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Power Lines

Prologue
Nebraska Panhandle
June, 2038

Jimmy Smith stepped out of the lineman’s shelter into the early afternoon sun of the Nebraska Panhandle. Cumulus clouds, flat on the bottom and fluffy white on top, were starting to move in from the west promising at least a chance for some relief from the sun in the afternoon. Off to the south one of the clouds was trying, and failing dismally, to work itself up into a small thunderstorm. The short-grass prairie covering the surrounding hills was a dozen shades of brown without a hint of green. The records from the small weather station on the roof of the shelter made by a Tampa Roofing Company said it had been more than three weeks since there had been any rain.

A quarter-mile to the east was the nearest pylon for the high-voltage line Jimmy was surveying. This line brought power from several large wind farms scattered across Montana and the Dakotas south to Ogallala. There, power was transferred to the massive high-voltage DC transmission line that followed Interstate 80 east across Nebraska. Some of that power would end up in Lincoln or Omaha, but most of it would continue on across Iowa and Illinois for use in the large Midwestern cities. The Great Plains population had started shrinking a hundred years earlier and the losses continued unabated. Jimmy’s route would follow almost two hundred miles of transmission line by the time he reached Ogallala, and in all likelihood he wouldn’t see another soul.

Jimmy unplugged his buggy’s charging cable from the shelter’s electric outlet. He gave the cable a sharp tug and walked the end back to the ugly vehicle while the spring-driven mechanism reeled it in. Ninety minutes of charging time while he had eaten his lunch wasn’t going to make a lot of difference, but topping off the battery pack in the buggy was an ingrained habit. The alcohol-fueled generator and fifteen gallons of ethanol in the fuel tank were an insurance policy to make sure he didn’t get stranded, there is also solar home generators which have the same functioning just that they are power with solar energy. Jimmy took a certain degree of pride in not dipping into that reserve unless it was a real emergency. If the underground news he read on the ‘Net were accurate, fuel shortages had become a matter of routine on the East Coast, but Rapid City seemed to have enough. Heck, prices had actually been falling for the past several weeks.

The buggy hummed quietly along the track from the shelter towards the pylon, where Jimmy turned south along the one-lane dirt road. The twin ruts had originally been cut by the big trucks hauling in the materials for the pylons, and the hundreds of miles of cable they supported. Semi-regular use by inspectors, combined with the arid climate, kept the tracks clear of all but the hardiest weeds. The buggy’s oversized tires kicked up a pretty good cloud of dust the breeze carried off. Well, it was a “breeze” for this part of the country. If you’re going to live or work out here, thought Jimmy, you darned well better not mind the wind blowing. And harvesting wind with the big turbines was a whole lot easier than trying to raise cattle like his uncle.

Jimmy and the buggy topped the little ridge. He always liked the view from this particular spot, where you could see the next twenty or so towers for the power lines marching off into the distance. This time, though, there were two pick-up trucks parked across the track a hundred yards down the slope. Beat-up old trucks, with twenty years or more worth of little dings and dents accumulated in the sheet metal. They were parked in a V, one slightly in advance of the other, both pointed in the direction from which Jimmy was approaching, and right at a point where the ground sloped off fairly sharply on each side of the track. Four people leaned against the side of one of the trucks.

Jimmy stopped the buggy short of the two trucks and stuck his head out the drivers’ side window. “You folks broke down?” he called.

One of the men stepped forward. “No, nothing like that,” he answered Jimmy’s question. “This is more a matter of public safety. The next stretch of this road is going to be a bit dangerous for a little while.”

“You’re kidding,” said Jimmy. Dangerous road conditions along this particular track meant flash floods or blizzard white-outs, neither of which was a threat today.

“Afraid not,” replied the man. “Why don’t you just step out of the truck for a few minutes?”

Jimmy glanced back over at the trio still leaning on the truck. One was a woman, he noticed. She was carrying a pump-action shotgun. It was pointed down at the ground, but there wasn’t anything around where they were standing that she might have legally hunted with a shotgun, at least not at this time of year.

