Wednesday, February 23, 2022

There is no such thing as a free lunch, part 549

Recently, on Zach Weinersmith's SMBC:
The embedded comment in the original comic (you'll have to click the link above to see for yourself) is, "The front part of my gas powered car is also emission free."

It's not quite as bleak as Mr. Weinersmith portrays it. Yet, if you consult the Wikipedia entry for Lithium-Ion battery, you will find (as of 2/23/22, internal links and footnotes removed):
Extraction of lithium, nickel, and cobalt, manufacture of solvents, and mining byproducts present significant environmental and health hazards. Lithium extraction can be fatal to aquatic life due to water pollution. It is known to cause surface water contamination, drinking water contamination, respiratory problems, ecosystem degradation and landscape damage. It also leads to unsustainable water consumption in arid regions (1.9 million liters per ton of lithium). Massive byproduct generation of lithium extraction also presents unsolved problems, such as large amounts of magnesium and lime waste.

Lithium mining takes place in North and South America, Asia, South Africa, Australia, and China.

Cobalt for Li-ion batteries is largely mined in the Congo....
The linked Wikipedia article also notes, "Cobalt sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is often mined by workers using hand tools with few safety precautions, resulting in frequent injuries and deaths. Pollution from these mines has exposed people to toxic chemicals that health officials believe to cause birth defects and breathing difficulties. Human rights activists have alleged, and investigative journalism reported confirmation, that child labor is used in these mines" (internal links and footnotes omitted).

I'm not suggesting that you ditch your Tesla, if you have one, or don sackcloth and ashes for the sin of driving a Prius.

EVs provide still another illustration, if one were really still needed, that there is nothing perfect in this very imperfect human world. The issue is whether EVs are better, on balance, for the world generally, and for the environment in particular, than gasoline-guzzling vehicles. I suspect that the scales tip, at least slightly, in favor of EVs, particularly when one considers the horrors that pertrodollars (or petroeuros) have unleashed on the world.

Kids in the Congo may balance the scales differently, I understand.

Which is why the search for 'clean' energy no more ends with EVs than it did with swapping coal for wood.

Friday, February 11, 2022

All you newspeople get off of my lawn!

I may have found a new avatar.

I'm not actually this bald (yet) and I haven't worn a moustache since law school. And, of course, that long-ago moustache was never as luxuriant as the one on this old codger. Not too surprising, given how young I was then, that my moustache was more of the starving caterpillar variety.

But this fella's all-you-kids-get-off-of-my-lawn bravado rather neatly sums up my attitude toward... toward... toward, well, just about everyone these days, actually.

I am particularly disturbed, these days, with the news.

It's not that the news is bad. News is always bad. Always has been. Crime, poverty, hatred, taxes, war, disease -- and stay tuned for the full 7-day forecast right after these messages for medicines whose side effects sound worse than the diseases they supposedly treat.

What's different about the news these days, I think, is that it's not just always bad, it's always the same bad. Trump, Covid, masks, Trump lawyer, Covid protest, vaccination passports, Trump, Covid, MASKS.... Everything repeats endlessly, but ever more shrilly with each repetition.

I think it's starting to affect our collective mental health. I know it's affecting mine.

And no one makes a mistake any more. No, any little inconsistency between what was said yesterday, or last week, or ten years ago, and just this moment, is seized upon as proof of lying. LIAR!

Sometimes, of course, professional politicians do lie. You know the old joke:
Q. How can you tell if a politician is lying?

A. His lips are moving....
But that's a joke, not a statement of Holy Writ. If it's in their best interests, a politician can be counted on to speak some version of the truth. More or less. Most of 'em, anyway.

Moreover, not every civil servant is a politican. Some are. Especially in the highest places. But most are just pepole who keep their heads down and do their jobs to the best of their understanding and ability.

Most judges aren't politicians either. Even on the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever the hysterical fund-raising emails say. Despite the braying of 'experts' on cable news. Judges are political animals only because all humans are. It's a fact of our evolution -- our primate heritage. Like saying cattle or bison are herd animals. Or bees and wasps are hive animals. But it's a different brand of politics; judges are by and large not professional politicians.

In many states, including my home state of Illinois, judges are elected. Even these elected judges -- with a few exceptions -- are not professional pols. (Now and again someone will move from the ranks of other elected officials and onto the bench. It's not the most common career trajectory. To the extent that Illinois pols become involved with the courts, it's usually before the bench. In the dock, as they say 'cross the Pond. We had a governor some years back who later went on the federal bench -- and then to federal prison. But that was an unusual case. (Bonus points if you remembered Otto Kerner before I gave you the answer.)

