out of orbit, until you have the mother of all highway wrecks a few miles above our heads and it comes raining down on us after knocking out all of the satellites we rely on to communicate that there is a shitload of burning metal coming down on our cities.

In my old-man opinion, we’re also headed toward a software Kessler Event.

Solar: So Far, So Good

Since July 11, we’ve now been through securing the financing, inspection of the house and roof, setting up the full (detailed) plan, and submitting the permits to the various permit authorities.

Now, we wait. They say that the shortest permit approval will be one week, more typically four weeks, and commonly six weeks or more. That puts us at the end of September.

Probably good timing. It’s really hot outside right now, and I’d hate to have people up there on our roof.

Should go quickly after that.

Skinwalker Ranch

Tonight, we’re off into the wild blue….

I have a taste for the paranormal. I’ve watched and read enough “paranormal” stories to have a pretty good feel for the trope itself. I started reading about fringe science back before I’d really noticed girls, and that interest has stayed with me right up to the present.

Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older, and wiser, and more worldly, the trope has worn very thin. Most of the modern “exposés” jump straight to the “it must be extraterrestrials” or “ghosts” or “ancient gods” before the first commercial break, and the stories follow (and follow, and follow) an implausibly disconnected trail of grainy photographs copied from newspapers, pasted on a wall with push-pins and strings and sticky-notes and wide-eyed interviews and … well, let’s not belabor it. These are mostly just really (really) bad television.

I came across something the other night on Netflix, and it caught my eye because it was about the Skinwalker Ranch in Northern Utah. I read a really strange book over a decade ago titled Hunt for the Skinwalker by Kellerher and Knapp, (c) 2005, and this film appeared to be about the same place. So I decided to watch the first episode.

I am now completely hooked.

I’ve done just a little bit of due diligence on this. The format is the “reality television show,” with actors who are allegedly real people doing their thing in front of a camera while assiduously ignoring the existence of the camera filming them: what they call “the fourth wall” in cinematography. These actors are all presented as being real people, and apparently, they are real people. The fellow who takes the spotlight in most episodes is actually an astrophysicist with the University of Alabama, Huntsville, by the name of Dr. Travis S. Taylor. The other scientists are also real scientists with a variety of degrees, and the experts they bring in are real experts. Best of all, they behave like real scientists.

What they are investigating at Skinwalker Ranch is, from a scientific perspective, extremely bizarre, and they seem to appreciate just how bizarre it is, and in just the right way. You can see them regularly getting quietly pissed off at the sheer weirdness of it.

Here’s an example that made my hair stand up in the first (or second) episode: intermittent gamma rays.

A brief diversion here into the science.

Gamma radiation is electromagnetic radiation, just like radio waves, but at a much, much (much) higher frequency. The general rule of electromagnetic radiation is the half-wavelength rule: if you want to detect, or generate, E-M radiation, you need an antenna, or an emitter, about the size of the half-wavelength of the radiation. The old television broadcast wavelengths were between 1 and 10 meters, depending on the channel you were trying to pick up, which resulted in the old-fashioned television aerial you found on every suburban house in the 1950’s, with a range of aluminum rods from a couple of feet, to ten feet or so, to help pick up the different channels (wavelengths). Microwaves use much smaller antennas.

Gamma rays have a wavelength about the size of an atom. So the antennas have to be atom-sized.

There are really only two known sources of gamma rays in nature.

One comes from spontaneous decay of radioactive materials, where the atom basically self-destructs and produces “atomic radiation” (gamma rays). The other comes from one form or another of “atom smashing,” i.e. bombarding materials with a beam of particles or electrons. Sometimes the bombardment actually smashes the atom, and you get gamma rays from the wreckage. In other cases, it captures the incoming particle/electron, then spits it back out whole, and the disturbance produces gamma rays.

There is a lot of atom-smashing going on all the time in outer space, but nearly all of it gets blocked from the Earth’s surface by the ozone layer of the atmosphere. There isn’t much gamma production under the ozone layer, unless you are in a physics lab or deep in a uranium mine. Or somewhere near Fukishima, Japan. There’s a theoretical source of gamma radiation from something called “dark lightning,” which is an electron cascade high in the atmosphere that produces gamma rays. I think they’re still trying to detect that.

That’s pretty much the whole story of gamma rays.