“No one’s going to hurt you,” the man continued, reading the concerned look on Jimmy’s face. “Just wait here for a few minutes, watch the show, and then you can turn around and head back to Rapid City.”

“I’m headed to Ogallala,” said Jimmy.

“Think you’ll want to head back to Rapid City,” said the man. “Ogallala is going to be concerned about anyone arriving from this direction. Rapid City will be much more relaxed.”

The man held up a metal box about the size of a brick, with a short antenna sticking out one end and a key inserted into one side. “This is a radio transmitter. When I turn the key, it sends an encrypted digital signal. The receivers that go with it are down there,” and he gestured along the row of pylons. “Along with a modest amount of explosives.”

“You can’t do that!” exclaimed Jimmy as he started to step forward. The man stepped back quickly and the woman’s shotgun snapped up. Jimmy froze.

“Actually, we can. None of the materials are particularly hard to get, you know. And we put a fair amount of effort into planning this. Most of the group wanted to do this at night, when there weren’t going to be any witnesses around. Me, I held out for having someone from Xcel here. Just so there wouldn’t be any confusion about why this was happening.”

The man raised his voice. “Some of us are tired of being treated like colonies by the Easterners. ‘Dig the coal,’ they used to say. Then it was ‘Pump the natural gas.’ Now it’s ‘Put up the wind turbines,’ and always ‘Send energy back East instead of using it for yourselves.’ We can live within our resources and have a comfortable life here. Not like eighty million people living between Boston and Washington, or fifty million in Florida and Georgia: people who can’t survive without stripping us of our energy resources because they don’t have any, or won’t use what they have!” He paused and visibly calmed himself. “Well, some of us decided it wasn’t right, and it was time to do something about it.”

He took another couple of steps back. Jimmy stared at him, could feel his own eyes widening, shocked by the idea of what was about to happen. “Without further ado, then,” the man said, and twisted the key.

Fireballs bloomed simultaneously at the base of a dozen of the tall pylons. Each of the towers began to settle and then tip in a random direction. The sound of the detonations arrived in sequence, the first one deafening and each successive one not quite so loud, delayed and reduced in volume and by the increasing distance from where the group stood. The heavy transmission lines stretched, pulling loose from the towers and snapping in some places. Within several seconds the towers finished their collapse. The wind began to quickly dissipate the smoke and dust.

“You see?” said the man. “Long distance energy transport systems are remarkably fragile. Now get back in your buggy, turn around, and head back for Rapid City. Well, one thing first…” The man walked past Jimmy to the buggy’s driver side. He opened the door, reached in, and removed the radio from its bracket. “We do want you to tell everyone what you saw, but not too soon. Best give me your phone as well — no coverage out here any more, but pictures might be a problem.”

Jimmy fished his phone out of his pocket and handed it over. “You’re just letting me go? But I’ve seen your faces!” Memories from video crime dramas popped into Jimmy’s head. The bad guys never let you go if you could identify them.

“Doesn’t matter,” the man said. “There will be a dozen witnesses that will place each of us at different locations, all at least a hundred miles from here. It’ll be your word against theirs. Assuming it ever becomes a matter of you pointing us out. Tell everyone we were wearing masks if it makes you feel any safer.”

The man passed Jimmy again, carrying the radio and phone back to the group by the trucks. The woman with the shotgun was pointing it at the ground again. Jimmy stepped back, banging into the buggy’s front bumper and almost falling, then scrambling to the door the man had left open.

He jumped in, threw the electric drive into reverse, and started backing away. Jimmy had learned to drive on his uncle’s ranch, long before he was old enough to get a license, and on a ranch you spent a lot of time backing a truck along a track like this one. His older cousins had insisted you were a sissy unless you drove backwards as fast as you did forwards. Still, he was shaking, and between that and trying to look over his shoulder at the track and out the windshield at the group by the trucks at the same time, nearly lost control twice in the first fifty yards. The group of four stood quietly by their trucks, watching. After what seemed like forever, Jimmy reached a point where there was enough reasonably level space on the sides of the road. It took a couple of passes, but he got the buggy turned around and continued up the hill.

