Tag: Alternative Facts

Your Own Facts: TX Power Edition

I’m not sure how political discourse has any point if everyone maintains their own facts to support their preconceived conclusion. How can you fix a problem when you cannot even agree what the problem is? The power outage in Texas is a prime example. Someone got on Hannity and spouted off about how it’s all the windmill’s fault. Because, evidently, windmills are awful? Froze up and just stopped producing power.

But wind turbines absolutely work in freezing temperatures. See, for instance, Alaska — https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/ak — where it does occasionally get cold. The difference is that they spend more on the installation and winterize the windmills. It’s not *wind turbines* that have a problem, it’s *unwinterized* wind turbines that end up in freezing weather. Same is true of cars (you may need what amounts to an electric blanket for the engine to get a diesel vehicle running in cold weather, and the fuel can still jell at very low temperatures). And people — going outside in a coat, scarf, hat, boots, and women’s gloves seemed like being appropriately dressed for the weather, but I was invariably super cold and hated going outside in winter. Found out that normal women’s gloves don’t have insulation in the fingers (because it is, evidently, more important that my fingers look svelte than that my fingers aren’t nearing frostbite stage) and bought ski gloves. Traded the hat and scarf for a balaclava. Traded the coat for insulated overalls with a coat. Traded cute winter boots for waterproof Mucks. Winter is an awesome time to head outside now. It’s bulky attire, but I’m warm. Sometimes, when we’re shoveling snow in just-below-freezing temps, I’m too warm.

Other production sources shut down because they were inadequately winterized too — natural gas pipelines were blocked with ice, frozen coal piles made it difficult to keep coal plants online, solar installations were covered in snow, frozen pumps limited water to nuclear cooling towers … basically every form of electrical generation experienced limited production in the cold weather.

The benefit of spending more money on a precaution you use once a decade is certainly a valid debate — but the consequence of that decision need to be anticipated, to be accepted … and the problem needs to be communicated accurately. If it would have cost a billion dollars over the past decade (essentially the span since the “last time this happened”) to maintain winterized generation and delivery facilities … we opted to save a billion dollars with the current situation as the trade-off. Voters don’t like that? They can vote for someone who will demand winterization. Voters prefer saving the money, vote for the current people. Sucks for the 49% who vote the other way … but that’s democracy.

But that doesn’t work when individuals have “facts” to support what they want to believe. The reader poll in my county paper today asked who deserves the most blame for the power failure in Texas. 23% say windmills and green energy. Wind facility shutdowns accounted for less than 13% of the outages. I haven’t seen numbers for reduction in solar generation … but wind production is the one being scapegoated.

It took a few days for reporting to include the fact Texas has its own power grid with smaller interconnects to other grids that aren’t sized to pull enough power to cover this outage. Even now, does much reporting include the fact Texas maintains its own grid to avoid federal regulations that would have required some winterization? That’s not lack of regulation, that’s intentionally designing a system to avoid existing regulations. Poor leadership is too vague to be meaningful — poor leadership at ERCOT failing to take some action in the past week or two that would have magically prevented problems? Poor leadership in intentionally maintaining a loosely connected grid that avoided federal regulations to reduce cost? Those are whole different types of “poor leadership” which may or may not be viable paths to prevent this from happening again in 2031.


A Lie Is A Lie

A friend of mine started a thread on Facebook about why the media doesn’t call out Trump’s lies, using the example of his claim that the Lincoln Memorial is never/rarely used for inauguration events. And how his representatives can call these lies “alternative facts” with any seriousness. Trump lies so often and about so many ridiculous things (DC is sold out of dresses, really??). The thing is, media outlets do call him out(https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/donald-trump-says…/… or http://time.com/4640346/donald-trump-lincoln-memorial/ for the Lincoln Memorial example).

Why don’t these become big stories? Why is the constant flood of lies not a big story?

Trump supporters that I know tell me it’s hyperbole (what *is* the difference between hyperbole and lying?) and negotiating positions (I remember being a sixteen year old kid asking for a tattoo as a negotiating position when I wanted Manic Panic hair coloring … not sure what it says that our new President’s negotiating tactics and teenage kids differ only in scale) and I shouldn’t take everything he says so seriously.

I’m still not sure how to take that argument. I use rhetorical hyperbole too. I haven’t literally told Anya a million times to clean up her toys – that would be 650 times a day each day of her life. I try to be careful to say “It *SEEMS* like I’ve told you a million times to get the books on the bookshelf”. But it doesn’t seem harmful when I say “dude, I’ve told you a million times. Seriously, pick up the books!”.

I am willing to believe that people don’t mind being lied to by Trump … what I cannot figure out, then, is why they considered Clinton to be offensively dishonest. It’s a different type of lying — using technicalities. When I would do it, my mother called it lying by omission — you make a statement that is technically true because of some technically valid meaning of a word  and/or some incorrect assumption the other party makes about your statement. Consider Bill Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” statement — there is a difference between present and past tenses. If you ask me if I’m driving a Jetta, I can accurately say no because *right this second* I am sitting on the sofa typing … you assume I sold my Jetta, which from the perspective of a legal proceeding really is the interrogating attorney’s fault, but when you’re fifteen … you don’t get far telling your mom it’s her fault for not being specific enough or making erroneous assumptions 🙂

And maybe this is why I get so offended by Trump’s lies but don’t mind Clinton’s — I enjoy studying law and the challenge language adds to legal proceedings. To me, someone answering a present tense question ignoring past facts is clever (and highlights a flaw in the line of questioning). Essentially I don’t feel like I was lied to, I feel like someone outmaneuvered me. On the other hand, someone making an outright stupid provably untrue statement insults me.

I could see someone making an inverse conclusion, though. That uppity lawyer thinks he’s smarter than me, the LIAR! But is any amount of hyperbolic lying acceptable just because it’s a rhetorical technique most use occasionally. Do people condone it because they do it? Or the liar is seen as a ‘real’ person because he engages in the same rhetorical techniques they use?