Now, Skinwalker Ranch is on the path of wind-borne radioactive dust and debris from the Nevada nuclear testing in the 1950’s, so in principle, there could be all kinds of radioactive isotopes spread all over the ranch, just under a thin layer of soil, and God alone would know the half-life of some of those isotopes. But the thing about that sort of contamination is that it tends to stay put. You walk into a contaminated area, and you start detecting gamma rays. You walk away, and they fade out (except for maybe your shoes). They don’t arbitrarily change while you are standing there.

In that first episode, they started detecting all kinds of extreme electromagnetic noise, including gamma ray bursts that would appear for a moment, then disappear.

Two things about their reaction to this seemed very authentic.

The first was an expression of WTF disbelief, bordering on being offended. This was particularly true of Travis, who had joined this team with a whole lot of skepticism. Gamma ray bursts offended me, and I could see it on his face, too.

The second was a quick rush for the door.

This runs directly contrary to the traditional paranormal trope. You know, “Don’t go in the basement alone,” or “Don’t recite Latin from an old book while standing in the middle of a pentacle drawn in blood on the floor.” Which — of course — they always go ahead and do anyway. And then all Hell breaks loose. You know the drill.

These guys all booked it out of there.

For context, when I was a graduate student, I worked for a summer in the heavy-ion lab, and they drilled us extensively on safety. Heavy ion experiments are classic atom-smashing. They produce all kinds of noxious radioactive substances, ionizing radiation, and sometimes involve heavy ions from inherently unstable materials, like uranium and plutonium. There are Geiger counters everywhere, required safety courses, and cautionary horror stories.

You just don’t fuck with gamma rays.

After this in the show, they all started wearing personal dosimeters to measure cumulative radiation exposure. This is exactly what real scientists would do. My only critique is that they waited a lot longer than I would have to hire a company to do an environmental sweep. But they did bring in people to do the sweep, and it turned up nothing.

I’m now into season 3.

I cannot say if this is real or not. But, as my son observed, I am really enjoying my suspension of disbelief.

The series is on the History Channel (of all places):


We’ve Decided to Go Solar

The time has come.

Two-and-a-half years ago, in November of 2019, we had our first Public Safety Power Shutdown, or PSPS, which lasted for five days. It was interesting to live in a house, in a community, without any electrical power for nearly a week, other than what people cobbled up with generators.

It was long enough to force people to realize how utterly dependent we are on electricity.

There was a huge run on generators right after that, and then people discovered an inconvenient truth. You can’t use your house wiring with a generator. At the very least, you need to completely disconnect from the grid, and for a very good reason: if you don’t, you’re powering the grid with your generator, which has been shut down for a reason. People you don’t even know — like line workers — can get killed by that sort of nonsense.

If you are going to use a personal generator without stringing power cords all over your house, you need to do a full automatic failover system, and those are pricey, noisy, smelly, require maintenance, and run on gasoline, which is going to do nothing but rise in price.

We started seriously looking into the solar option for our home about a month ago, and now that we’ve decided to move forward, I thought I’d start a thread here about the experience, as it develops.

We started with someone we already knew, the wife of a fellow-composer here in the Ukiah area, Carol Cole-Lewis, who sells solar installations as a living with Powur.

One of our first and most urgent questions was based on our neighbor across the street, who’d had solar panels installed, and then found he couldn’t use them because PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric, the regional utility) would not allow him to re-connect his house to the grid after installation unless he disconnected the panels. His system was apparently “not compatible” with the grid. Meaning, he cannot use the panels. They just sit there as a very expensive roof ornament.

Carol’s answer to those questions was that Powur manages the full process, from energy analysis, through ALL permitting, installation and bring-up, and offers a 30-year warranty on the result. They are obligated to provide a legal and working system. I scanned reviews, and they get high marks.

So here’s what we’ve learned, in a nutshell.

  1. We can’t go off-grid. It’s mostly a legal issue involving taxes, zoning, and real-estate, but it’s also a bad idea, because if we get a couple of days of heavy overcast, the battery can’t keep up and we get to hold our own little private PSPS. Break out the candles and the blankets.
  2. Being on-grid means we can buy metered power any time we need to, just like we are doing now. We pay for whatever we use at normal retail rates. With solar, we merely expect to use a lot less.
  3. Any power we consistently over-produce, e.g. during the summer, we get credit for at the full retail rate. This credit can be used to pay for the times we are under-producing, e.g. during the winter.
  4. We can also sell power back to PG&E, but they buy it at wholesale rates, so that’s not significant.
  5. A battery is not absolutely necessary, but it evens out the day/night cycle and allows us to buy a lot less power from PG&E. If we are careful with power usage, we could even continue to have power all the way through an extended PSPS.