He could see the group in the rear view mirror, still standing there, as he topped the ridge headed north.


Staff Writer

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief. ...more →

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92 thoughts on “Power Lines

  1. You are fed up with the Easterners taking the wind away from you?? Talk about over sensitive cry babies.

    I’m fully aware of the fragility and complexity of our electrical power delivery infrastructure, and it’s good that you point that out. Politicians, corporations, and the public in general have come to treat utilities as “very boring, and not very important things” at their peril (ref: Flint, MI), yet if (when) a utility truly collapses it will be the worst dystopia ever.

    But your terrorists are still lame. “Easterners are taking away our wind and we we are not taking it any more”. Gosh, talk about prejudices. Perhaps we Easterners should stop giving you our hard earned money in exchange for your wind. Cut your nose to spit your face. It’s so Age of Trump.

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  2. For me, this story (a prologue to a novel in progress) hits a concept that I find even more frightening than domestic terrorists leveraging the fragility of our power grid for regional advantage. It illustrates the breakdown of the notion of the United States as a commonwealth, as a people with a common identity, shared goodwill for one another, and a convention of concern for mutual benefit and advantage. The thinking of the terrorists here seems to be:

    “People like me are getting screwed over by people unlike me. Therefore, people unlike me are my enemies, and I am justified in doing things to them, or concerning them, which I otherwise would not do. Things which I understand are unlawful, but things which because they hurt people who are not like me, are nevertheless morally justified. I will do and say and advocate things that hurt people unlike me, even if they do not benefit me or people like me, because hurting people unlike me must necessarily somehow rebound to the benefit of me and mine.

    “Furthermore, in distinguishing people like me from people unlike me, I need not look beyond the boundaries of my own political and cultural unit, because that unit has grown sufficiently heterogenous that I am forced to tolerate things sufficiently alien from my own existence that the political and cultural constructs I’ve been asked to accept don’t make sense to me. Those Easterners are just not like me. I don’t need to look overseas or to people who have different religions or speak a different language than me: I perceive that other so-called ‘Americans’ are actively hostile to me because their economy is different from mine, their day-to-day lives are different than mine, they dislike things about my home and my life.

    “Therefore, I shall defend myself against them. And I shall use all means at my disposal to do so. Including violence which does not have any immediate beneficial effect for me.”

    That, right there, is the erosion of a nation. And if you don’t see it happening around you right now, take a few minutes to pop on Twitter to get reactions to the Jeff Sessions confirmation hearings underway right now.

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    • Agreed. And from overhearing conversations out and around, I could see actions like those taken in this story being a not-totally-implausiable outcome.

      I would not be at all surprised to see the US fragment into several smaller – republics? nation-states? – I don’t know – in my lifetime. (And I’m 47, though I come from a fairly long-lived family)

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    • Well, I for one refuse, to label people on the side of my political spectrum as “deplorable stupids” like my liberal friend does or “commies” like my conservative friend does.

      Yall made your bed. Don’t bitch to me when it starts to burn.

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      • Most people in this country pay virtually no attention to politics. The shouty types arguing that the union can no longer hold are a microscopic minority, and I very much doubt that any of them are really ready to face the local National Guard once they take up arms.

        Since it appears that the nature of work is going to change radically in the next 20 years, as effective robotics sweeps through the workforce, consolidation is a much better idea than segmentation.

        We don’t have to be all in this together, but it beats the alternative.