If you stop and think about it -- something I suspect that our media masters really don't like us to do -- there are a lot of men and women who have influence on the health and security of our polity without ever holding real elected office. Thank God!

Sometimes the reason people, even professional politicians, say one thing at one time and then another later on is because they've learned something in between. It happens.

Perhaps not often enough, but still....

All this back and forth about lying, and all these elegant accusations of he's a liar or she's a liar, no matter how passionate, no matter how fraught, is ultimately sterile. Useless. It doesn't fill a single pothole, or pick up anyone's garbage, or repair a single bridge. It doesn't make our streets safer, our schools better, our banks less rapacious.

The genius of America has always in our ability to hunker down and do things. We used to do what worked, regardless of who proposed it, or where the idea came from, leaving it to the academics or the Europeans to figure out labels for it after the fact. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the benefits.

Did we always get it right? Hell, no. We can catalog our national failures some other time. (The fascinating thing about that exercise is that, if it is done honestly and in good faith, anyone can see how far we've come, and how we've improved the human condition, despite our many flaws and failures.)

You will read surveys here or there, or articles, or videos, about how this Scandanavian country is happier than America, or how that other country has reduced wealth inequality. Other countries can boast less street crime. But the poor and persecuted across the world still look at America as a place of refuge and safety.

Why can't we?

I lay some of the blame on our media -- that stokes our fears and divides into warring camps in the pursuit of bucks and clicks. To them I say, get off of my lawn.

I want to secure the Blessings of Liberty to my Posterity, and this will be impossible if We the People descend further, from our current stalemate, to political violence (the first dangerous rumblings of which have already been seen in our sad country), and ultimately to civil war. Don't tell me it can't happen here. It happened to the Roman Republic. Our Founding Fathers wanted to spare us that fate. They knew Roman history intimately, and debated it, and drew (often conflicting) lessons from it. Our kids don't even study the fall of the Roman Republic in school. But that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile... turn off your TVs (at least as soon as the weather segment is over). Embrace your community, greet your neighbors, and remember, while you may not like everyone the same, we are all in this together and we have an obligation to try and get along.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

A downside of 'working from home' that we never thought of

As you can see above, it's snowing in Chicago today. It's worse in the south suburbs and (not surprisingly) in Northwest Indiana (they call it the NWI) but many of the Catholic schools around my home on the northwest side of Chicago are closed today, too. Long Suffering Spouse has the day off (which isn't as good a thing as it might be on another day -- but that is outside the scope of this essay). Middle Son's oldest daughter (Granddaughter No. 5), who attends a nearby parish school, also has the day off.

And therein lies the problem.

Like a great many people since the start of our two-week shutdown to flatten the COVID-19 curve (a shutdown now almost two years old), Middle Son and his wife Magaret, both CPAs, are now working from home. Every time one or both of their employers starts talking about reopening their long-shuttered offices, the public health authorities find that Covid has spun off a new Greek-letter variant and reopening plans are shelved as we brace for a new surge.

We're on omicron now. Will it be over when we get to omega?

Granddaughter No. 5 is a sweet, well-mannered child. She's also four. And for all her sweetness and good manners, she can and will get underfoot while Mommy and Daddy are trying to get their work done.

Unexpected closures, such as we're experiencing today in the Chicago area, put a wrench in child-care arrangements for a great many young parents. If there were a foot of snow on the ground, or more, Middle Son and his wife would be more understanding. But, while it's still snowing, at least off and on, and there may be some lake-effect to deal with later today, there's only about six inches on the ground so far. So they're not happy.

Why? Because they know that there is every expectation -- in this brave new day and age of working from home -- that business can go on as usual no matter how much snow comes down. And why not?

When people had to toil in offices, we'd put on boots and extra layers and slog and stumble our way to the train. If we were among the first to make it in on a crumby day like today, we could imagine ourselves as heroes, the most dedicated of the dedicated, valiant workers in the vineyard. We could put on the coffee and look down our noses at the people straggling in who didn't have such efficient train service or who had to endure travel at glacial speeds on our supposed 'expressways.'

Of course, they thought themselves heroes too, having had the tenacity to traverse what the salt trucks and plows had yet to clear. And, of course, we could all look down on the poor shlubs whose cars would not start or who wound up in a ditch. There was plenty of feel-good-smugness for everyone who made it in -- and if any work did get done on such a day it was more by coincidence or accident. But so what? We had a little triumphal moment.