So after explaining these broad points, Carol set up an energy plan for us. She asked a lot of questions about the house, asked for pictures of our electrical box, looked up aerial photographs of the house, and so forth. She had a complete plan back to us within two days, and then sat down with us to explain it.

This plan allows us to run at an annual capacity of 125% of our current usage, meaning that by the end of the year, we’ll have produced 25% more electricity than we expect to use. It gives us some room to increase our energy usage, and after the first summer, we’ll have enough credits to carry us through the winter, meaning that we’ll essentially never pay PG&E for electricity again.

We do have to pay for the system, however. That’s one reason we put this off as long as we did. The system we’re putting in is a $46k system. That’s a major chunk of change. Right now there’s a federal tax rebate that brings it down to $34k, but that’s still a major chunk of change.

This part actually turns out to be pretty painless, however.

There are low-interest, nothing-down, no-prepayment-penalty loans for this sort of thing, and it’s been scaled to a fixed monthly payment that is quite a bit less than our current averaged monthly power bill. So, if all goes well, we will stop paying PG&E (except for a $36/mo connection fee), and will instead pay off a solar loan, and will actually save a little money each year in the process.

The big advantage, however, is to get some independence from PG&E. It’s called a “public utility,” but it is in practice a private investment vehicle, and it has been shorting service, upkeep, and public safety in the name of “dividends” for decades, which is why they have had to resort to PSPS events. There are some things on the horizon that point toward much higher utility rates in the future, with more and longer outages. That’s all prognostication, of course, and it may never come to pass. But there is absolutely no reason to suppose that California electricity will get cheaper during my lifetime.

With solar, we effectively lock in a fixed energy bill that’s lower than our current bill, and since it’s part of the house, it adds to the home value when we (or our heirs) eventually sell it.

This is the story we are starting from. We just gave the GO tonight. Further news as events warrant.

School Prayer

I’d like to start by talking about the Pledge of Allegiance.

The first Pledge of Allegiance in the US was written and publicized in 1885 by Captain George Thatcher Balch, with the intention of teaching patriotism to children in public schools, particularly children of the European immigrants who began to flood the US beginning in 1850. It reads:

We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!


The Pledge of Allegiance was rewritten in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, as a general pledge to a national flag that could be used by any citizen of any republic.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


It was modified in 1923 to make it specific to the United States of America, and again in 1954 (during the post-WWII Cold War against the officially atheistic USSR) to include the words “under God.”

Reciting the Pledge was compulsory in public schools until 1940. The Jehovah’s Witness church, one of the American Fundamentalist sects of Christianity, claimed the Pledge was a form of idolatry in conflict with their religion, challenged the pledge in court, and won. Recitation was officially non-compulsory in public schools from 1940 onward, but in schools where reciting the pledge continued and continues to be practiced, it demonstrably causes discrimination against students who exercise their right to decline, and continues to come up in court cases, one of the most recent being in 2015.

My mother was a fundamentalist (not Jehovah’s Witness, incidentally — I’ve read that there are around 2000 distinct Fundamentalist sects in the US at any given time, and she was raised in one of the many). As a child, she taught me that the Pledge of Allegiance was idolatry, and was quite upset about it.

Every morning in school from the ages of five to eleven, I stood by my desk, faced the flag, put my hand over my heart, and recited a vow of allegiance to a piece of fabric using words like “Republic” and “indivisible,” words utterly meaningless to a six-year old. I had no real idea what it meant.

What I did know was that my mother did not approve, and that — presumably — God did not approve either. So this compulsory act every morning felt like a violation. It did not inspire loyalty to that piece of cloth, nor to the Republic for which it stood. Instead, it inspired distress, anger, and a certain contempt.

I remember the day that I saluted the flag with my hand over my heart with all the fingers curled, except for the middle one. I think it was fifth or sixth grade. I was careful, and was not caught by the teacher, though a couple of other students noticed, and that gained me a day’s notoriety. It was more pre-adolescent rebellion than anything else, and despite the notoriety, it made me feel worse than just going along. So I didn’t do it again. But the ritual was completely meaningless to me after that.

When I entered junior high school, we no longer had a home room, instead moving from classroom to classroom, and any time we might have spent flag-pledging was instead spent winding through the narrow, overcrowded hallways between classes. I don’t recall ever being required to recite the pledge in school after that, certainly not daily.