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        • Then out spake brave Horatius,
          The Captain of the Gate:
          “To every man upon this earth
          Death cometh soon or late.
          And how can man die better
          Than facing fearful odds,
          For the ashes of his fathers,
          And the temples of his gods

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      • Divorce, if it happens, plus perhaps a bit of lunatic-fringe bomb throwing. Real war — the M1A1s rolling, the B1s flying, F-22 dogfights — requires that there’s been some negotiated division of those weapon systems. I put the prologue scene in a specific place for reasons — it’s perhaps the only part of the country where the word “marches” applies in the classical sense of a (largely) empty buffer zone and where a particular natural resource could be claimed and used effectively by either side. If I had, instead, a group from Ohio, pissed off at rolling black-outs, blowing up transformers in Las Vegas, I’d deserve far more scorn than @j_a ‘s “lame”.

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        • Michael Cain: Real war — the M1A1s rolling, the B1s flying, F-22 dogfights — requires that there’s been some negotiated division of those weapon systems.

          The real war starts when one side or the other tries to unilaterally seize those weapons systems – same way the last real war started.

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        • Mind you, they are not “lame” because they blow up pylons instead of poisoning the water reservoirs of NYC with polonium. They are lame because their cause of action is lame. Because Easterners buy electricity wind produced in the NE panhandle, and actually pay for it at the ongoing market rate, rather than not buying it, so that the NE panhandle dwellers can look at their empty (plains? I haven’t yet been to NE), enjoy their wind, and go hunt some desert thing because there is no money to buy CA grown food.

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          • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. You’d think they would be at least somewhat grateful to be in a position to provide something that others are willing to pay for.

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            • But what if they aren’t? The folks who own the turbines aren’t going to be the locals at the farm co-op. Let’s play it out a bit. The turbines are owned by interests back east. The east coast needs lots of power, so they play the jobs card in the GP and convince people that if they are allowed to build the turbines, there will be lots of construction & maintenance jobs.

              Make the Plains Great Again by producing energy instead of food!

              Except the constructions jobs are limited, as is maintenance. Let’s add in some land use restrictions near turbines & power lines, or some other kind of regulation that heavily favors the corporate owners over the local residents. Then toss in some public disdain for the GP hicks, and all you need is another Trump (except this one is smart with an agenda beyond his own self gratification) to stoke that resentment & disdain.

              And suddenly those turbines and power lines aren’t a source of revenue, they are a symbol of marginalization.

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              • You are right about a couple of things. Wind energy does not bring jobs. Almost nil during construction, and nil during operation.

                However, wind farms are a boon for landowners. I dont know the rate in NE, but in a project I was involved, about 1 sq mile of land IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOUNTAINS THAT HAD NO ACCESS ROAD WHATSOEVER was leased for ten years at a percentage of the gross revenue, with a floor of US$ 2 million per year.

                So someone inherited a rocky mountain outcrop and now he’s taking twenty million (at a minimum) to the bank.

                Further, the land use restrictions of wind farms and power lines are very minimal for agricultural and ranching land. You are perfectly able to use most of that land normally (I mean, if two million dollars per year are not really enough).

                Lastly, wind energy plants are fairly cheap to build, and can be leveraged at at a 3:1 ratio without much problem. There’s little standing between an entrepreneurial Nebraskan and his own wind farm. Matter of factly, most wind power developments are started by the land owner identifying the wind resource (which requires several years of measurements), and then peddled to the majors in exchange for a land lease fee.

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                • Rancher’s in Texas are quite happy with wind farms. Texas has a lot less federal land they can graze cattle on for well below market prices, so having wind turbines offset some of the cost of all that land is a fantastic deal.

                  Very small footprints.

                  And you know, I can’t actually imagine any landowner making money off the wind turbine (whether he’s leasing the land or owns the turbine) going to complain that filthy “others” are taking all his precious energy for themselves.

                  Probably because of the stack of money they gave him for land that was otherwise idling, which he could use to buy things he wanted.

                  Which boils down to my whole problem with the piece in question, which is the economics of the terrorism made no sense.