There's no analogous moment of triumph for the at-home workers, like Middle Son or Margaret, who have only to roll out of bed and come downstairs to their respective "offices." Getting to work would not sap, could not sap, and had better not sap, one's energy quota for the day. Whatever they are expected to do today had better get done, whether the snow stops or piles up to the roof. And they must accomplish their day's work despite the added complication of having to keep Granddaughter No. 5 entertained.

When I was in their shoes, I had the office to slog to and, if the schools were closed, Long Suffering Spouse was home anyway. Even after she began teaching, she would have been home on such a day because she taught (and continues to teach) at the school my children attended.

Working from home has been great for a lot of people, my kids included. But it's been even better for their employers, hasn't it? And that's without even talking about the money the bosses will eventually save on rent as they can contract their offices to fit the new realities.

A day like today shows the unexpected downside of working from home. But that's life: There is always bitter with the sweet.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Finding just the right card

I saw the young woman yesterday, crouched down at the greeting card rack. One whole display rack -- 15 feet long at least -- at our local Target was devoted to Valentines Day cards and this person was poring over a large selection of 'for husband' cards that were on the bottom levels, somewhere near the center.

I know because I looked.

I looked because she was there when I went up the aisle, toward the back of the grocery section, looking for something, and because she was still there when I returned, empty-handed, after a lengthy and thorough search.

Some people are card people. These may not be exclusively female, though, in my experience, that has always been the case. Long Suffering Spouse is most definitely a card person.

Long Suffering Spouse will spend agonizingly long minutes in card aisles when a child's or grandchild's birthday draws nigh, searching diligently for just the right card. One of the most popular posts on this site, currently, is this 2012 essay about Long Suffering Spouse choosing just the right card for our daughter-in-law, Abby.

When I have the misfortune to be with Long Suffering Spouse during one of these searches, she will invariably grouse that I am "rushing" her. Which I suppose I am.

I mean, I could content myself, for awhile anyway, looking at the allegedly humorous and/or 'naughty' cards. Strictly for my own amusement, of course. Some of them are amusing. But Long Suffering Spouse would never consider any of these for anyone.

And that's the problem: If she sees me looking at such cards she is keenly and immediately aware that I am not fully engaged in the quest at hand. That's a problem. More specifically, that is my problem.

With grandchildren, it's easier to stay out of trouble. One of the little ones is turning four? She loves Paw Patrol? Grab three cards with Paw Patrol puppies on them and proudly hand them to my wife: See? I'm contributing.

Of course, keying in solely on cartoon characters can backfire. (As my wife hands one of my three cards back to me, "Um, Curmudgeon, are you blind? This is an Easter card!")

Our oldest grandson just turned four. He likes Paw Patrol well enough -- but he is currently obsessed with dinosaurs. And that verb is carefully, and correctly, chosen. I hope he eventually becomes a palentologist because he is filling up a lot of brain buffers at an early age with the Latin names of obscure dinosaur species. If he becomes the next Jack Horner, Paul Sereno, or Robert H. Bakker, he's getting a great head start... but, if he doesn't, he's going to need to write over a lot of brain storage.

Picking out a birthday card for him should have been easy. Grab a handful of cards with dinosaurs on them (there were quite a few); hand them to Long Suffering Spouse.

But nothing in this life is easy. Long Suffering Spouse had to consider a number of issues before selecting just the right card. Is this dinosaur too scary? No, this is a leaf-eater. Doesn't the kid favor carnivores? Which does he like better, raptors or tyrannasours?

Granted, Long Suffering Spouse's considerable efforts were rewarded: Younger Daughter later told us that the boy took his not-too-scary carnivorous dinaosaur card to bed with him the night we celebrated his birthday. But I wonder whether any of the five or six carefully considered finalists might also have been similarly favored if they were selected....

Here's the thing with cards: They're nice. It's good to be remembered on one's natal day, or at Christmas, or whenever. But, at some point, the grandkids, like their parents before them, are going to open the cards in such a way as to immediately ascertain whether there is currency, or a negotiable instrument, or perhaps a gift card, embedded within. Some will be less subtle about it than others. If there's sufficient cash inside, it doesn't matter if what is outside. Blank paper would serve just as well.

Long Suffering Spouse would be aghast that I dared utter such an heretical thought aloud, or even on an anonymous blog. Perhaps, however, deep inside, she may even suspect that I'm right.

But it will not stop her. Or even slow her down. Like the young lady in the Target store yesterday, she will hunch over the card racks for hours, if she can find the time, searching for just the right card.

And she will always find it.