With that personal experience in mind, I’d like to talk about group prayer in school, particularly in sports.

It suffers from exactly the same defects as the pledge of allegiance.

It’s always easier to just go along, but if you don’t respect the prayer, or the religion, it feels like a violation. That sense of violation breeds distress, anger, and contempt. A constant diet of that in a school setting can be very, very dangerous, for the student (naturally), but also for the other students and teachers.

Students have the “right” to not participate in the group prayer, of course, but the reaction to that refusal in a team setting has very good odds of making you a pariah, meaning you might as well drop the sport and take up chess.

But why pray before a game at all?

Are you actually praying that God will support your team, or smite the other team, so that you can “win?” Seriously?

Are you trying to bind the outcome to God, so that if you lose, you can blame it on divine disfavor instead of poor playing? Or worse, so that if you win, you can claim that you are the favored children of God? Seriously?

Are you asking for God to make sure you don’t get injured on the field? If that’s a concern, why are you playing the sport in the first place? In a war, where the other “team” is literally trying to kill you, and you don’t really have the option of not participating, then yes. But intramural basketball? Seriously?

It’s none of these, of course, but I wanted to get them out of the way.

The coach, in these settings, is attempting to offer a blessing to his team. To do that, he needs to channel divine power — that’s simply the anthropological requirement for human beings: you cannot bless unless you have been blessed. It’s the same thing as a Medieval soldier being shriven by a priest before going into battle. It’s the same as the shaman of a tribe blessing the hunters before a hunt. It is offering a larger-than-life permission to go out and do what needs to be done, without fear, without doubt, without hesitation. It unlocks something primal in the human psyche. A particular edge.

But it loses all its power if you don’t say the words right.

Delivering a blessing is like fitting a key into a lock, and if the key is not the right key for the lock, or if you handle it badly, it not only won’t work, it will sow discord and confusion.

Here’s simple illustration. Take your typical all-white, all-Evangelical-Christian basketball team from a high-school in Indiana, and bring in a Pagan Druid to bless the team just before the Big Game against their toughest competitor. Does ANYONE think this would be a good coaching tactic? I certainly don’t.

Now consider the same team where the star player is Jewish. Or Muslim. Is an Evangelical Christian prayer going to unlock their edge? Unlikely. It’s going to trigger that distress, anger, and contempt, no matter how hard they try to let it slide over them. “This doesn’t include me,” they will think. “I’m not part of the team right now.” Maybe they’ll shake it off, and play well. Maybe they’re so talented that it just doesn’t matter. But you are handicapping them with this prayer. That’s really bad coaching.

You may have just as much trouble if some of your players are devout Catholics.

A great coach will understand all this, viscerally, and he or she will find better ways to bless their team. Just a heartfelt, “I am so proud of you all,” will do far more good for a mixed-faith team than any prayer to a God that some members of the team feel is someone else’s God.

Prayer should simply not be part of public school. In any capacity. Period.

In most cases, public prayer in schools serves no purpose but the narcissism of the self-justified “person of faith” leading the prayer. And regarding these, I shall simply quote Jesus:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:5 New International Version

The Chattel Slavery of Women

I am furious with the current Supreme Court. It’s been only two days since the Roe v. Wade overturn, and I’m barely coherent. But I am starting to cool, just a bit. Almost down to the melting point of copper.

I’m starting to think that the Court was correct to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This issue has never been about “right to life.” That has always been an empty slogan, a misdirection, a propaganda phrase to manipulate the masses and confuse them.

The real issue is the chattel slavery of women, to serve as breeders.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The original colonies of the United States were founded on chattel slavery. Chattel means “property.” It is property in the same sense that you might consider a cow, or a pair of pants, or a leather wallet your property. Chattel slavery means that the slave is owned by someone. Like a cow, the slave can be bought and sold. If the slave is more trouble than he is worth, he can be “put down” by the master, like a sick cow. The slave could — in principle — even be carved up and eaten, just like a cow.

The slave is property.

Likewise, going back thousands of years, girls were born property of their fathers, and chattel ownership of the girl was transferred to a husband — as in “husbandry,” the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops or livestock — typically in return for a bride-price. A woman without a husband was that most miserable of beings, a slave without a master, a sheep without a shepherd, an old maid or a widow.

Two of the consistent reasons for a man to “put away” his wife throughout history have been infidelity, and a “barren womb.” Infidelity confuses the ownership: which man owns the offspring? Failure to produce offspring means the woman is defective merchandise, and if she cannot be returned for a refund, she should be discarded and replaced.