                  How do the terrorists thing energy works? Does it all get piped magically three states away, denied to the locals? Energy is a multi-state market — they’d be paying the same rate as someone two states over, except they’d ALSO be getting paid to operate/repair/station the turbines in the first place.

                  It’s even renewable, so they’re not just selling the wind once and then it’s gone…

                  (And in fact, the way these things work, those turbines provide their OWN energy anyways, so blowing them up would just raise their own prices, assuming they didn’t start having brown-outs and blackouts. The people least affected would be the out of state villains).

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                  • Which boils down to my whole problem with the piece in question, which is the economics of the terrorism made no sense.

                    Consider the case of the people advocating for the State of Jefferson in northern California. (Granted, they haven’t reached the point of terrorism, but the century is still young.) The LA Times ran a story a couple of years ago anonymously quoting someone on one of the county budget staffs up there, who said roughly, “Cutting ourselves off from the cities means a 60% cut in our roads budget, 75% cut in education budget, and who knows how much in human services. I have no idea what the county board of supervisors think they’re going to gain.” Similarly, the 51st State movement in Colorado, which convinced county commissions to put stuff on the ballot, said that not being able to afford public higher education or Medicaid would be features in the new state, not bugs.

                    Terrorists don’t have to be rational. The question is, and the question in the novel that (someday, maybe) follows the prologue is, “Might the politicians also be irrational?” The scary possibility in Burt’s eloquent early comment is that the mechanisms in our government systems intended to filter out the crazy ideas amplifies them instead.

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                    • I think your politititians irrationality, as described, is very rational, and actually, and regretfully, not extremely unlikely. After all, most politicians’ real principles is “what’s in there for me”. It doesn’t matter that Jefferson can’t pay for roads. There will always be enough for the top honchos.

                      On our defense, we haven’t read the good parts of the novel. We have only seen the dumb, lame, and very, very, duped, terrorists from the prologue.

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                      • That’s true. Like I said, if all that power WAS earmarked out of state while the locals dealt with shortages? That’d be a different story.

                        Economically, that’d only happen if price was so high that most in-state couldn’t afford it. Thus seeing the power lines and generators would be…galling.

                        That seems pretty unlikely, given the way the electricity market works. OTOH, Enron managed to screw over an entire state with it so….

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                    • Yes, but in this case those power-lines are (1) actually powering them first and (2) represent continuous stream of cash for services.

                      It’s one thing to be bitter when the coal or oil runs out or the factory closes and the area goes to pot because there’s no jobs and no money, but this is akin to people revolting during the boom of an extraction industry.

                      Revolting while they’re getting the most.

                      Like I said, here in Texas? Ranchers LOVE them. It’s literally free money to lease narrow slices of their land, in a way that doesn’t interfere with running cattle. Why would they blow up free money?

                      The only thing that makes the terrorist motivations make sense is if THEY aren’t getting any power. If they’re cut off from electricity, I can see them blowing up pylons. Or maybe if there’s huge shortages, I can see them doing it briefly (only to stop once they realize they’re making it worse, because local has priority on power and always will).

                      I don’t get their grudge. Do they not get power? Is it too expensive? Does the turbine owners play company town? “Because people from out of state are sucking out all our wind power” isn’t convincing in the way “Angry, out of work ex-miners respond with violence” is.

                      The latter at least has instills in the revolution a few working brain cells and a human motivation.

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                • How often, in even recent American history, have corporations leveraged public officials to strip, or seriously curtail, citizens of various land use rights in the name of profit?

                  How much of a stretch of the imagination is it that a corporation would decide it gets a better ROI by convincing local or state officials to exercise eminent domain, or use some other legal tactic, to gain access to a chunk of land with good wind potential for a lot less than $2M/yr?

                  Sure, it doesn’t happen today. Today wind is still a fraction of our power production and nothing would sink it faster than powerful corporations playing fast & loose with land rights. But if it was a significant portion of the power consumed by the urban centers, thus vital to their livelihoods, I can see concern for the land rights of a handful of lucky hicks in the GP evaporate. When Malheur was front & center in the news, I saw a lot of tweets & facebook posts from people far away from Oregon who felt the federal government should just buy up or take all the land and shut down the ranches and be done with it all, instead of letting cattle trash the place.

                  It doesn’t take much to imagine some of those lucky landowners in the GPs trying to squeeze more money out of a corporation, or tying up land rights in court, or committing property damage, or doing something to annoying the companies who’ve made capital investments, and those companies in turn working their lobbyists to make sure landowners can’t rock the boat again (because companies really hate uncertainty), and, if the politicians on hand are, as says, irrational, then the measures taken won’t be the minimum needed, but the wish list.

                  Part of what is required to make a dystopia happen is for populations and politicians to go somewhat off the deep end, so you have to extrapolate with that in mind.

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                  • Yeah, but if you’re gonna set up a dystopia you’ve got to spell that out sooner or later.

                    “You’re taking all our wind power” is “You’re giving us money for all this coal, except it never runs out”. People get unhappy when you STOP buying their stuff and their local economy collapses, not during.

                    You can put together situations where this doesn’t work (say, sufficient income inequality that most people can’t afford electricity at all), but that’s pretty counter to the way electric power generation works now.

                    I think that’s the jarring point. It’s people rebelling in what should be their personal good times (“They have a resource in demand that people are buying”) and not the bad.

                    It can happen (company towns, for instance). But without some background to say why, it jerks you out of the scene.

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                    • That’s a fair criticism. Some more background as to why the people in NE feel they are getting the shaft would help sell the scene (even an allusion to it).

                      “You’re taking all our wind power”

                      This could be true. Let’s run with my scenario. Corporations come in and basically take over all the high wind potential sites, and have some kind of legislation that allows them to secure future sites with a wind potential above X for a song. All the power is sent east. The locals are stuck using power produced from older turbines, or less effective sites, etc.

                      Basically, any scenario where the locals are not being allowed to share in the wealth. And again, not much of a stretch, companies screw people out of their ability to share the wealth all the time.

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                      • Yeah, that part didn’t bother me… if there were massive shortages in the East, I’ve not doubt at all that the Govt [State or Fed depending on the approach they wanted to take] would declare the Wind Rights separate from your property rights and – like some mineral and water rights – simply apply eminent domain. At which point, the land owner would be compensated for their 1/4 acre right of way at $500/acre (the going rate for rocky outcropping scrub +/-). Plus, they’d have to clean up their mess and replace fences (if there were any) after they were done (per usual).

                        That’s kinda what they did on my property when they needed a support pole for their lines. I was holding out for 2% (divided by the number of poles – hey, I’m not greedy) of the gross Electricity that passed through the pole, but all I got was $350 for lawyers fees to review the grant.

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                      • If market capture holds, barriers (laws,taxes,fees, permits,insurance,codes) are created for locals to install small wind turbines for their own use on their own property. Yet the government uses domain to force the land owners to provide access to corporate wind farms.

                        I know when the wind corp. folks where talking to my family about installing, they wanted a 50 year contract, and the amount was not worth the hassel.

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          • I travel this part of the country every year for the Sturgis rally. I can tell you that the plains are far from empty and the people who live there are not reliant upon food grown elsewhere (because the plains are far from empty). A split-up country would only reinforce the sort of self-reliance common in the Midwest. I would expect far more dystopia in heavily-populated metropolitan areas.

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        • I worry that that’s old-mindset thinking.

          F-22s aren’t particularly useful against insurgencies where “one man’s X is another man’s Y” swims in the sea of the people.

          I shudder to think what would be. Because that’s what the F-22-inclined will be using against one man’s X.

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    • Are you upset about the fact that Sessions is being protested?

      I sort get appeals to comity and the commonwealth but the problem is that these appeals to comity and commonwealth often come across as “Democrats and Liberals, please be suckers and take a trillion gut punches and kicks to the kidney for the sake of comity and commonwealth.”