That is why all of the “medical” arguments for abortion fall on deaf ears among the anti-abortion folks, because these arguments miss the real point. Women in the US are chattel breeders, and if a woman dies in childbirth, the ancient rule is to save the child, not the mother: if the child lives, the woman has fulfilled her sole purpose as a breeder, even if she dies. If the child dies, or is born with defects, it is the woman’s fault as a defective breeder, and she should be discarded and replaced. If she refuses to breed with her husband, by abstinence, contraception, or abortion, she is being willful and disobedient, and can be forced to breed. This is not considered rape. It is only rape if she is impregnated by a man other than her owner.

Among the anti-abortionists, there is absolutely no valid reason for a woman to terminate a pregnancy. The “sanctity of life” argument is a red herring to deflect from the real issue, which is the sanctity of property rights.

Women did not get the right to vote until 1920 in the US. The woman was property. She had one function, which had nothing to do with politics. Would you allow your cow to vote? Your pet dog?

Women were not allowed to speak in the church my mother grew up in, through her adulthood in the 1940’s, and well into my childhood memories in the 60’s. What would be the point? Would you allow your cow or dog to speak in church?

The reason oral contraception was so outrageous when it came out in 1960 was that it gave the power to breed to the woman, taking it away from her husband. Unthinkable!

So the real abortion question is this. Are women chattel? Or are they citizens?

When the US fought the Civil War, it was over the choice of whether to expand or abolish the chattel slavery of workers. It resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment, and then the Fourteenth, which freed the slaves and made them citizens. It is still a matter of great dissent in this benighted nation.

After Roe v. Wade was decided by the Court in 1973, there was an expectation that Congress would follow up with some kind of “Women’s Rights” legislation. That never materialized, and that is where the real problem lies.

As much contempt as I hold for this current Supreme Court — and it is substantial contempt — I don’t think the solution is to expand the court or impeach the justices.

The solution is to fix Congress. By whatever means is necessary.

And then we need to settle this matter of the chattel slavery of women as breeders, by law, and preferably a constitutional amendment.

Will it take another civil war to accomplish this?


Roe v. Wade

I’m having a very hard time with the United States right now.

Do I love my country? No. Not today.

Do I love my countrymen? No. Not today.

Absolutely the only caution I have in this sentiment is that I think this is exactly the place that the bastards want us all to be in. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

But the alternatives are becoming less supportable with every month that passes.

Today, the US Supreme Court — Supreme is such a sick joke in this context — overturned Roe v. Wade. We all knew it was going to happen. But something fundamental changes when the first shot in an impending war is actually fired. Now that they’ve fired it, I curse them.

I curse them with the one thing their overarching, swollen egos will feel, which is historical condemnation.

I curse you, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett. That your names will be remembered until the English language is lost. That you will be remembered as the bought-and-paid-for corruption at the bitter ending of the American Experiment in democracy. That you will be remembered as collaborators with and bellwethers of the tyranny and anguish that is coming.

I curse you.

I do not wish you death. I wish you a long, long, long life. A life of second thoughts, of doubts, of self-recrimination, and eventually, of public shame. A life of empty bluster and increasingly weak self-justification, ending in misery.

In the end, when you breathe your last and find yourself in the next world, you will search long for your Lord, who will not greet you at the gates as you expected. When you find Him at last, He will be seated on a rock near the Lake of Fire. He will look at you impassively.

Then the children will come. The pre-born, who died in agony, fighting for breath without lungs. The children addicted to toxic drugs at birth. The children born with only fluid where a brain should be, born without arms, or legs, who lived in pain for their entire short existence. The unwanted children born to unfit parents who knew they were unfit, unwanted children beaten, murdered, and destroyed, in body, mind, and soul.

Those who cannot walk will be carried by the mothers who died giving birth, bleeding out, screaming in agony.

Victims of your unspeakable arrogance.

They will roll a huge millstone with them as they approach, inscribed with the names of every mother and child who died untimely because of your “judgement,” a noose fixed through the hole in the center. And you will finally understand the words of Your Lord, that it is better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea, than to have harmed one of these little ones.

They will tighten the noose about your neck, and start it rolling into the Lake of Fire. And your Lord will look at you, at last, with some emotion: with the smoldering ire that drove him to whip the money-changers in the Temple. He will watch without blinking as you are dragged into the flames.

You are cursed.