      I’m getting fed up with this and like North, I have no problem with telling people on the left that they are getting lost in the fever dreams of conspiracy or paranoia.

      The Republican Party seems to have lost all sense of shame and decency. You have Mitch McConnell complaining that the American public won’t support the Democrats questioning Trump’s picks and obstructionism. You have Kellyanne Conway tsk tsking Democrats for their rhetoric and look at who her boss is.

      I think comity and commonwealth are important. I have told fellow people on the left that there are always going to be people who disagree with us and we can’t win everything we want. But I am not interested in comity and commonwealth if it means taking “one for the team” again and again. That is not comity or commonwealth that is the Constitution as a suicide pact.

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    • Another example is how Sessions said he would revive the obscenity office in the DOJ and go after adult pornography even though his boss as appeared in several pornos. Even though one of the revelations about his boss is that Trump watched the Paris Hilton sex tape despite (or because of) the fact he knew Paris Hilton since her childhood.

      What are Democrats to make of this rank hypocrisy and conveniences? It seems like there is not a bridge too far for those who want commonwealth and comity? The plea to the left/Democrats is always “please take one for the team. We need to save the commonwealth.”

      I would like my grandchildren to grow up in a United States that is still a union but not at the sake of constantly pleasing self-righteous hypocrites with no sense of dignity and always giving said people what they want.

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    • Why talk about the Jeff Sessions confirmation hearings when we could be talking about the CIA report that talks about Donald Trump’s pee fetish? Hey! It also says in the report that he paid for Russian prostitutes to watch anime with him! I knew that there was something “off” about him…

      Surely, this will be the end of Trump.

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    • “It illustrates the breakdown of the notion of the United States as a commonwealth, as a people with a common identity, shared goodwill for one another, and a convention of concern for mutual benefit and advantage.”

      I think there are lots of American groups who would see our national history as far less rosy. Many would wonder if you were living in the same country as they were.

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  3. Dude, I loved this post.

    “Tell everyone we were wearing masks if it makes you feel any safer.”

    The disdain contained in this small kindness rounds the character out magnificently.

    I could easily see the eventual war starting with something like this. Say what you will about the gulf states (and there’s a lot to say), but they do a good job of making sure that the people who provide the power get their beaks wet.

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    • Its almost as if we made war on Patronage not so that the system would be more just, but so that the Patrons could keep all the spoils wealth. Down with Patronage.

      I also liked the post, seemed a good start to an interesting novel. If you really are prepping for a book, I’d suggest maybe heightening the tension a little bit by having your linesman talk (to himself) about the lines/the grid and the situation out East… sort of like Tom Clancy deviating for that mircosecond between the shot and the impact to explain why the number of grains of powder in a modern centerfire casing has been calibrated over 50-years to provide exactly the right amount of…. well, you get the idea.

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      • The war on Patronage wasn’t the evolutionary leap as much as figuring out how Protestantism was necessary to finally win it.

        And we’re still feeling the aftershocks of that.

        The internet is very likely the equivalent of the Gutenberg printing press and I’ve started wondering how many years (adjusted) we’ve had since its ubiquity. From 1440 to 1517 is only 77 years.

        Have we had the equivalent of 77 years since… oh, I wouldn’t even know when to use as a starting point. AOL?

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    • Unless by failure cascade we are talking about more pylons falling due to the mechanical tensions imbalance, there shouldn’t be a major failure cascade if they are not simultaneously blowing up lines North and South.

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      • I thought was using “failure cascade” the same way I was using “chain of political over-reactions” somewhere up above. Intentionally setting off a spectacular cascading failure a la the Northeast in 2003 or the Southwest in 2011 is hard. My reading of the postmortem reports on those is that it took both damage outside and significant mistakes “inside” for those to happen.

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  4. Excellent writing. Kudos. And I could really picture it in my mind. Of course it helps that I used to truck feed to ranches out there.

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  5. The whole problem with us splitting into several different republics is that the fault lines aren’t North vs. South, East vs. West or even Coast vs. Flyover.

    It’s Urban vs Rural.

    After all, Eastern Washington hates the “coastal elites” here in Seattle who do dastardly things like have more people living in the state than they do just as much as somebody in rural Wisconsin does and they’ll still be stuck in a liberal dominated republic if Cascadia ever forms.

    I mean, Austin, Charlotte, Houston, Orlando, Boise, Miami, etc. are all bright blue places in purple to red states. Even someplace like Columbia, South Carolina is likely a decent place to live if you’re a liberal. Heck, Illinois would be as bright red as Indiana if Cook County didn’t exist. I mean, Nevada is Republican dominated at the state level at the moment, but has a very moderate Republican governor, a split in their Senate delegation, and Las Vegas. What side of a war should they be on?

    That’s the problem with a divorce – you can’t cut the baby in half like with slavery, for example.

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    • The conversation about states muddles the waters -a lot- because states do not rise even to the level of, what does Joe-Sal call them, social constructs. The vast majority of states (*) are nothing more that scribblings in a flat map, with little relationship with geography (we don’t segregate by river basins or mountain tops) and none with social, historical, or economic realities.

      The idea that we can divorce along state lines give people “ideas” that are not actually feasible. As long as an option for “divorce” is up in the air, a lot of people would rather think about and foster it, wasting huge amounts of energy chasing mirages. It should be made abundantly clear that there are no culturally homogeneous states, and that the divorce is physically impossible, or at least so painful, particularly for the rural half, that it should be unthinkable – after all Singapore ended better off than Malaysia after it was kicked out.

      I truly believe that a way to reduce our current social conflicts is to weaken the states, reinforcing the autonomy of local communities (both cities and rural counties) AND the Federal government. We live in a connected society, not only in the USA but worldwide. If we stop talking about how different states are, we can start talking about what unites us, not what separates us. The ideà that the nature of things (and the way we respond to them) changes between Kansas City MO and Kansas City KS (**) should be let go.

      (*) I think Hawaii and Alaska (due to their ethnic and historic background) and Louisiana (a civil code instead of common law polity) can claim to have some existence as separate social entities. The original thirteen might have started as separate sovereigns establishing different cultures (different established religions, yeoman versus latifundia, etc.) but I doubt those individual cultures persisted past the early XX century given the massive immigration of the post Civil War years. It would shock the Plymouth settlers to see Massachusetts as the center of Catholicism in the USA.

      (**) I’m always in awe that Kansas largest communities seem to be all in Missouri. What’s the matter with Kansas?

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      • I agree state lines probably won’t make much difference in the divisions, and what divides us. Jesse above thinks like many, that this is solely a urban versus rural divide. I thought this may be the case until I went looking for where most individualist live, they didn’t have to be in rural areas. People who value individual constructs can live and prosper inside population centers. As strange as it may be for the current liberal faction to understand, your talking a pretty large population of POC as well. From some indications of how individualistic the American population is, this can be near 57%.

        There has been a constant drum on this site that man is a social animal. The more I look at it, I think that statement should be modified for the U.S., it should probably state the man is, at times, a sociable animal.

        This has some pretty vast implications. The people who value social constructs in population centers, looking out at the masses of millions around them may assume everyone there holds that value when in fact, less than half do.

        Looking at states or even counties parsing red or blue is not much use either. Voting populations can be a small fraction of the existing population.

        A divorce won’t fix this in the long run, Individualists will be born into social construct populations. Social constructs people will be born into individual constructs populations.

        I have mentioned before that the social constructs folks would do good to allow individual consent to be the foundation and individual sovereignty to be the mortar of their social constructs.

        This is not accepted apparently, as there is a fundamental problem of priors. One views freedom as the primary point of which order flows, the other views order as the primary point of which freedom flows. I have little faith that society can produce a model where this doesn’t result in constant war.

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